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Drum Circles: In the News 4


The Bugle Observer

New Brunswick, Canada



Coffee House Fun

By Brigitte Marsden


This area is full of surprises. Last weekend I experienced another one when I attended my first coffee house in Houlton, ME. I’d heard about it a while ago, but I must admit I didn’t really know what to expect.

Two reasons in particular motivated me to cross the border with a friend to spend Saturday evening in a church basement: one was to hear the drumming circle workshop participants perform, as I’d missed the workshops due to a bout of the flu; and the other was to check out the open mic opportunities for our writers’ group, Beyond Words.

Once we’d located the correct church – there are three very close together on Military Street – we found ourselves in a cosy, spacious, and I have to say surprisingly warm, space. As the evening unfolded, musicians of all ages took to the stage, reflecting the informal family atmosphere, and leading up to the freestyle drumming segment.

First came Rick and Judy Cormier’s performances, a spell-binding combination of drum and flute: Rick’s freestyle drumming was the perfect compliment to the haunting sounds of the native American wooden drone flute and buffalo horn played by Judy.

They were then joined by Rick’s workshop students for a freestyle drumming circle experience, and the audience were encouraged to join in the second piece with clapping and any other way of keeping rhythm. The enthusiasm and skill of the drummers was so infectious, it was hard to believe that their performances were unrehearsed.

Afterwards I took the opportunity to catch up with Rick and find out more about the whole drumming circle concept. The founder of Maine’s largest drumming circle, Different Drummers Drum Circle in Yarmouth, had his book on the subject published this year. Rick explained that “Freestyle Community Drum Circles” was written in response to the many questions he is asked as he travels around spreading the word.

It was actually through his book that Rick came to Houlton to provide two workshops, at the invitation of John Lloyd, who had read it as part of his quest to start a drumming circle in the area.

Rick highlighted a number of reasons why people join a drumming circle: for some it is a spiritual experience, while others particularly enjoy the social dimension, in a group that is very inclusive in terms of nationalities and ages, and where there is no room for politics, religion or gender issues.

We have singles, married couples, entire families,” he added. “A 13 month old girl drummed with us and actually kept a beat, and our oldest drummer just turned 92. It builds a real colourful sense of community.”

Creativity is another draw, with musicians, dancers and hula hoopers participating in the Yarmouth-based group, as well as a poet – Portland, Maine’s first Poet Laureate Martin Steingesser. I liked the sound of poetry readings over a background of drumming and music, for a uniquely enhanced performance.

As a psychotherapist, Rick also sees benefits in people with anxiety disorders and depression, and people who have experienced trauma. He added that drum circles provide a safe, welcoming place for people from all walks of life to drum together and “have a blast”.

That will definitely not be my last visit to the Houlton coffee house, and I’m keen to find out more about the new drumming circle starting up in our area.


Follow-Up Story
The writer of the article above missed the workshop, due to the flu, but did manage to attend the launching of Houlton's first community drum circle. She wrote a follow up to the above article from the perspective of a first-time attendee. Here is what she wrote in the Bugle Observer...

"Last Saturday brought another new experience, when I attended my first ever drumming circle. I had heard all about it from others, and got a taste of freestyle drumming at last month’s Houlton coffee house, but this was my first chance to actually try it out for myself.

At this point, I think I should confess that I have never actually done anything like it before, unless you count tapping out a rhythm on the steering wheel. In fact, despite having been in the school choir and recorder group, I never really mastered the art of reading music and felt somewhat of a fraud playing and singing everything by ear instead.

So it’s just as well that the brand new drumming circle, hosted by Houlton’s Unitarian Universalist Church, accepts rookies. Pointers were provided, spare drums and other percussion instruments were on hand, and nobody tutted or frowned as we did our best to join in. Thankfully, freestyle drumming is all about following the lead of the person who sets the “heartbeat rhythm”, then blending your own groove in with those of the rest of the group.

According to Rick Cormier, the "Pied Piper" of freestyle drumming, people join drumming circles for a variety of reasons; many enjoy the social contact, others appreciate an outlet for their creativity, and some find it a spiritual experience.

As well as the above, the two aspects that stood out most to me were the inclusiveness of the experience and of the group, and being “in the moment”. I found that being totally focused on the rhythms around me, and on maintaining and adapting mine, left no room for other thoughts or distractions. In some ways it reminded me of yoga, with the sense of focus and shared energy.

And it was a lot of fun!

Brigette Marsden

Drum Circles: Guidelines and Tips

Different Drummers Drum Circle

The NBUU Circle: A History

Why Freestyle?

Drum Circles: Links

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