‘Drum Trip’: Rusted Root’s Jim Donovan to guest lecture at SRU


Jim Donovan

Jim Donovan, former drummer for the rock band Rusted Root, will lead a classroom drumming workshop Dec. 2 at Slippery Rock University.

Nov. 17, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - It would be tough to find many musicians that have traded in the touring the world and playing for tens of thousands for touring college campuses and playing with dozens. However, Jim Donovan is one of such example.

As one of the founding members of the Pittsburgh-based 90s rock band Rusted Root, Donovan co-wrote hit songs and shared stages with rock 'n' roll royalty such as Carlos Santana and Sting.

After parting ways with the band in 2005, Donovan made the transition from professional drummer and recording artist to teacher and lecturer. Now a drumming instructor at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Donovan, who now tours the lecture circuit, will lead a drumming workshop Dec. 2 at Slippery Rock University for a group of 30 psychology students.

At SFU, Donovan serves as an assistant professor of music teaching "World Music," "African Music" and "Hand Drumming." He is the director and founder of SFU's World Drumming Ensemble and the annual "Arts in the Mountains: Music and Arts Festival."

Jim Donovan


Since 1999, Donovan has taught tens of thousands of people how to drum at one of his numerous rhythm events with groups including K-12, university, corporate, health care and athletic teams. He also offers specialized training for professionals in the field of autism and addiction recovery.

In 2008, Donovan created percussion methods for a research study at SFU, designed to study their effects on attention to task in children with autism and attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Among the findings was that these methods demonstrated average increases in attention to task of 189 percent in as little as 12 weeks.

"During my visit to SRU, I'll be offering a program featuring practical strategies that use rhythm to elicit calm, mental focus and mindfulness - especially during the most challenging times," Donovan said. "The active use of rhythm is scientifically proven to improve your mood, relieve stress, increase mental focus and to support social connections."

"The students are definitely excited," said Jennifer Willford, assistant professor of psychology, whose "Introduction to Behavioral Neuroscience" students will be beneficiaries of Donovan's visit.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of time for questions about the content of the workshop and what it is like to be a famous rock star," she said. "I want them to learn in this workshop, but I also want them to have a lot of fun. I think many of them will be surprised to see how a neuroscientist and a rock star might have some things in common."

In addition to his work at SFU, Donovan, who spent 15 years with Rusted Root, continues to perform with his own band, Jim Donovan and The Sun King Warriors. When he's not playing a gig or in the lecture hall, he travels across the U.S. and Europe teaching people how to use the art of drumming and drum circles as a methodology for healthier and happier living.

"During his visit, Jim will facilitate learning of basic rhythms using the drums and vocal toning," Willford said. "Each rhythm is then linked to a particular shift in emotion, mood or cognitive function. He will talk with students to help them make connections between what we do on the drums or with our voices and what is happening in the brain and body."

Willford previously met Donovan at a workshop she attended as part of her certification to become a registered yoga teacher.

"During the workshop, it was easy for me to see the mind-body connections," Willford said. "Rhythm has a direct impact on brain function and behavior, including improved attention and mood and the development of social bonds. Drumming and vocal work also has the ability to positively impact the function of our immune system and our ability to cope with anxiety and stress."

As preparation for Donovan's visit, Willford said students have been studying the scientific evidence for Donovan's theories about the complex and exciting connections between rhythm and good health.

"Through discussion and reading primary journal articles, the students will learn about how studies are conducted and the neuroscience methods used to show the links between rhythm and brain function," said Willford.

During his stint behind the drum kit for Rusted Root, Donovan was part of six CDs released by the band, including its 1994 platinum selling "When I Woke." As a solo artist and teacher, Donovan has released five CDs and four instructional drumming DVDs including his latest, "Rhythmic Foundation: Interactive African Drumming for Everyone."

Donovan studied and played African rhythms with various master drummers such as Congolese icon Elie Kihonia. He also studied African music with noted scholar Kwabena Nketia. Donovan earned a bachelor's degree in music performance from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's degree in educational leadership from SFU.

He was named winner of the 2008 Best Drum Circle Facilitator award, and was a nominee for 2008 Best Percussion Performance in "Drum! Magazine."

MEDIA CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine | 724.738.4854 | gordon.ovenshine@sru.edu