Therapist Rick Cormier helps people find release
You know me, I'm always trying to drum up a good story, so
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.
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
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.”
There is no one "right" reason to be part of a drum
circle, the Fairhaven resident emphasizes. Only the
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org