Join a Drum Circle: two left hands

As a respite from cooking all day long in school and sweating all the time in NYC's summer of 2007, Cheryl and I rented a car for a weekend tour of upstate New York. We stayed at a kundalinin B&B to practice their variant of yoga. Interesting but a little too weird for my sensibilities.

What did appeal to me was the Sunday afternoon drum circle in Woodstock. We stopped at ground zero for the seminal music event of the baby boomer age. From the town's central plaza came the beat of primal drums. A crowd circled the drummers and swayed as the rhythmic tempo thumped in their blood.

Everyone has a song that stirs your body and soul and forces your hands to play the air guitar like Stevie Van Zant or pound your steering wheel a la Ginger Baker. It can't be helped. But these drums bore a beat and vibration I had never felt before. And I lwanted to learn, but I'm amusical. Never had a lesson, can't read a note or carry a tune.

My sister Shirley was the only one in our family who had music lessons, and that was with the flute which I’m not sure qualifies as an instrument. She continued her musical career by marrying a guitar player while I played off-beat tempos on any available surface besides a drumhead.

Now, from our deck of our house during summer weekends, we hear a drum circle somewhere down valley. Primal, rhythmic music that goes on for several hours. Remembering the allure of the Woodstock circle, I asked neighbors and friends about who, what and where, but no one had a clue. Finally, last month, a friend forwarded an email about another circle in Graton at the same community center where Cheryl has one of her yoga classes.

I added the circle to my List of 65, but first I needed a drum to bang on rather than my truck's steering wheel. I went to see Ruth at People's Music in Sebastopol for my first real live drum. Ruth is the leader of the Graton circle and a teacher of drums. Under her guidance, I came away with a djembe drum from Ghana.

This past Sunday, I joined her with 30+ drummers and Richard, the dancer in the video. With only a quick view of a djembe DVD, I attempted to follow Ruth's lead of simple beats and failed miserably. My hand-eye coordination has always been better than the average bear, but doing it on the beat was beyond me.

I had two problems. First, there are the three types of hits on the skin - base, slap and tone. Each strikes the drumhead in a different place to create its sound. The second is keeping the beat. Being male, I'm no multi-tasker and the correct hit on the beat was hard.

Finally, I gave up on the bass-slap-slap-tone-bass and focused on the beat. You can see me on the right of the video frame with head down trying to keep the beat. It ain't pretty, but it was fun and I will be back in the next circle.

In several weeks, Ruth starts a beginner’s class on the djembe and I've signed up. But that experience is for another post

BTW – a djembe is a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet shaped drum played with bare hands, originally from West Africa. According to the Bambara people in Mali, the name of the djembe translates to "everyone gather together in peace" and defines the drum's purpose. Nice addition to the community portion of 65 list. Here's me and my djembe.

Update: I found another circle/class with Sahar. Once a week for two plus hours of non-stop drumming and good vibes.


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