The big bang theory
Therapist Rick Cormier helps people find release through drumming


Hank SeamanYou know me, I'm always trying to drum up a good story, so picture this.
Consider yourself one of, perhaps, 25 drum-toting people seated in a large circle. The various drums surrounding you -- mostly hand drums, mind you -- like the individual drummers, themselves, are every size, shape, and color imaginable.
Everything from an African drum called the djembe (pronounced jim-bay) and a Middle Eastern drum called the doumbek (doom-beck), to Indian tom-toms, and even bongos are represented.


DAVID W. OLIVEIRA/Standard-Times special
Drum therapist Rick Cormier uses drums as therapy for a number of ills, ranging from post-traumatic stress syndrome to arthritis.

Male, female, young, old, black and white, the group is made up of people just like you.
One person starts beating on a drum. Slowly. Deliberately. Rhythmically. Others join in, banging their drums in unison, or in counterpoint, or just plain awkwardly, according to their skills.
Finally, albeit reluctantly, you do, too.
Some of your fellow drummers are experienced, most are not, but that really doesn't matter ... for expertise, it begins to dawn on you, is not this aggregate's objective. A Buddy Rich you simply do not need to be.
At times the beat quickens and the sound intensifies to a pulsating, thunderous crescendo, while at others the cadence diminishes to a sound barely more audible than a church whisper.
The one constant is the complexity of united sound.
Before long, you and the other 24 people are in a world apart, a world -- at least for the moment -- totally devoid of tension and everyday problems.
If all is going well, nothing else matters ... there is nothing outside this room.
You are totally intent on the sound that, together, you are producing. Each in the circle is feeling a connection from one to the other -- almost like a shared heartbeat -- and in this pulsation there is release, harmony, and joy.
Welcome to the world of Rick Cormier's Drum Circles.
Both as teacher of a SouthCoast Learning Network course and as part of a tri-monthly group that meets at
New Bedford's First Unitarian Church, Rick has had many documented successes.
Not that he wants to bang his own drum, mind you. But, luckily I get paid to pry.
"People come to drum circles for a dozen different reasons," the 48-year-old drummer/ therapist says.
"Some come to it to make great music, while some come to it for the physical benefits ... arthritis, say, or for the aerobic exercise. Some come for the psychological benefits, like relaxation and stress management. Some are in recovery from substance and alcohol abuse. Some find it spiritually powerful while others do it as a social outlet ... to have fun.”

Whatever.
There is no one "right" reason to be part of a drum circle, the
Fairhaven resident emphasizes. Only the right conclusion.
"Lots of our drum pieces end with laughter," Rick continues. "The release is joyous. Everybody feels connected. People are amazed to be part of this wonderful experience."
Admittedly, Rick Cormier, comes at these sessions with a lifetime of music and percussion as background. He began drumming at the age of 10, playing in a number of area garage bands in his teens, before graduating to guitar and keyboards later in life. In fact, he even recorded two solo albums under his own name wherein he sang and played acoustic guitar.
More to the point, he has always collected percussive instruments as a hobby, and theorizes today he has more than 40 -- from a huge Japanese Taiko drum to a tiny Tibetan finger drum -- even after selling more than three dozen of them over the years.
Still, as master's graduate in counseling psychology at
Cambridge College, music, as such, has never been his main focus, he maintains.
As a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety disorders, Rick has worked with many cases of post-traumatic stress disorder both in his current job at
Taunton's Community Counseling of Bristol County and his former part-time gig with the Veteran's Administration.
In each instance, drum circles have been an unqualified success -- for everyone from Vietnam vets with PTSD to rape and incest victims. They afford Rick an admittedly back door access into troubled people's dysfunction.
As illustration, the married father of a 10-year-old son offers how just recently he introduced a group-home of "at-risk youths" to a drum circle.
According to the group-home staff, at least two of the teens were categorized as having attention deficit disorder and could not be counted on for more than a few minutes attention to anything, yet there they were participating with glee throughout.
"Despite my apprehensions about working with this (group), it was a huge success," Rick says. "After less than 15 minutes of drumming, the room was full of smiling faces, creativity and laughter."
He also points with pride to his most notable success, a veteran who was so blocked that he could not deal with people, even small groups of people.
Yet, today, thanks to group drumming, this 52-year-old man has run the Boston Marathon shoulder-to-shoulder with 17,000 other folks ... a major victory.
OK, so we've seen that it works, but how, exactly, did Rick Cormier get started in this unusual pursuit, I wonder?
"About six years ago, someone at church (
New Bedford's First Unitarian) approached me to ask if I'd like to participate in a drum circle. I was amazed. 'Wow,' I said, 'how did you know I played drums?' She looked at me kind of funny and said, 'I didn't.' "
She was just recruiting anyone and everyone who might be interested, he laughs.
Beyond his own involvement, however, community drum circles have a curious history, with Rick crediting Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead and a man named Arthur Hull as the "grandfathers" of the present movement.
"It's become a big phenomenon, all over the world," he says. Indeed, the annual Drums Around the World festival was held in
Amherst a couple of weeks ago and attracted hundreds of drummers to Western Massachusetts, not to mention thousands of people around the globe to other locations.
As far as details of his own groups -- open to everyone -- are concerned, a long individual drum circle performance is about 10 minutes, Rick explains, while the average piece goes on for six to eight minutes. "There have even been some memorable times where our groups have gone on for 15 to 20 minutes, but that's rare ... only six times, or so, in my experience."
His own expertise is not really a factor, Rick insists. "I can direct it a bit if it’s falling apart, but generally I don't. I'm not really there as a leader of the drumming. …I'm there as a member."
And, as with any club or group, there are certain rules of etiquette. "If you've played a lead part in the last piece, you should try playing a supportive role in the next few," Rick cautions.
"The only sin a novice can make is to be the loudest drummer in the room," Rick explains. "The object is not to worry about your individual performance. Just listen. That's the most important thing to do."
Go, as they say, with the flow.
"We're novice friendly," he adds, emphasizing yet again there's no need to be musically inclined. "There's no audition ... nobody sits in judgment."
Even for people who are painfully reserved.
"People who are shy are less shy when they are drumming," a smiling Rick Cormier contends.
"You don't need to be charming, witty or glib ... you just have to pick up a drum and add your ‘voice’ to the group drumming."
The results can be quite amazing, Rick sums up.
"There is magic going on here."


For more information, e-mail Rick Cormier at: synthrick@hotmail.com