ARTHUR HULL ON DRUM CIRCLES
Hi, there: There's been a lot of discussion about "drum circles" on the email list, Djembe-L, last few weeks. Arthur Hull, who is coming to Dallas, Sep 19 - 20, 1999, for a Facilitator Playshop (see bottom) has been interviewed by John Yost of the Chicago Percussion & Rhythm newsletter and shares the following with all of us:
What follows is an interview with Arthur Hull conducted by John Yost of Rhythm Revolution for the Chicago Percussion and Rhythm Newsletter, July, 1998. Peace, HappyShel
From Arthur Hull:
I offer this interview as my contribution to the on going drum circle thread on the djembe-l. It is of course just my opinion, given as one color in the montage of opinions that make this list so colorful and dynamic. If we all had the same opinion the djembe-l would be one very dull color.
John Yost: What is a drum circle?
A specific answer to that is, "A drum circle is a group of people coming together and playing various drums and percussion in various pitches to create a percussion melody and drum/rhythm song." But the question is general and there are many different types of drum circles. Lets discuss three types: ethnic specific drum circles, Thunder drum circles and community drumming events.
In an ethno-specific drum circle the rhythms have history, are hundreds of years old, and are passed down through oral tradition from generation to generation. An example of an ethnic specific drum circle would be Afro-Cuban drum circle. It consists of congas, supported by claves, and bells. Congas in a normal Afro-Cuban drum circle would be a Tumba, a Conga, and a Quinto,
each drum having a specific tuning, and each drum has a specific part that, when played creates the Afro-Cuban rumba drum songs of which there are many. Another culturally specific drum circle would be a West African Djembe/djun-djun circle, where only Djembe, djun-djuns and atoke bells would be used to create rhythm songs, specific to the culture that the drums came from.
Another specific type of drum circle would be the Anarchist Thunder drum circle, where anybody brings any kind of percussion instrument to the circle in order to express their rhythmical spirit and create in-the-moment music. In an anarchist circle the rules are that there are no rules, where in an ethnically specific drum circle some of the rules are, according to what ethnic circle it is, what type of drums can be used, what type of parts can be played to create a certain type of music..
A third type of drum circle, and one that is what I call an entry level drum circle, is a facilitated community drum circle like the one that Rhythm Revolution sponsored, along with Chicago Public Park District, on Sunday, July 12th where many different parts and many different drum populations from the Chicago area, many different people showing up who use drums for different purposes, all come together to share their rhythmical spirit to create a drum song with the help of a facilitator, a person who takes what they offer in their in-the-moment music rhythm exchange and helps them mold it into a synergized harmonic rhythm force that creates a strong feeling of synergy and community amongst the different players. Some of the people that showed up to that circle were the 63rd Street Beach Drummers, mostly focusing on Afro-Cuban rhythms, some people from Deerfield that were trance drummers, there were some belly dancers and Dumbeck players in the group, there were a bunch of young men who were what I call "bucket brigade street drummers." Lots of people brought different instruments that were different sizes and colors and represented different cultures, including homemade percussion toys - coke cans with rocks in them, food buckets turned into drums. In actuality, all these people come together had an equal voice in making that four hundred person community drum circle into a community drum
John: Why did you write the book, "Drum Circle Spirit?"
The book, "Drum Circle Spirit" is about facilitating human potential through rhythm based events. It is the book I wish I had thirty years ago when I started facilitating drum circles. I wrote it for all the beginning beginner, and intermediate rhythm facilitators who are emerging into our drumming community. My intention is to give them my experience and help them build a facilitation foundation without having to reinvent the wheel so to speak.
Before this book there was no manual on how to facilitate
rhythm-based events, and we, the facilitators that are growing up now, had to find out what worked and what didn't work simply by trial-and-error experience.
Since I started doing this thirty years ago, I've found some of the basic universal principles that make a drum circle work and formulated different ways to facilitate that understanding into a group of players, regardless of their rhythmical expertise, in such a way that they can create a synergized, harmonious musical experience together in a drum circle or a rhythm based event. The kinds of people that will be utilizing this book are drum circle facilitators, music therapists, kids-at-risk facilitators, ORFF music teachers, personal growth facilitators, and men's and women's empowerment facilitators, anyone who would be using the drum as a tool for unity and who would be facilitating groups of people into a synergized community.
John: What is a facilitator and why do we need one?
The word facilitation, or to facilitate, means "to make easy." A
facilitator is an educated advocate for the music that's being created by the group of people, or the population, that comes to play together.
Sometimes the population is closed and specific, such as a facilitator who is doing a team-building program inside a corporation, or doing a unity-through-diversity program inside a high school, or using a drum circle as a community building metaphor with kids at risk or gang kids in inner city schools. But a community drum circle facilitator is used by the community gathering as an orchestra leader who takes the in-the-moment music being created by the individual parts of a drum circle orchestra and directing and focusing it into a harmony and giving it a direction.
You don't need a facilitator in a culturally specific drum circle. In that environment what you need is knowledge and respect for the culture that you're modeling, a technical understanding of how the different parts are played on the different drums to make a rhythm song that is representative of that culture, such as an Afro-Cuban rumba or a West African Djembe/djun-djun song, and an understanding about how all the different parts fit together to make that song.
In an anarchist Thunder Drummer circle you don't need a facilitator, and one is not wanted by the group, because the rule in an anarchist drum circle is that there are no rules or" leaders", and the idea is to share the rhythmical spirit and see where it takes you. The problem anarchist, "anything goes" drum circles is the rhythm comes together for awhile and then falls apart, and then they start another rhythm and that comes together for awhile and then falls apart.
Within a community drum circle a facilitator is an important aspect of making the music work. The facilitator helps focus the group, keep it on the beat, helps take a musical piece in a different direction, helps bring a musical piece to a synergistic completion, and helps initiate a new rhythm into the group to start a new musical piece. The purpose of the facilitator is to advocate for the group itself and to help the group manifest its music to its highest potential. If the facilitator is doing his or her job correctly during a rhythm event, then they are also educating the group about how a drum circle works, and thus helping it self-facilitate itself into a musical experience. By doing that, by the end of a drum circle or rhythm circle event, a facilitator is facilitating the technical aspects of the musical orchestra less, and facilitating the emotional and spiritual aspects of the group's energy more. The basic premise of any facilitator that has worked with me in my facilitator is to lead the group to lead itself, so that the quality of the music that is produced is based less on the quality of the expertise of the players, and more on the quality of their relationship with each other in that musical event.
John: What advice do you have for beginning drummers?
A lot of beginning beginner drummers who come to a drum circle event find themselves excited , turned on, empowered and called by the drums. They think that they are rhythmically challenged and come from the place that they need to immediately have a teacher to teach them how to drum. This is only half true. The reality is that their life has been filled with rhythmical experiences, that rhythm permeates their life in every form and fashion, and when given an opportunity to express themselves on a rhythmical instrument, they are able to discover that rhythm can come from the inside out as well as from the outside in. My message to the beginning beginner is that you should learn about drumming and rhythms both ways, from the inside out and from the outside in. If I gave you a drum and locked you into a room for a month and you did nothing but play rhythms, you would uncover, discover, and recover a number of rhythms that were your own. These rhythms would come from the inside of you and out through your hands,
creating melody lines and songs that you would be very proud of and that you could call your own. You would have ownership because no one taught them to you. Then I would take you out of the room and you would show me the rhythms, let's say that there were five of them. After I heard those rhythms I would take you to five of my teachers who I call people of source. They would represent rhythm cultures from around the world - Africa, Malaysia, Brazil and I would have them show you the rhythms that you created. They would, in turn, show you and name those same rhythms that have also been a part of their Rhythmaculure for hundreds of years. That experience would show you that rhythms are universal.
I believe it's important to study rhythms from cultures that are rhythmacultures, to find a teacher that will show you how to dance on the drums in such a way that you don't hurt yourself, that you get the sound out, and that through those teachers you understand and respect the deep traditions that are represented in the rhythms that we are learning.
Most rhythms that come from rhythmacultures have been kept alive by oral traditions for hundreds of years, are played with a purpose and are so intimately connected to the culture from where it comes from that it's hard to separate it. They have dances that go with the rhythms and songs that go with the dances. They have song, dances and rhythms that are a apart of almost every ritual aspect of a community's life, from harvesting and planting, to marriage to funerals to flirting to wrestling, etc., etc.
Learning about rhythms from deep tradition will give you a better understanding about the universality of the expression of spirit through dance, music, and song. Learning that the spirit of rhythm and it's expression resides deep within your soul as a human animal on this planet no matter what culture you came from will give you more confidence and permission to express your self. Learning from and respecting both sources, from the inside and from the outside of our selves and our culture, will help as all begin the long process of birthing Rhythmaculure in the United States.
Share your spirit ............... Arthur Hull