Six years ago a man told me he thought it was sad that our small town didn’t have a drum circle.
I’ll admit I was clueless about drum circles.
I thought he was talking about Native Americans drumming at a powwow.
I’ve been to a few powwows and seen the dancers, and heard the drumming. It is usually very fast and steady. A group of Native Americans (usually men) sit around a big drum and hit it with mallets while chanting. See Video #1…
I live in a small town dominated by a tribe of Native Americans.
The headquarters and administrative offices of the Karuk Tribe are just downhill from where I’ve lived for the last twelve years.
I’ve been to the tribe’s annual tribal reunion, and the basketweavers gathering, and many times have visited the museum in the People’s Center. But I’ve never seen Karuks drumming this way.
In fact, in the years I’ve lived in this community I’ve seen them with drums so infrequently that I never think of this as a tribe of drummers.
They have some amazing bush dances, however, and secret tribal ceremonies alongside the Klamath River. The tribe’s ceremonies are intended to renew the world for another year.
I sometimes wonder, if the ceremonies ceased, would the world end?
Let’s not find out!
A few years ago I met a woman online – through NaNoWriMo – who was excited about drumming. At the time I thought it to be an odd preoccupation for a woman in her mid-fifties. She was extremely enthusiastic and kept posting links to YouTube videos. At the time I was on s-l-o-w m-o-d-e-m internet services via my phone line. I think perhaps I was one of the most technologically challenged people around. I couldn’t watch a YouTube video easily… though eventually I learned that if I left my browser at a video webpage at YouTube, with the video on ‘pause,’ it would s-l-o-w-l-y load in, and then I could click the arrow and watch the video without irritating pauses. That’s how I learned about drum circles as they are available today to anyone who wants to be there and participate.
Eventually I came out of the dark ages by getting DSL – fast internet – the only kind of fast internet available to me out here in the remote boonies of the Klamath River Valley. Once I got that, I naturally had to spend hours at YouTube seeing all the cool things I wasn’t able to enjoy before!
There are dozens of drumming videos at YouTube. See Video #2… for an example. This is a drum circle at Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. There have been drum circles there every week for years! I didn’t know because (1) I was busy raising kids until 2008, and (2) I live in a small town in the mountains and don’t get out much!
Ever since the man told me that, in his opinion, our town should have a drum circle (and a sweat lodge) it has been in my mind, that I might try to start one. For a long time I thought the confluence would be a good place. The confluence is where Indian Creek meets the Klamath River. The only problem with that location is that there are about a million rocks, and no comfy seating opportunities. I hesitated to ask people to go there for drumming, even though it is a very beautiful place!
This year I again got it in my mind that we need a drum circle. I have no drum, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to do some drumming. I mentioned this to a long-time friend, Dennis Day, creator of the Giant Dreamcatcher – which we believe to be the largest dreamcatcher in the world. I asked if we could start a drum circle under the dreamcatcher.
By way of synchronicity, his girlfriend was also thinking of starting a community meeting of some kind. She was thinking of cultural oneness and meditation. We met and decided to meld our ideas, and create a Saturday evening meditation and drumming event. We meet at 7pm for 1/2 hour of meditation, then start drumming.
So far we’ve done this twice.
A week ago we had the first event. Eight people showed up… most of us without drums. Dennis provided upside-down trash cans and buckets. One man arrived with two awesome drums and maracas! One woman came with a small powwow style drum. Even though most of us have no drum circle experience, we had a lot of fun. At one point the man who brought the real drums backed up and looked at us and started laughing. “This is the funniest drum circle I’ve ever seen,” he said. All in fun.
My friend who created the drum circle idea with me (her name is Lisa) also created a very unique “xylophone” out of firewood pieces. She loves playing it – hitting the wood with other firewood sticks, for a variety of mellow sounds.
My favorite “instrument” was what we’re calling “the bass drum”… a large overturned plastic trash can which I pound on with a large round stick of firewood. Awesome!
We may have been inexperienced, but we were making music!
Yesterday we had the second drum circle. This time we had about ten people there. At the meditation prior to the drum circle five of us sat quietly for an undetermined length of time (not one of us brought a watch or cell phone!) After we were done we shared with each other about what type of meditation we were doing. Everyone was doing something different. It was interesting… one man focused on his breath, breathing in love and other good, positive things, and exhaling negative energies. Another man did Vipassana meditation – a type of Buddhist meditation focusing on breath.
I was doing that plus a type of meditation I’d learned in a book. It involves envisioning the white light for about five minutes, then affirming that I’m ready for the anointing of Divine Spirit.
Anyhow, plenty of people came – some with drums and others with alternative instruments. One man played a cow bell. I played the “bass drum” for a while and then switched to my soprano recorder.
Naturally, I had to buy a drum!
For my first drum I chose a 16″ Remo buffalo drum. I’m expecting it in the mail this week. My first criteria was that it needed to be a vegan drum… meaning a synthetic drum head rather than an animal skin. This is important to me because I’m a vegetarian and don’t want to use animal products so much as I’m able.
Come to find out, a lot of drum heads are synthetic these days and it won’t be hard for me to find vegan drums in other styles.
You may be wondering what this has to do with writing – since normally I write about writing and related topics. Well, as a writer, I need to explore other creative experiences. I’m not just a writer – I’m a “creative” … meaning that many types of creativity appeal to me. As we writers know, it is all “grist for the mill”. I believe that practicing a different type of creativity, such as music, will stimulate my writing creativity.
The drum circle experience is interactive. Creating rhythms with others is an amazing thing to do.
Drumming isn’t nearly as fun if you don’t participate. Honestly, the beauty is in being part of the action. As I open my heart and focus on the rhythm I’m opening my creative mind for all types of inspiration – whether it be for music, art, or writing.
Ever since I decided to buy a drum I’ve been telling people about it, and find that a lot of people still don’t know that community drum circles are not the same as Native American powwow drum circles. Realizing that many of us still aren’t aware of community drum circles, I decided to write about them here today, and to include a few of the videos I’ve been watching this week.
Speaking of videos – during our first drum circle a man came by and took pictures. I remarked, “We’ll be on YouTube before you know it.” Then I thought of my son who has a YouTube channel he frequently adds videos to. I wondered if I might talk him into doing a video of our next drum circle.
The next day I saw him while he was at work and he said, “I saw you at the drum circle.”
“Great! Why don’t you join in next time?”
“No way!” he chuckled.
“Why not?” I asked. “Not cool enough for you?”
“Definitely not cool,” he replied.
Looks like I’ll have to find another videographer!