by Diana Cook
Back in the beginning of January, curious local residents made their way to State Street Cafe to find out more about a new activity ... being part of a Drum Circle. About a dozen people showed up on January 6, either with their own drums or to try out the variety of drums that were on hand for making rhythmic fun.
Barbara Ingles began by explaining the Drum Circle concept and some basics - like how to hold a drum, along with hand placement for properly striking and bringing out the sound. While there are groups, she said, that offer a lot of very specific teaching of specific rhythms, from her viewpoint, truly authentic drum circles are generated by the unique group of people coming together - with the idea that taking more of a “let it happen’ perspective is what makes for an exquisite experience.
“Drumming comes from your own internal rhythm,” Ingles said, “It’s your heart beat. As we get started you’ll see how the sound flows. There is a heartbeat between you, mother earth and others - listen to it, let it move through you and feel it intuitively.”
What followed was an unusual experience which reflected exactly what Ingles expressed. One person who had joined in on Drum Circle groups before got the group going - he started to beat out what he called “Shave and a Haircut” - a particular order, length and number of beats and before long the room was booming with followers - at first trying to follow. As moments went by, and people got more comfortable, there were little shifts as some diverged onto their own beaten path. Then another person would start off by bringing forward a beat - and others would join in until the sound floating through the air began to meld into it’s own melodious mood, until gradually, and almost naturally, the whole group would blend and then wind down into a natural ending.
People asked questions about the various percussion instruments on hand - shakers with a net of bead shells enveloping them. What was the standard top of the drum made of ... typically goat skin, with the top either shaved completely or left with the hair intact around the edge. There was a ‘FROG’ made of wood with a small mallet, which someone tried during one of the drumming explorational numbers, that created its own unique tone and sound. The leader had also brought a drumming instrument made out of a gourd. Other types on display, explained and used were a kalimba and a calabash drum.
After each drum circle rhythmic creation, participants would talk a little about the experience. Some expressed how they were struggling with a lack of confidence ... they would get lost on the beat that was coming out on their drum mid-drumming. But slowly they would jump back in to try and get the beat back. Another person, who had worked with kids at camp in a session on drum circle expression, explained that this was one of the very issues he found most special about it. While many people struggle with a fear of not being good at something, “By participating in that drum circle experience,” Jeff Peneston said, “Kids can go from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’.”
This drumming activity and conversation, many came to agree, supported the idea that, whether in drumming or life, everybody gets lost sometimes. The choice and lesson is that there is often a way “to find the constant and find your way back,” said Ingles.
In approaching the session, while several had wondered how it was an activity that could last an hour and a half, the time flew in a fever of drumming excitement. People were pleasantly surprised at how what Ingles had explained, at the session’s beginning about rhythms and melodies flowing along together, had really come true. One veteran drumming participant even said, “This was one of the best drum circles I’ve ever attended” and Ingles concurred.
“It never ceases to amaze me,” she said, “that you can sit down with a group of people you’ve maybe never met before, and within half an hour become a cohesive group of rhythm and sound.”
Those who organized the Drum Circle are hopeful that others will take the risk and give something new a try. The next Drum Circle in Phoenix will take place on Friday, Feb. 3 from 6:30-8 p.m., again at the State Street Cafe, where they will continue hosting the event on the first Friday of every month.
For more information, call Chick Tappan at 591-5200.