Community Drum Circle

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The hum of the drums was entrancing.

The sound came from a beat of a single instrument and then spread to others as if the spontaneity couldn’t be stopped.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: NancyAnn Stealey, left, shakes a rattle alongside Barbara Rousseau, center, and Suzen Dopson, right, two other members of the Community Drum Circle. The Community Drum Circle meets on the last Sunday of every month at The Porch on Reinken in Belen.

On a recent Sunday, a small group of Valencia County residents all connected together as one for a community drum circle at The Porch, a healing and wellness center in Belen.

A sign above the small room where the group meets read “The Gathering Place,” a perfect name for what became a jam session of people who aren’t necessarily musicians.

One member of the group, Mark Cicchetti, quickly pointed out that this kind of music couldn’t be made “anywhere else” before he started pounding on a drum to start.

For the next song, Cicchetti got out his didgeridoo, a wind instrument that was first developed by indigenous Australians more than 1,000 years ago.

The distinct drone sound seemed to let members of the group escape into another place. Some closed their eyes and disappeared into their Zen place. Others concentrated hard on shaking rattles and striking Remo drums.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Mark Cicchetti plays the didgeridoo, a wind instrument that was developed more than 1,000 years ago.

Within a few minutes, the group was all connected, like a nomadic tribe that was practicing a daily musical routine. At one point, a member of the group added chanting to the mix. The group was totally wrapped in the sound. In a short moment, it was over.

Members of the group had just finished a improvised song in a newly-formed community drum circle.

The group, started by NancyAnn Stealey, was worth forming once the Los Lunas resident realized the value of playing the drums in a group setting. The gatherings are often with different people and unfold without a plan.

“It’s a powerful metaphor for how life can be,” Stealey said.

Stealey started the group in the summer months after having a hard time finding a drum circle that was already assembled. The closest one was in Placitas.

“That’s a long way to go every time I wanted to go to a drumming circle.” Stealey said. “So, I decided it was time to start one.”

Stealey claims she isn’t a musician and actually bought her first drum as a piece of art before she realized the health benefits of participating in a group.

Stealey, a retired clinical laboratory scientist, said she didn’t have the benefit of having much human interaction at work. Instead, she dealt mostly with technology and frequently became stressed.

She is a firm believer in the idea that music can offer healing elements to people whose stress levels are at high.

The book “Music Medicine” talks about how different parts of music, rhythm, harmony, melody and silence, can all be used as simple tools to help calm the body down to normal levels and help remove stress.

“I know that one of the problems is that people don’t really understand the merits of drumming and all the things it’s capable of doing,” Stealey said.

She said simple lifestyle changes, such as being a part of a community drumming circle, can significantly curb stress and help people rise above frustrations in their lives.

Stealey said some people who have never played a drum say the instrument creates “too much noise” and automatically dismiss drumming as something that can enhance their well-being.

Nueroscience studies have pointed to positive effects from drumming in a group, she said.

“It had a remarkable effect by creating healthier immune systems, reducing burnout and relieving emotional exhaustion,” Stealey said.

So far, the local drum circle hasn’t grown much. But Stealey said she wants to develop a group of individuals who have a solid interest in the hobby.

At the most recent session, at least two of the people who showed up had never been in the group before.

Stealey has a variety of percussion instruments, from drums to rattles, that are available for anyone who wants to join in. The times of the sessions can vary depending on how many people come.

Most of the people who come start off with a particular instrument, and then as time goes, try different percussion instruments that change the flow of the music.

The change in instruments seems to keep the music fresh and ever-evolving.

“There is more than enough to go around,” Stealey said.

The leader of the group says she wants to eventually expand, but is content with the current amount of members.

She said people don’t have to be trained musicians and can just show up to see if they like being a participant. Members can experiment and find an instrument they like during the session.

Stealey said it is a kind of abstract music and the experimentation allows plenty of musical variation. She said the ancient art is something that can be essential to daily life.

In the jam session, almost no one looked up from concentrating on the rhythms of the music they were creating and were totally emerged in the phenomenon.

After a song was done, there was a quick conversation and then a new one began.

But not all the participants were sure what to do once everyone sat down in a circle. But everyone caught on quickly.

Valencia County resident Walter Bailey asked, “What do we do in a drum circle?” just before the session.

Then, Bailey and others followed the beat naturally as if the group had practiced or played together many times before the occasion. Everyone had their own sense of where the rhythm was going and went with the flow.

As Stealey says, the group slipped into their natural body rhythms to create something unique that is different every time someone picks up a drum or shakes a rattle.

“It’s a simple tool that is very effective in so many ways,” Stealey said. “That’s the power of it.”

If you are interested in participating with the group, call 301-7615. The group meets at The Porch on the last Sunday of each month.


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.