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  • Autumn Swain

Life Lessons Learned From a Drum Circle

What is it about the drum? When my husband and I were first dating we would spend a majority of our dates walking and talking in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. I think part of the reason we enjoyed this was we were able to observe the eclectic group of people wandering or hustling about. There was one afternoon that sticks out to me particularly clear. As we ventured towards one of our usual walking destinations we ran into an incredibly entertaining and fascinating drum circle. Of course it would be entertaining viewing people from all ages, cultures and walks of life participating in a drum circle beating, shaking and tapping percussive instruments. However, why was this so fascinating to me?

I believe it was the simplicity at which a drum circle was uniting people from all different backgrounds on a common journey towards a common destination. It was an afternoon of putting differences aside and enjoying each others company. I was entertained and inspired by the willingness of the participants to be so transparent as it really wasn’t about a best performance, but about the joy of “letting loose” together as the group played and danced and sang. Anyone and everyone was welcome so I witnessed men in business suits arrive and take of their shoes and “get to work” on a drum of their choice. There were men and women with their kids participating along with a couple of homeless individuals. It was so beautiful!

The term "Drum Circle" originated in the United States during the late 1960s and early 1970s for any group of people who gather (informally) to play music together. However, drums are among the earth's oldest musical instruments. Every culture has a history of drums and group drumming used for music, dance and ritual. For thousands of years, group drumming has been a part of almost every global culture and were used in all manner of celebration. Even the country of Kenya celebrated elections with a drum circle. Today, this ancient ritual is coming alive in western cultures and cuts across all lines that divide us.

The popularity of the drum circle has led to a 40 year tradition in my very own DC Metro area. Every Sunday afternoon at Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park you will find it filled with drums, dance, and excitement. “What started as a small group of African American drummers and dancers has evolved into a multicultural mix of tight-rope walkers, hula-hoopers, yogis, and jugglers….The scene, every Sunday, is inviting and positive, so you can bring the whole family to this lively celebration of life!”

So my encouragement to every person is to take time out of one’s daily routine to experience other cultural celebrations or examples of positive cultural expression. Find an international festival or attend a celebration such as Juneteenth or Cinco de Mayo. Check out this video and get inspired to explore a drum circle near you.


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