Here is an article I wrote for publication on the website Nurturing Potential.
The website magazine won’t be live for another two weeks but my article is up already.
Community Drum Circles
There is real power in community music. One of my very first facilitated drum circles illustrated this to me. I was working at Stainsby Festival for the first time and there were close to 100 people in the circle. I had read a book about community circles by Arthur Hull and wanted to try some ideas and so was a little nervous about how it would go. In the end we spent and hour and a half drumming up some amazing group grooves and the all round smiles let me know it had worked. At the close an elderly lady approached me with tears in her eyes. She thanked me for a wonderful time and proceeded to explain that her husband, a jazz drummer, had passed away some years before but that he ‘had been with her today.’ I was moved and it made me realise that community music can be many things to many people. I never set out with any agenda other than to facilitate a group to its highest rhythmical potential and time after time people relate powerful and deeply personal experiences. Unlike a class, where the teaching is didactic, the community drum circle offers participants a chance to explore their own musical and rhythmical potential. In the hands of a skilled facilitator, a group that have never met before, can find their way into a shared and powerful musical experience, were every contribution matters. This is empowering music on every level.
‘Facilitated Community Drum Circles’ began to appear in the UK around the end of 1999 and by the year 2001 a number of community musicians (whose primary music mode was rhythmical), had made the journey to Hawaii to train with the originator, Arthur Hull. I was one of them.
In the autumn of 1999 I was driving up and down the motorways of the UK selling electronics. I had been doing so for the previous ten years, drumming in bands and running community samba workshops in my free time. The next year I attended an event led by Arthur Hull in Leeds and having spent years as a ‘player’ initially thought that this was just a big noisy mess. I had my djembe strapped on and was playing away when the whole circle stopped suddenly and went into some complex rhythmical break before returning to the groove. All of this was facilitated by the appearance of Arthur in the circle. It was an epiphany for me. I moved from a place of ‘judgement’ to a place of ‘humility’ in an instant and I didn’t know why or how that had happened. I needed to find out.
I gave up the selling job and decided to follow my passion full time. I attended the Hawaiian training in 2001 and returned as a mentor in 2002.
On my return I set up a ‘Free Community Drum Circle’ at The Square Chapel in Halifax, West Yorkshire.
This ran for over 10 years and was recently relocated to my hometown of Hebden Bridge. During that time I have not only seen the power of community music, I have also deepened my own practice. Making a regular commitment month to month, year on year, allows something tangible to grow in the circle as well as in oneself.
For me the regular Community Drum Circles have never been linked with my professional work as a drummer, which centres around providing workshops for schools, community groups and companies, and therefore not with ‘making a living,’ although my training has no doubt improved me professionally.
Keeping the Community Circles separate has proved a sensible call in these difficult economic times and the fact that the drums and venue have been covered by funding in the main, allow us to meet monthly without too much in the way of financial constraints.
I do these regular Community Circles because I believe in them. The community work has at its heart a desire to do exactly what I learned on the training; to empower participants in the act of celebrating community.
Many of the early facilitators who trained with Arthur brought their skills solely into their business, which given the growth in that sector at the time, was not unusual.
Perhaps though, as a result of a business focus there was neglect on the community side of things. When business falls away then there is nothing to fall back on; no community equipment; no community venue; no community.
I believe that with the right support and dedicated people these types of drum circles can be established in a way that is self-sustaining. There are some very strong community drum circles now in the UK and my intention is to continue to create an environment where they will flourish.
Along with my commitment to deliver local circles I also made a decision to support upcoming facilitators wishing to do the same by offering mentoring support in the form of drum loans, funding advice and hands on training in their locality. Mentoring has been carried out alongside our growing UK Training Program. Every year since I first worked with Arthur there have been UK Trainings and I am now responsible for managing the team that delivers these exciting ‘Playshops,’ as we like to call them (as opposed to ‘work’shops).
We are the first team outside of the USA to deliver the full 10 day training and we will be doing so again this year in October. Our community, like any other, has seen much change. In the current economic climate many businesses whose focus is ‘music through education and/or community’ have struggled with funding cuts and shifts in Educational Policy.
We are currently looking for ways to generate our own income and to apply for funding at UK Playshop to allow support for Community Circles to continue, so that those facilitators with a desire to work in their own communities can do so. Ideas for the future include a Bursary Fund, a Mobile UK Drum Circle Kit and funding to provide ongoing Mentoring outside the trainings.
Last year 2012 we held a hugely successful training with many new facilitators. It felt for me like a tipping point. Regardless of the state of the economy, here were people who wanted to bring this powerful work into their own communities and I for one will be doing all I can to enable that to become a reality in the coming years.