Where It’s At ... Drum circles

Posted:  Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - 9:00am
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Story Location:
241 U.S. Route 1
Damariscotta  Maine  04544
United States

I smiled all the way home.

I felt relaxed and some of the rhythms that we’d been groovin' to were still in my head.

Before going to the drum circle at River Arts, led by Boothbay Harbor’s own Kitty Hartford, I did some research on the health benefits derived from drumming – body, mind and soul. From the Project Resiliency or Thoughtco.com to thousands of other websites, the therapeutic bennies we can get from drumming make me wonder why every single person doesn’t join a drum circle! From stress relief leading to lower blood pressure, speeding up healing and boosting the immune system ...

Check out this passage from Thoughtco.com: “Other studies have demonstrated the calming, focusing, and healing effects of drumming on Alzheimer's patients, autistic children, emotionally disturbed teens, recovering addicts, trauma patients, and prison and homeless populations; chronic pain, arthritis, mental illness, migraines, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, paralysis, emotional disorders ...”

The list goes on. Like I said – we should all be drumming. Get ourselves off of the medication merry-go-round! Some of my reasons to begin: stress, arthritis, depression. But my reasons aren’t all body related, it’s also about complementing my spiritual practice.

Kitty began West African drumming about 20 years ago. She was inspired by Inanna, Sisters In Rhythm, when she saw them in concert at a Boothbay Region Elementary School (BRES) fundraiser. Prior to the concert, the members of Inanna taught African rhythms to some BRES students who joined Inanna  for a couple of songs during the concert! There were also extra percussion instruments on hand for members of the audience and Kitty, sitting right up in front, made sure to nab one for herself.

After the concert, Inanna member Lizzie Derecktor told the audience about a sign up sheet at the door for anyone interested in classes … and, yes, Kitty signed up.

She studied with Lizzie (an Inanna member of many, many years) first and then went on to study with each member of Inanna – past and present. Since then Kitty has attended innumerable classes and workshops, several of which have been led by African drum masters.

Kitty belonged to a performance troupe called Circle of Rhythm where she was able to practice and share interactive rhythm programs in schools, church youth groups, nursing homes (Cove’s Edge, Lincoln Home and Winship Green among others), the women’s prison in Windham, community centers, senior centers – and private parties and celebrations.

She’s acquired a nice collection of drums over the years, but the African djembe is her favorite. The djembe is versatile and easy to play – even, says Kitty, if you have arthritis in your hands as she does (and I do).

“One of the reasons I drum is to release stress and anxiety for my overall physical, mental and emotional health. I ‘hold my issues in my tissues.’ I’d rather drum than take a drug or have a drink,” Kitty said.

She’s also been taking weekly classes with West African drum teachers (Resounding Rhythms – Eric and Barbara van Bok in Wiscasset). “We drum for two hours learning a new West African rhythm and we do it for about six weeks – that and nothing else! It is complex, challenging and complicated - and amazingly satisfying!” Kitty said.

Interestingly enough, over the last 18-19 years Kitty’s been drumming,  many of the people she’s met are into some form of healing whether it be Reiki or meditation; or they are healthcare professionals - nurses and therapists …

A drum circle she recalls with great fondness was led by now retired psychotherapist Rick Cormier - also a guitarist, drummer and author. Before he relocated to Santa Fe, Cormier founded the Different Drummer Drum Circle in Yarmouth that drew over 400 members. Kitty refers to his “Freestyle Community Drum Circles” book as her "Bible."

There are several types of drums in circles – djembe (I used one of these), ashiko, conga, bongo, dundun, cajon, and frame drums – and other percussion instruments – tambourines, maracas, claves, balafones, and an occasional didgeridoo too! Kitty and other drummers bring extra drums with them to share.

What leads someone to a drum circle? Judith, a grad student of paleao-anthropology and archaeology, is interested in how music began with humans.

“We have music, but we need to get very primal with it,” she said. “Like the heartbeat, drumming is visceral. Sacred – or it has been. It’s all rhythm – the whole universe is rhythm and pattern. We need to get back to that. I feel so good after I’ve been drumming.”

John Kootz was a member of Cormier’s drum circle and when Rick announced his plans to move to New Mexico John decided to form his own freestyle drum circle in Whitefield at the Sheepscot General Store.

“The amazing thing about drum circles is there’s a time – and it happens in every drum circle – when people really get into the groove, get together … and play beautifully,” John said.

Rick Horton was another first timer at Kitty’s drum circle. A while back Rick had attended a men’s gathering in Massachusetts where there were 45 drummers playing. “I thought I’d love to do that,” Rick shared. “It made a huge impression on me – I bought a drum."

And that’s the thing: Watching people drum and feeling the energy in the space where people are drumming does affect you – in a big way – must be striking a chord on a primal level.

With Kitty we also played Native American rhythms. At the drum circle we sang and danced (around the center of the circle) to Native American chanting rhythms and it was so energizing! The dancing … you had to move … the energy was that strong. Or, maybe that's just me … I really dug this part.

Learning how to keep the rhythm, remembering the order … was that bass, tone, tone, base, slap or tone, tone, bass, bass? It got a bit confusing, but the high I felt from the sounds resonating from the drums (and other percussion instruments) was incredible. That's another reason I'm going to be drumming - it's also a great memory booster! Did you know that drumming synchronizes both hemispheres of the brain? Well ya do now.

Rick may have been thinking about previous drumming nights of inspiration, but all I could think of is why didn’t I start drumming a long time ago … especially being the “different drummer” in the family – you know what I mean.

But truly, there is this unmistakable energy that fills the room and all of the people in it. And I could already see why people "gotta drum!" Like John said about drum circles, “It’s the way people get together, the energy that happens … It brings the best out in a person. You don’t have to speak – you just drum.”

George van DeVenter (poet, singer, publisher) came to the Circle with his own drum – a big beauty it was too. George hadn’t been to a drum circle before, but he’s been a drummer for 30 years. “I’ve been banging them a long time. I came tonight to see if I could learn something new – and I did,” said George. “The lady who runs the program has an open way about her and makes everyone feel comfortable in each other’s presence.”

The lady, Kitty Hartford, will be leading the drum circle at River Arts (241 U.S. Route 1, Damariscotta) the second Saturday of each month.

Next circle is Saturday, Dec. 8. Let’s drum ourselves into healing rhythms for the New Year.