Together in the Beat
Sweetwater Drum Circle
May 17, 2018
Every month, Sweetwater invites members of the community to come together to relieve stress and make new friends through the therapeutic power of percussion.
From 7 to 8 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month, individuals from all backgrounds gather to create raw and inspired rhythm.
"It's a very social event," Executive Director of Sweetwater Academy of Music & Technology Bob Bailey explained. "The whole concept of a drum circle is you get a whole group of people together. You start with a basic beat and that grows and evolves and changes overtime based on who is bringing what."
At this free event colleagues, neighbors and strangers try their hand at different percussion instruments while collaborating on a one-of-a-kind rhythmic beat.
"It's sort of a living breathing entity of its own," Bailey said.
Drumming circles are more than just about tapping on a bongo or rattling the tambourine. While the physical act of playing an instrument is certainly important in creating group music, there is a deeper sense of accomplishment and togetherness that takes place during each session.
Using music as a universal language, each participant is able to transcend from their individual rhythm and become a part of something bigger. This can be a chance for spiritual reflection or simply for relaxation.
"It's an opportunity for people to come in who perhaps have high-stress jobs. This is their outlet," Bailey said. "They get to come and hang out with a bunch of other people and play a drum and blow off some steam and have a good time."
And this is not restricted to those who are already seasoned musicians.
"We're happy to have people of all experience levels and everybody can participate on whatever level they want to participate on," he said.
No matter if you are a percussion professional or have never touched a drum in your life, there is a place for you at the Sweetwater drum circle.
In fact, engaging in group music is the best opportunity to try an instrument for the first time. During a drum circle, participants can be exactly as engaged as they want to be.
"Last Tuesday we had 72 people here for the drum circle," Bailey said. "In that size [group] you can almost be anonymous but still enjoy the pleasure of making some kind of music."
Allowing novices a pressure-free role in creating music could be the reason the drum circle is the most popular community event at Sweetwater.
Bailey said drum instructor Doug Laughlin is to thank for the success of this program. He describes Laughlin as a laid-back and welcoming guy.
"He sets the tone for the whole thing ... he actually looks out for new people who are coming in and he definitely will say, 'Hi, welcome, we're glad you're here'."
Laughlin also intentionally allows the group to determine what they want to create together.
"Doug will usually start it and say, 'Okay, we're gonna all play this, just kind of a dun duh duh dun dun duh duh' and everybody will kinda start playing that. And then somebody else will start going, 'duh duh duh duhduhduhduhduh duh duh.' So you have that core constituency that is keeping that basic thing going, but people start adding their own little other rhythmic parts in context of what is going on. So it starts becoming more complex and organically grows."
With such a warm leader and convivial drumming community, it is no wonder participants keep returning to enjoy the open and relaxed vibe.
Another way Sweetwater brings the therapeutic power of drumming to the region is by hosting team-building drum circles. Whether it is for a school, volunteer group or corporate event, Sweetwater can bring the restorative and teaching influence of the drum circle into other environments to help folks work together and have fun.
Sweetwater teaches that the basic principles learned while in a drum circle can translate into any group effort.
"Doug will lead the drum circle with the goal of teaching them true listening and playing interaction and how the team has to be dependent on each other," Bailey said. "If one person is playing way loud or way soft or way out of time it sort of affects the whole team."
It should be noted that these types of events do come with a fee. However, Bailey said Sweetwater charges far below the market value as they simply need to cover transportation costs.
Camille Hunter, assistant director of Sweetwater Academy of Music & Technology, encourages everyone to give the drum circle a shot.
"If you're on the edge of deciding whether to go, if you want to observe and see kind of what happens there's no pressure to participate. I have a feeling that if they decided to come and even are planning on not participating, it's hard to not participate because you want to be involved."
Whether it's drumming with a co-worker or a new friend, nearly everyone could benefit from an opportunity to reduce stress and make meaningful connections.
To participate, just show up at Sweetwater at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of any month. You can bring your own drum, or one will be provided for you.
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