Guest Writer Chris Armstrong

Music is often a bridge between cultures; language differences are a common barrier, but a compelling rhythm can transcend words and create a shared experience that is understood through feeling alone. The University of Tennessee at Martin’s percussion group presents Roots of Rhythm and hope to break through cultural barriers with their distinct African influenced performance when they visit Discovery Park of America on Sat., Feb. 16. Their presentations will take place in Dinosaur Hall at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and are a feature of the “STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Saturday” event, meaning it will be one of many exciting exclusive events present in the park that day.

Roots of Rhythm aims primarily to “elevate cultural awareness about music from around the globe through energetic performances and engaging audience participation activities” and past visits to the park have been met with overwhelming positive reception. Those who attend will be rewarded with a culturally rich percussion-based experience from university students who explore the music of the “African Diaspora,” which means, “music that has originated in or is related to Africa.”

“Whenever you heard kids say, ‘I want to do that when I grow up,’ you felt like you’d accomplished something and I always loved that.”

Docent and university student Jalen Ware was a member of UT Martin percussion for two years and was excited to share his thoughts on the program. “Being in the Roots of Rhythm program was so much fun. The excitement on kid’s faces when we play a certain style of music was the best part. Whenever you heard kids say, “I want to do that when I grow up,” you felt like you’d accomplished something and I always loved that.”

Music has always been a driving factor in Jalen’s life. He performed for a WGI Independent marching ensemble after spending four years of high school playing percussion and often leads songs for his church to this day. Despite boasting an enormous range of musical accomplishments, Jalen still holds vivid memories of his time with the percussion group, “It was impactful because students could experience music that they have only seen on television, or maybe never seen at all. Most students absolutely loved steel pans because they’d heard it on TV and they’d recognize the sound and immediately be engaged. Being in this program has given me many opportunities to learn about different cultures and gain more friends than I could have ever imagined, especially friends from different countries.”

Much like Discovery Park’s mission to inspire guest to “see beyond” the percussion group state that their goal is to, “encourage audiences to gather information through listening, participating, observing, and visualizing.” Their performances at the park are a mutually beneficial alliance, they gain exposure and an audience to share their unique style of music while both the park and the University of Tennessee of Martin can stimulate interest in cultures that the audience might have little exposure to otherwise. Jalen considered the practice for these shows to be rigorous but rewarding, “There was so much preparation that went into our shows. We would have a professional from each country come in and give us a lesson about the cultures, styles of music, correct playing styles, and so much more.”

The group’s full schedule is listed on the University of Tenessee at Martin’s calendar of events but their performance at Discovery Park of America will be the last opportunity to catch them in Union City for a while. Catch all the fun and educational events during STEAM Saturday on Feb. 16. For a full list of events, visit For more information, visit and DPA’s pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.