Drum circles were something that were always out of my comfort zone. Before today, I had participated in one drum circle and for me, the experience was awkward. I had no idea what I was doing and I certainly didn’t think I had any rhythm to contribute. Yesterday I decided to attend the “Drum Circles? Really?” session just to observe. However, my plans changed as soon as I walked into the room; there was an empty chair with a tambourine and drum waiting for me. At that point, I knew it was time to face my fears and join in on the fun!
The session was led by John Fitzgerald, Manager of Recreational Music Activities for Remo Inc. The purpose of these drum circles is to be able to create facilitated rhythms in a safe space that is “inclusive and non-judgmental.” The ideology behind creating this sort of atmosphere is to ensure that all participants are eager to take risks. There were a group of eight people including myself. The people attending were mostly band directors looking to incorporate drum circles into their curriculum. We went around the room and said our names to the beat of our instruments; I used a tambourine to introduce myself.
Then John started the process by asking someone in the room what their favorite dessert was, to which they responded with chocolate ice cream. This method of beginning a drum circle is used to ease people into the process if they are shy or uncomfortable. Then John played the beat of “chocolate ice cream” on his drum, and then we all played the beat on our instruments. Pretty soon we were adding in different beats based on the desserts we liked. I played the tambourine to the beat “cookies,” while others joined in with “tiramisu,” “apple pie,” and so on. Pretty soon all of these different beats and rhythms we were playing began to create a beautiful and united sound. Initially, when I joined in, I was so focused on how I would fit in with everyone else. However, John assured me that there was no right or wrong way to join in, and so I just began playing my tambourine. After a few minutes of playing, I felt very relaxed and happy. I felt like I was contributing to the production of something wonderful. Communication played a large role here as well. We were in this rhythm of non-verbal communication, which is one of the benefits of drum circles. In any genre of music, non-verbal communication is vital making the group come together.
John then started sculpting, which is selecting a group or individual to play while stopping others. This was amazing to see, as individuals and groups had completely different tones and sound all around, even though it felt like we all sounded similar to one another. At one point we were even using our voices as our instruments, doing a call and response with John.
After about 20 minutes of playing, we sat and discussed how we felt and got out of the drum circle. Some people felt like it was freeing and that it was a safe place to experiment. As for me, I felt like it was a great way for me to get out of my head for a little bit. I tend to overanalyze and overthink everything, so to be able to tune into my internal rhythm was incredibly moving and eye-opening for me.
For the remainder of the session, we played a little more, even using our hands and our bodies to create new rhythms. Then we discussed how and if directors would incorporate this into their curriculum, and people definitely seemed more comfortable and eager to try this in their own classrooms. As for me as someone who loves and appreciates music, I’m hoping I can incorporate this into parts of my life and share this joy with other people, whether it’s having a drum circle at the office or just drumming with my friends. Taking this chance and joining this drum circle was empowering and freeing.