Church's popular drumming sessions free the spirit
REED, Standard-Times correspondent
lights dim and candles flicker on Sunday nights at the FirstUnitarianChurch in New Bedford, you might as well free up your hands and loosen your
you're the person who can sit through "La Bamba"
and not swivel your hips once, before you know it, you'll be tapping your
foot to a beat that is as infectious as any pop song you've heard on FM
But no one
sings here or struts around in sexy clothes to get your attention. Eyes are
closed, heads are usually bowed and hands tend to flail so fast that at times
they become a blur.
what Judy Cormier of Fairhaven calls "a well-kept secret."
focus on the spiritual, the New Bedford Unitarian Universalist
Drumming Group is where as many as 20 people congregate to let off some steam
from a rough week and enjoy fellowship with other people who dabble in drums.
cool thing about drumming is that you don't have to study music to appreciate
it and participate," said Mrs. Cormier. She and her husband, Rick, are
the group's unofficial leaders.
started four years ago as a small gathering of church members has evolved
into one of the area's premier drumming circles, attracting people hungry for
release and relaxation.
A bad day
at the office, an argument with a loved one, even post-Sept. 11 blues are all
forgotten here when members, many of whom don't even know each others' names,
gather with their instruments.
Ralph DeBalsi has been attending the group's get-togethers
since last year and he still can't identify everyone who is at tonight's jam
couldn't tell you everyone's name, but I can tell you that I feel connected
to all these people when we're playing," he said.
members John "Spence" Spencer and his wife, Suci,
started the group after they got hooked on drumming at a summer music camp.
people have shown up, lugging their pride and joy with both hands. Once
everyone has settled in, the drummers ease into a groove that depends on the
person who initiated it.
what happens is whoever starts the piece sets the tone," Mr. Cormier
said. "For example, if Judy begins something sweet and gentle with the
flute, I'm not going to be wild and loud."
and inviting, the pieces flow naturally so that participants can pick up
anywhere they'd like. Judy Cormier likes to add flute accompaniment and
usually lends a mellow touch to the sessions.
is mixed tonight, with some members looking young enough to be in their 20s
and others in their mid-60s. The church's minister, the Rev. Carol Karlson, has joined the group with a modest two-drum set
that she plays thoughtfully.
The Cormiers often begin the songs, and their styles
generally differ. Judy is soft and serene, while Rick, who began playing the
drums when he was 9 years old, is the wild man.
appearing to try or even know it, Rick Cormier is the showman in this group,
the heart and soul of it. Yet never does his musicianship seem forced or
ostentatious. He is a dynamic man with a nature that is as fetching as his
head arched, legs extended and shoulders heaving, he represents the pure joy that
music can invoke. He flashes wide, open-mouthed smiles as his eyes squint and
his hands snap into a mambo-tinged jam full of down-and-dirty improvisation.
His head bobbles so much that occasionally you wonder if it'll slip right off
Try as you
might, with this group it is almost impossible to resist the urge to pound on
something, be it your knee, the guy beside you or the floor. The rhythms are
infectious. It's unspoken, but the group loves it when somehow everyone ends
a song on the exact same beat.
they yell out as a piece finishes in perfect unison.
one of the things that's been happening a lot to us
lately," said Mr. Spencer. "Everyone starts to feel how everyone else
is playing, and we surprise each other by ending at the same time."
banter is lighthearted and runs the gamut from Super Bowl predictions to who
shops on eBay. And there's plenty of marveling at new acquisitions.
that's gorgeous," cooed one participant as she took a look at the latest
addition to Mr. DeBalsi's drum collection, which
now totals somewhere around 15.
it," he said.
in public," she shot back. "Maybe if you bring it into the
worry if you can't bring a fancy drum to play. Most members bring an
assortment of instruments and place them in the center of the circle to pass
mistake about it: the New Bedford Unitarian Universalist
Drumming Group is no place for observers. You might go with the intention of
watching everyone else play, but eventually someone will suggest you pound
out a note or two.
you have to just try this before you go," they'll tell you.
smart, you will.
Bedford Unitarian Universalist Drumming Group meets
the second, third and fourth Sunday of each month at at the FirstUnitarianChurch, 71 Eighth St.