The winter/spring transition here in the North East can be a psychological challenge. You can have days of 70 degrees and sunshine in February and blizzards with sub-freezing temps leading into April. It is during these times when some of us ask why would we choose to live in a place with such crazy weather changes.... well, its because of the changes that is why. Change is one thing that we are assured of in life and with the changing of the seasons brings us an immense amount of gratitude. Just when you think you can't deal with winter any more... BAM ! Sunny warm days bring us the smell of the earth and small flowers such as Snow drops, Crocuses, and Daffodils, along with small buds on the Maple trees and Lilacs. And then.... Everything goes from a dreary brown to endless types of greens all around. It is truly quite spectacular if you are paying attention. It was this time last year when I was feeling a bit "cabin feverish" when I decided to start the drumming class in Katonah. The Katonah Project I call it, even though it is more of an on going experiment because every week it is totally different from any class before it. Different people, different energies, different rhythms, some times 5 people show up and sometimes 20 people show up. The drum class is a classic example of how things change, there is no constant and that is what I love about it !
Drumming in community can be another tool in the tool box of helping people to stay sober. Whatever it is that you may be addicted to.... drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping, feeling bad etc... it is important to those of us who choose to be and to stay sober that one of the major choices we make is to surround ourselves with other sober people. This can be done successfully through participating in a community drum circle that is "taught and guided" properly. For some people the drum circle can be a trigger from a previous experience that could put them in a place of re stimulating "intoxicating" or "high" feelings, believe me I know these "triggers" I grew up in the Grateful Dead parking lot scene of party and drum circles that tried to imitate the drum duo segments of the Grateful Dead concert experience. Now that I am over five years sober and am constantly doing the deep work of discovery on a daily basis to keep my sobriety in tact, I am now realizing and acting upon the fact that drumming in community is an ultimate sober, present time, joyful experience. It is my "thought" that when done correctly, community drum class or the "drum circle" can be beneficial in so many ways by incorporating the following aspects with the group: Meditation-Breathing-Listening-Action-Present time-MUSIC-Story telling-CommUNITY and a sense of Joy. What I mean by CommUNITY is "creating unity through communication with the drum. Community means fellowship, affinity with others, and working together as a group. These things give people feelings of support that which in every support program it is suggested that part of your tool box of sobriety is to join a fellowship or supportive community. Remember the definition of Djembe' is: EVERYONE GATHERS TOGETHER IN PEACE .
On December 21st, a group of 5 women and 7 men gathered together in a Tipi to create a sacred space of community and LOVE intention. It just happened to fall on a Thursday which is the day for our regular drum class. What made this drum class special was the fact that we gathered in a Tipi on the first day of winter with a fire roaring in the middle. We came with open hearts and open minds to experience a tradition of celebrating the return of the life force we call "light" from the sun. It was the Winter Solstice. We did small symbolic rituals of intending Love towards ourselves and towards others and released them by allowing the flames and smoke of the fire to carry them out to share with the universe. We welcomed the energies of the four directions into our sacred space while we drummed and created hypnotic and playful rhythms. For a short 2 hours this group of humans let go of the pressures and struggles that we hold on to as our individual stories and experienced a presence which unified us as a group.... as one. A group experience like this can create an uplifting feeling that can carry us though these early dark days of winter. The group will always have a connection with the people we shared it with, knowing that the rhythmic beat of the drums can always be felt in our hearts which pumps the life force of our blood throughout our bodies. Thank you to all who attended and for Sun Raven for allowing us to create in their sacred space.
With so much "weirdness" going on out there in the physical world, some are finding it more and more difficult to be present, right here, right now. The concern for the future is real. The concern about what has happened in the past is real. We are barraged with constant 24 hour a day, 365 days a year "news" cycles that have a tendency to keep us feeling in a state of "concern", or "worry". With all the smart technology that we love so much keeping us looking at our screens, we are forgetting how to be creative with our thoughts and actions. So it is difficult to be present, to be really aware of our feelings at this very moment, right now. It seems to me that people in general are suffering in one way or another, struggling with what is going on in the world, other people's issues, their own personal issues, the weather, who the Yankees have traded away, or whether or not we can truly feel joy and gratitude on a regular basis? Imagine for just one minute what it would feel like to feel joy and gratitude 25% of the time, or 50% or even most of the time that you are awake. I believe this is possible, and so at this weeks drum class, before we started drumming, I presented the idea of sending out a healing light vibration not only to people dear to me but to anyone who may need it. I then said that we were just going to drum what ever the universe energy presented to us, no set rhythm and no "break" to start and end, we would just "feel" it and hopefully it would feel right and good. After 20 minutes or so the collective drumming just .... stopped. For 20 minutes a group of us didn't talk, didn't worry about the past or the future, we just found ourselves absorbed in the hypnotic moment that a community drum circle can provide. We were being fully present with our presence. I LOVE THAT.
Drum time is a funny thing. Most drummers have a tendency to be late to gigs... and class. They also seem to not know when to stop drumming. What I have found is when you are drumming, you are being totally present, and in a form of hypnotic meditation that the awareness of time dissolves. When you are drumming in community you aren't thinking. You aren't thinking about your bills, work, the new Yankees manager..... or anything outside of the drum circle. Actually, you aren't thinking about anything.... you are feeling. You are feeling the overall sounds of the drums and how your body and mind are reacting to this feeling. It is why as a drum circle facilitator, I use a "break" (a small rhythmic phrase) to start the drumming and a "break" to end the drumming, otherwise we would end up drumming and drumming and drumming, lost in our present presence. This weeks drum class started late... and in classic Matthew fashion I had a lot I wanted to share with the class. I have a tendency to come back to making the point of how Grateful I am for everything. Grateful to be alive, grateful to have gone through my life's experience up to this point, grateful for the participants in class who have chosen to spend their Thursday night drumming with me. The gratitude awareness set the stage for me so that when we played the basic rhythm for Kuku in a 4 part round robin structure (which is like singing Row Row Row Your Boat but with drumming) it put me/us into a present time hypnotic state.... We played it for what seemed like an hour but was probably only 15 minutes of clock time and when we ended it, it sent me into a laughter that I couldn't control or stop, nor did I want to stop it. The only explanation is one of Divine Laughter. The feeling was one of complete Joy, of Love, and of Gratitude for sharing this feeling with these wonderful people. What a wild ride we are on !
Today we had drum class at the Katonah Library adjacent to the room where there were 15 or so artisans displaying their creations for a holiday craft fair. Half way through class I remembered I wanted to share with everyone that I view the drum as my vehicle. A vehicle in which I am able to share my passion and my love of creating community and music easier than if I didn't have the drum as my "vehicle". I use it as a way to bring people together to do something that makes me feel good, I feel immense Joy and love when people in the group play amazing poly-rhythms together, when we hit that groove that feels good to everyone. I relate it to any other type of art creation. A painter has a canvas and paints, a potter has a wheel and clay etc... Those are the vehicles in which they get to express the creative universal energy we call love directly through their creative expressive art. Everyone has this within themselves, to find their vehicle so they can feel the universal love and express it so they too can SHARE THE LOVE. What is your vehicle?
"Thinking outside the box by thinking inside the circle... The drum circle that is." What I mean is, just by doing something that you wouldn't normally do like being part of a drum circle is actually thinking and acting "outside the box". With this particular drum circle you learn basic technique, West African rhythms, how to listen to each other, how to be present at the same time as feeling the hypnotic syncopation of the drumming and hearing me talk about feeling the Universe move you. Here is the crazy thing, because I am teaching the class, I am the one who gets to share my stories and opinions. It kind of feels like I'm standing on my soap box. For those of you who might not know what a "soap box" is, it was what was used in the early 1900's during a time of political turmoil in the US when people in the big cities would stand on top of a crate to be above the crowded streets and voice their opinions for everyone to hear. The crate was usually an empty wooden box that had soap in it to be delivered to the stores, hence when you "stand on your soap box" you are publicly sharing your opinion.... kind of like what Facebook is. The key for me during class is to be as articulate a possible which is difficult sometimes because the people that come to class are thinkers and very opinionated in their own right and so they sometimes challenge what I say. Last night I brought up the Ego as a generalization of how from my experience, men who participate in drum circles have more of a tendency to want to drum louder, have the need to take control, and be flashier with their movements. For women who are just "thinking outside of the box" by attending a drum circle for the first time, the strongly egoic man drummer can be quite intimidating and that perhaps the new woman drummer might not want to come back for a second class, which defeats the purpose of creating a fun filled, non intimidating, supportive community drum circle. I suggested that maybe I was thinking of starting an all men's drum circle and a separate all women's drum circle. Well, this seemed to have caused a stir. It took a while for everyone to settle down because all the participants had their own opinions to share with the person sitting next to them and no one was listening to me or each other.....finally someone in the group was fed up with the cacophony and began drumming a rhythm I was trying to teach earlier and all of a sudden everyone was drumming.... not talking.... just drumming! This particular jam went on for fifteen minutes or so and could've kept going all night long, but it being 9 o'clock it had to come to an end. Everyone clapped and felt some relief, combined love, and an amazing amount of Gratitude. A classic case of the teacher learning more from the students than the students learn from the teacher. I too have to "think outside the box" more often.
Last night we played two very simple rhythms. 1/2 the group played : bass-bass-bass----tone, and the other 1/2 played : bass-----bass----bass-----tone-tone-tone. When these two are combined and you are focused on the simple rhythm that you are playing but yet using your "peripheral listening" to take in sounds and complexities of the polythythms, the effects are huuuuge ! The group has dubbed this combination as "Our Hey Jude" because it feels so good and it can go on and on, and it seems to bring spontaneous smiles throughout. I love the reactions of such simpleness when brought to the attention of others. In the same vein, I also brought to the attention of the group that as we progress through the days of our lives, if you can remove the habitual complaining about things, people, and events that it can open up a sense of "spiritual enlightenment that brings with it large amounts of gratitude. SIMPLE YET COMPLEX.
The week of Halloween, class happened to fall on "the day of the dead". So I gave everyone the heads up prior to class by posting on Face Book to bring with them 1) a piece of the natural world, 2) a picture or something that reminds them of a deceased pet and 3) a picture or something that remind them of a deceased family member or friend. I was very impressed by how many of the Katonah drummers did just that. At the beginning of class I explained to everyone that when my children were growing up we celebrated Halloween for 3 days leading up to Oct 31st each year. At dinner time on the 29th we would honor the spirits of the natural world by bringing to the table an acorn, a leaf, a flower, or something from the garden. On the 30th, we would honor the spirits of any beloved pets that had been apart of our lives but were not in this physical world anymore, and on the Halloween night we would honor our ancestors by displaying pictures of grand parents or friends that had passed away. So, in drum class this night we were honoring all three. We put photos and plant matter in the center of the circle and as we drummed throughout class, I would remind everyone to be aware of the energy of the spirits around us and ask for guidance from these spirits as we head in to this darkest time of year. It was a beautiful thing and am so happy that everyone had an open mind. From the feed back I received afterwards, it was a powerful and moving experience for everyone.
"bare with me a moment...bring your awareness to a location of your body that may be in pain. Now think back in your memory to a time when you were not allowed to feel a certain way, or when someone invalidated your feelings. As we drum for the next five minutes, allow yourself to feel those feelings in this present time and release them". We then proceeded to drum without any set rhythm and not in unison with each other, five minutes of total cacophony with the idea of relieving some physical body pain.... I think it went well !
Every Thursday night, a group of people get together in the Katonah United Methodist Church to drum together. There is a core group that comes every week along with 2-4 new people each time. This is a free get together and it all started with me wanting and needing someone to drum with. An acquaintance suggested that I speak with the pastor of the church who was organizing various different community classes, she calls these gatherings Katonah SPace, (SPirituality, Arts & Community for Everyone). So I started teaching people who had never touched a drum before. Every week I teach proper technique and basic traditional West African Rhythms. We combine polyrhythms, "peripheral listening", and a sense of community to achieve an end result of harmonious music making! I also combine story telling from my life experience in the drumming world.