Sunday, February 28, 2010

Drummers and lovers of rhythm! I'd like to interview you.


Drummers and lovers of rhythm...
You are invited to be a part of a new article based upon experiences and stories of drummers and non-drummers who have had transformational experiences with rhythm.

I am interested to hear about your most memorable/profound/exciting/powerful experience that involve drumming or rhythm in some way. This could be via playing, watching, dancing...

You can use these questions to guide you. Answer them in whatever way makes sense to you. 
  1. What was the circumstance?
  2. What made it memorable/profound/exciting/cherished/powerful?
  3. What, if anything, did you retain from the experience?
  4. Did the experience change you in any way?
Leave your answers in the comment section below.
I look forward hearing about it!
Jim Donovan


    1. A number of years ago I was in a state of deep depression resulting from numerous situations in my life. I had put myself in a mental health section of a local hospital where I was evaluated, medicated and educated. After 10 days there, I was admitted to a 90 day residential rehab at a mental health rehab house. After one week there I was allowed outside privileges. I went to my home a few times to retrieve certain things, my Bodhrán being one of those things.
      My depression had made music an unpleasant experience for me. But on occasions I tried to use my drum to occupy my time and be a diversion for my mind. It didn’t work well because of the disruption the staff claimed.
      One day during a cold December day and after a very frustrating encounter with staff there, I grabbed my drum and a chair and went to the far corner of the large back yard. I cleared a round area of snow and sat on the chair and started beating on my Bodhrán. At first I was playing hard and fast. As I attacked my drum, I was able to quiet the anger and frustration that was consuming me. After some time I found myself in a flight with my drum, I was able to smoothly glide down into valleys and soar high into the sky. I found myself in a groove that soothed me and enabled me to re-connect with a part of myself that had been blocked off for quite some time.
      I meditated with my drumming for 4 to 5 hours that cold December day but the I did not feel the cold. After laying my Bodhrán down in my lap, I knew I was going to be OK. And, I was.

    2. This is really tremendous. Thanks for sharing your story. I appreciate your willingness to be open in that way.

    3. Too many for me to choose from, so I will just say this; the most amazing drumming experience for me is any time I am able to let go and become completely immersed in the moment...when the rhythm and I become one and the whole world falls away - it's such a primal expression. I prefer rhythms that get progressively faster and build and build until my energy is just pushed so far beyond the norm that it can't be described as anything else but ecstasy.

      I love to be surrounded by and share these experiences with new friends, old friends and people I love because I know how good it makes me feel and I can't help but want to share it with others.

    4. When I was twenty-nine, I bought a bodhran off an Irish gift shop wall. I was a student of Celtic studies at the time, and I had always wanted to learn to play. A year later, I won a scholarship to study Irish Gaelic in Ireland, so I took my bodhran with me and participated in a weekend bodhran workshop on the campus of the school where I was also studying Gaelic. I learned the basics, I learned how to take care of the instrument and I learned how to play along to Irish music.

      After I graduated with my BA and went on to study for my MA in English, my life circumstances changed dramatically for the worse. My MA program was not difficult, but many of the people in it, both students and professors, were hurtful to me. My husband and I lost our home and our car when he was downsized from his job, and we wound up stuck in an economically depressed area of the country while he finished his degree. I thought about selling my drum for awhile; I never played it anymore, and it just sat there in a corner of my mobile home reminding me of what I had lost.

      Seven years after I visited Ireland, my husband finished his education and we moved to a better place where we could prosper a little. I started taking djembe lessons and then found a local bodhran teacher; a woman over ten years my senior who told me that it was ridiculous for me to believe that a thirty-eight year-old woman was too old to learn to play drums well. She was an inspiration to me, a look into my own future as a musician. She taught me to wail on the bodhran, and then she taught me a little kit (not my favorite instrument, but I do own a kit now). It was through the vehicle of drumming that I began to heal, to embrace the onset of my middle years not as a time to look back at the things that had failed me, but to look ahead to the things I could yet achieve.

      I taught my first bodhran workshop last summer, I play with a local West African performance group now, and I am learning to play Middle eastern style on the frame drum (and Great Mother, is THAT addictive!). Better yet, I have been accepted to the University of Aberdeen's Celtic department for my PhD, where I plan to study modern Scottish Gaelic music, if I can get funded. It is my hope to move to Scotland with my husband and commence my studies in the fall of 2011 (I'm delaying admission for a year to save money).

      When I tell you that I was broken all those years I looked at my bodhran and remembered what I had lost, you must believe me. When I tell you that I look upon all my drums as instruments of healing now, you must believe me. I'm not a fabulous player by any stretch, but I am fast on the bodhran, competent on the djembe and having fun with Middle Eastern rhythms now. But without my drums, I don't know if my heart could have healed as it did, and I don't know if I would have had the confidence to apply for my PhD. They gave me back my voice and my life, and they helped me cross the threshold of my fortieth birthday with grace.

      With Every Blessing,
      Ceallaigh S. MacCath-Moran

    5. I believe you Ceallaigh. I LOVE your story. What I particularly love is how you never let go of your drum... Thanks for sharing this. Good luck with the PhD!

    6. It was July 4th week,sometime in the 80's. My husband and I were both off of work, and wanting to move from Columbia, SC to Asheville, NC(my hometown)SO BAD! We were sitting on the steps of the Asheville Minicipal Building with a newspaper looking for want ads. When lo and behold, right on the front page is this headline "Rainbow Family Brings Elephant to Gathering"! Seems that year the Rainbow Family (who we had never heard of!) were having their National Gathering right outside of Asheville. We looked at each other, and Said "Let's go!"
      NO idea what to expect, but an elephant? It had to be good! So we got in our car and drove to Robbinsville. As we passed Robbinsville, we started to notice cars, VW vans, and all modes of tranportation parked on the side of the road for MILES. And the tags were from all over the country!
      We parked, shuttled in and still didn't know where we were! There were over 10,000 people there, spread out in "camps" all over the forest!
      By pure luck we ended up in the Katua Camp. This is where most of the drumming took place. I had never heard anything like it! It spoke to my soul!
      This was drum central. There were drummers from India, and all over the world. Many professionals. The drummming went on 24 hours a day all week. I was drawn to it in a way I can't explain. I went to sleep to the sound of drums, and when I rolled out of my sleeping bag, I headed straight for the drum circle. I was entranced.
      I knew then that this was something I HAD to do! There were many rythym instruments and I think I played them all!
      Drumming has been a part of my life ever since that wonderful day in Asheville when the Rainbow Family brought an elephant to the woods!
      Mandt Odum, Columbia SC

    7. I was a teenager behind a timpani when I realized the power of the drum. In front of my peers and an audience of parents and friends, I played Tchaikovsky’s Mache Slave. The tones and vibrations of the band and my drum merged, filled my body, and flowed out onto stage, to my conductor and the audience—and I wept. I surrendered to the collective spirit. As a teenager, I was tough and resilient—not a character susceptible to tears; however, the drum provided opportunities to express the grace of surrender and to feel deeply bonded with all that is. After that performance, playing music changed for me. It was no longer a set of practiced patterns, but instead it became a way in which to connect with the universe. Eventually, this transcended my own live performances—and I was able to feel this connection as an audience member. The first musician I felt this connection through was Carol Lee Espy, quickly followed by her husband Jim Dispirito and many of the musicians that occasionally traveled with them (yes, including Jim Donovan). At the time, I knew that these musicians knew the same secret that I did: vibrations connect us to each other and the universe—and expose the infinite possibilities that are always already present.

    8. When my wife,at the time left, I went through my things to pack up and go it on my own for the first time in my life. At 45 years old that can be frightning. Coming across the djembe that I got 8 years earlier, but hadn't played in many years, a feeling came to me that I needed to go forth with my drum and accept what the world had to give. The ex-wife didn't like the "noise" of the drum, now that she was gone, I was free to feel the rhythm once again.That was in 2005, since then I've become Remo Health Rhythms certified, have been to a Jim Donovan workshop, facilitate a monthly drum circle, and have drumed with many beautiful, wonderful people. I now have 25 to 30 drums in my space, but that little djembe will always have a special place in my heart, for always holding the the rhythm for me even when I was lost.I can no longer imagine a world without Mothers heartbeat, and will forever live a life as rhythm. There are many details to this story, however for the sake of brevity. for now this tale ends here. Thank You

    9. I am a 40 year old who just started drum lessons 5 weeks ago and the lessons are not only teaching me how to play drums but they are teaching me about myself as well. My instructor has pointed things out in regards to my learning that are parallel to my personality. In my first lesson I learned that I need to lose control. My instructor recognized that I like to be in control and could tell just by how I was gripping the drum sticks and how stiff I was. In my second lesson I learn that I need to learn how to relax. This is so true in my daily life. As a social worker and a mother of two teenage boys it is sometimes hard to find time to relax. This is part of the reason that I decided to take up this hobby of drums.
      The third week I was really getting down on myself and feeling as though I should have mastered much more than I had regarding the drums. My instructor feels that I am progressing very well and told me that I should not be so hard on myself. This is typical of me as well in my everyday life.
      This week in my lesson my instructor told me that my playing is coming together nicely but I need to get more confidence. He wants to be able to hear that through my playing. Again confidence has been something I have struggled with throughout my whole life.
      The drum lessons have become more than just that, they have become life lessons as well. These observations from my instructor will help me to continue to work on myself as well as working on mastering the drums!!

    10. This story is from Kari Heavrin Donovan....

      I am not a drummer. I am a wanna be. I have always *wanted to be*. I admire people who have taken the training and thrown themselves into music. Music is really important to me, but I am not a musician.

      I have tried to make every avenue open to my children to learn about music- so they could have that hobby and find a passion. My problem is self esteem.. and I am learning slowly to overcome those things.

      I have just started giving myself permission to drum, and to sing. I play on my kids drums.

      THe first experience I ever had with drumming was when I was 9 years old. I was back stage at a Doobie-Brothers concert, (What a Fool Believes Tour) and I was mesmerized by drummer Keith Knudsen. After the concert, he was kind enough to talk to a little girl.. (me) and tell me about himself a little bit- and that made all of the difference for me. He didn't know it, but at the time- I was struggling with some heavy emotional issues stemming from abuse. I was very shy- very frightened of loud - big things. He could have easily passed over a wall flower like me. But he didn't. He was a kind man- and just sort of a normal guy- not a super hero. I collected up on of his drum sticks and held it for many years as a reminder of his playing.

      What made it most memorable to me was watching Mr. Knudsen transform , both in himself, and transform a HUGE audience- with his ability to make energizing sound. He moved me, that is for sure.

      I was lucky enough to see the Doobie brothers a handful of times after that- and other live performances, and those are always so cool..

      I always love the energy that musicians put forth- on any level... but that night- way back when-there was a little girl backstage at a very popular major rock tour, celebrities- and *stuff*- and what was so special to me- was the normality I found in a drummer, who did these amazing things, under these spot lights- and steped down- a nice, kind, caring~*normal* man.

      I recall that memory often. I know music can transform people. So I encourage my kids to keep learning and to find a passion- and when they are not looking- I turn up a tune and drum a little bit. :)

    11. Thanks Mandy, Great story! I appreciate your willingness to share it here.

    12. About twenty of us were drumming in a small canyon, friends and strangers gather to make primitive music on a Friday evening. Ome couple had brought their son, a fifteen year old with autism. For a while he didn't want to join us, and the drumming seemed to be too much input for him. But he knew we were having fun and tried to join us. He tried small percussion toys, a drum, and he just didn't look comfortable. He then got up and ran around the circle chanting on the accent beats. Many of us who knew the family locked eyes with each other and just grinned ear to ear at the connection we had mad with this teen who was usually so difficult to communicate with. The next time I saw this family, months later, the teen looked me in the face, smiled and started chanting again. I smiled, and started playing my chest to keep a beat with him.

    13. Kim, I didn't realize you know Carol Lee, She is an incredible writer and singer... and you played Timpani! One of my favorite instruments. Great stuff..

    14. Great story above! I think we are at the tip of the iceberg about understanding what rhythm can do for those with autism. I am actually involved with a study dealing with teaching OT's how to use simple percussion interventions with their young autistic clients.. I'll be sharing more of that info in the months to come.

    15. Joe!
      Very powerful story man. I am grateful to you for sharing it with us. Thank you and keep up the great work.

    16. To my anonymous social worker friend above. Welcome to the rhythm family! Loved reading your story. Thanks for sharing it.

    17. Kari, I am honored that you would share your story. I love the DBs! It's interesting how far kindness can reach sometimes...

    18. I am so excited to see that you will be coming to Commonground in Oberlin!! I am definately signing up for the April 23rd!!

      From your anonymous social worker friend, Cathy

    19. Thanks Cathy! It'll be great to see you there. Jim

    20. After experiencing the Grateful Dead at Hampton '88, I was awed by the power of the music. The feeling of connectedness through rhythm was so evocative, I could not allow it to simply fade into my memory. The rhythms inspired me to create a drum circle in my own community where, nine years later, we continue to build relationships through music. I have made many friends and seen many transformations in the circle. The drum is the ship that brings us to that farther shore.

    21. I've been drumming for about nine years. I started facilitating drum circles as a hobby, then as a sideline. In 2008 my life was a shambles - bad relationship, job I hated, you know the deal... Then I attended a workshop with humorist Andy Dooley entitled "How to Change Your Life Forever... in 90 minutes". It had absolutely nothing to do with drumming and EVERYTHING to do with manifesting.

      Over the course of the next year my life turned upside down and backwards. I began to focus on envisioning the things I wanted in my life - relationships, personal growth, job satisfaction, etc. BUT I did it with a twist. I did my manifesting while drumming.

      I simply sat down with my djembe and played and dreamed of the world I wanted to live in. Soon things started to shift. If you get deep into the theory behind the science of sound, you know that sonic vibrations affect things on a cellular level, that sound affects physical matter. I began to shape my reality by aligning my rhythm with what I truly longed to see in my life.

      Before I realized it, the world threw me a judo backflip that rearranged EVERYTHING I had seen as problematic. I ended a lousy relationship and found a loving and supportive one. I got laid off from my job, but was able to pursue my passion. I gave up the persona I had been living for an authentic self that I've come to love.

      People see the difference. I have a lighter step (literally 50 lbs lighter), a gleam in my eye, and a ready smile. I now have the best job in the world: I'm a drum circle facilitator. I empower people through rhythm and play. What could possibly be cooler than that? Oh yeah! I get to drum with people all day, every day. That's pretty awesome.

    22. There are probably too many numerous times really to focus on one particular moment for me. Really though inspiration from drumming (actual playing or listening) is always a profound thing. With listening the funny thing I have noticed is there is never any “one thing” that is always boils down to…it can be something simple or something terribly complex….it can be the sound of the drums (or drum…or cymbal or,… well you get the idea) itself it can be the attitude of the player and it can be as much what is played as well as what is not played. Playing is the same way and inspiration from listening always feeds to into wanting to play more. The one thing in common though with all these experiences is it is always fun….even in the learning stages. Drumming has many times lifted my mood, given me focus and left me inspired in other aspects of life. I literally have a hard time not playing just as I did in 6th grade banging on my desk in school and don’t feel “right” when I am not able to play for awhile- the only solution to this? Keep playing-always.


    23. Thanks for the post Laurie. I think the Dead parking lots inspired many people to create community with the drum. So glad you're doing it too.

    24. Greg W, I see your transformation man...even since the first time we met, you look and feel like a whole new person. Good for you. Very inspiring..

    25. I agree John. The attitude/energy we hold when we play prfoundly affects the experience. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    26. Hey Jim,
      As noted in most of these commentaries , there are many stories, ecstasies, and friendships that have moved into my life through rhythm. This one seems to stand out as markedly unique.
      I went to a small gathering in a beautiful place where I used to live. There was music there, and I brought my djembe. This was the place I was living when drumming became a notable part of my lifestyle, as well as the first home of this particular djembe.
      There were many folks I hadn't seen for a while, so I placed my drum under a 200+ year old elm tree, and went about to meet and greet.
      A bit later, I noticed another djembe in a strikingly similar bag to my own, just next to my drum.
      After socializing a bit more, I began to hear "the call", and opened up my bag. I immediately noticed something strange about the way the head cover laid over the drum. To my sudden dismay/acceptance, the head of the drum had split.
      I say dismay/acceptance, because this was a moment where many lenses were instantly seen around this. I just had my most connected and flowing solo in class a few days before, so I knew this marked a new place I would be coming from, a shedding of skin. Drum class had become my therapy during my recovery from an attempt on my life. With that solo, I knew that I had elevated myself in that recovery. There were many other lenses occurring as well, but for now, I'll share that I carried the drum back to my vehicle, and plotted my pilgrimage to the drum maker from whom I purchased the drum, wondering if he could have it done in time for the circle I would lead the following weekend.
      About 45 minutes later, I was walking the land, and happened to glance up toward my car. My friend Chris and his brother were standing beside the car, and had my drum out, with the bag unzipped at the top, making gestures indicative of surprise and astonishment.
      I didn't understand why they would have gone into my vehicle and taken my drum out, and so held my outrage in hopes of coming to a better understanding.
      As it turns out, Chris' drum was the one in the similar bag next to mine, and his car was parked next to mine. The astonishment he wore was a result of his drum head also splitting. As his drum came from the same maker as mine, I told him I was heading down to Baba's to get mine fixed, and would be more than happy to deliver his as well.
      In our conversation we realized that not only had we purchased very similar djembes (and bags) from the same drum maker, but we had purchased them on the very same day at the same rhythm festival, four years prior. And here, under a 200 year old elm tree, in a place sacred to both of us, and in fact, where the two of us met, at a drum circle, our drums experienced significant transformation together.

      I don't know what this all means, and don't need to, for the chills that come with the telling of this story say it all.

      Thank you Jim, for keepin the rhythm the many ways you do!


      David Wonderlin

    27. I was invited to my first drum circle on Miami beach for the full moon this past January.

      It was the first time that I was surrounded by people who were all in tune to each other and adapting to each others rhythms and vibes as a whole. It was like we were one, having fun and being comfortable with strangers where if anywhere else we would keep to ourselves. It brings people together unlike any other circumstance. It gave me a chance to free myself because I am a naturally timid person.

      There, I realized that there are still creative individuals in Miami who do not conform and like the simplicity of life such as being out late at night under a full moon on the beach beating some drums and dancing around a fire. Such individuals may be hard to find, but are apparently not extinct in South Florida. I also refound my love of tribal like music. Not only does it come natural to me but I love it in every sense.

      Going to the drum circle has inspired me to live life less materialistically than I already am trying to be in a day and age where technology runs many things. It has also inspired me to lose a bit of weight because although I CAN belly dance and move like a pro with no experience whatsoever, my weight is a bit embarassing and moving to the music becomes a whole new life of its own for the excess on my body. I plan to keep going back every month and little by little overcoming my self image fear. Hopefully the people who went this month will be a little more considerate to the art and respect that others are there to enjoy one another as a whole not in individual groups in a whole who litter and completely disengage from the event and just stand around commenting rude things.

    28. My Dad had been diagnosed with dementia about 10 or so years ago. It meant that slowly but surely he was going to lose his ability to intake and process information and his body functions would regress as well. As a retired social worker he knew and fully understood what that meant but he was a fighter and determined to rise to the occasion.

      February 2009 he entered a nursing home when it got obvious that we couldn’t care for him at home any more. He adjusted well, always looked at the bright side and couldn’t wait to “get the gang together”...........his family.

      Christmas 2009 was a celebration of mixed feelings. We were glad to still have Christmas together but concerned that my Dad’s condition was growing worse. One morning in mid-January I went to see my Dad who was still in bed. The nursing staff said he was having one his sleepy mornings and they thought it best to let him in bed for the day. When I returned the next afternoon he didn’t look well at all and I had him admitted to the hospital. He was suffering from internal bleeding caused by one of the medications that helped him live. During the next few days he was not conscious much but I know he heard every word that was spoken about tests, results and diagnosis.

      To honor my Dad’s Living Will and respect his wishes for his last days we moved him from the hospital to a local hospice facility. As Providence would have it the medical director is one of my African drumming students. She suggested that we have our regularly scheduled class at hospice rather than our usual meeting place. So we did. About 10 or so of us brought frame drums, shakers, a Native American flute and lots of Reiki, surrounded his bed for almost 2 hours and just played.

      This experience was almost beyond words. Everyone drumming knew why we were there. They came to be there and be “all in” . The energy we created came from everyone’s heart and was filled with more love than you can imagine. You could see my Dad’s face relax when he understood what was happening. He knew we were there and why we were there and he joined us. He contributed the rhythm of his breathing to our circle of drums and we supported each other.........just like he taught me about life. I stayed with him through the night holding his hand much like he did for me when I was a scared little kid.

      By mid afternoon the next day I got a call that I should come to hospice because he was getting close to crossing over. I gathered my brother-in-law and partner and the three of us drummed again. Very gentle rhythms with a soothing shaker and again my Dad joined us with his breath cycle.

      After dinner my Mom and the rest of the family said their goodbyes and left for home. A friend and I stayed behind and we began drumming again. My Dad’s breathing had become labored and almost painful to watch but he responded to our drumming as before. He relaxed and we matched the pulse of our frame drums to his breath. We worked together and as his breathing slowed down we slowed to a shaker rhythm. We followed him and his last breath came on the pulse of a shaker. I took his hand, promised him we would take good care of my Mom and thanked him for everything he taught me in life. It was an honor to be with him at his crossing and an equal honor carry his spirit in me. I won’t forget.

      Thanks Dad.

    29. Thanks David, I got chills reading your story too. I appreciate the entry.

    30. Thank you Moe. SO What an honor it must have been to be there in that way.