Feeling the beat: The spiritual side of drum circles
When drummers gather at an Episcopal church, experience is optional
BY ZACHARY REID
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Mar 10, 2007
Offer an odd assortment of drums to 21 enthusiastic novices, and meditative tranquillity would seem an unlikely possibility.
The quiet path to inner peace looks more like a parade route.
With the skill of a seasoned grand marshal, Cory Blake takes the discordant pieces and leads the group into an amazingly alluring beat.
Listen for a few minutes and you understand why shamans use drums to lure themselves into trances.
"It's a contemplative tradition," Blake says of the drum circle he's leading. "It speaks directly to the intelligence of the body."
It also speaks to the simplicity of a good beat -- and the way something as simple as a hand brushed against the skin of a conga drum can transcend denominational and cultural boundaries. This group enjoying the nuances of ancient African music amid just a touch of New Age quirkiness is pure middle class. The sounds resonate in the comfy confines of the parish hall at the Church of the Holy Comforter, home to an Episcopal congregation in Richmond's West End."A drum circle really is what it says it is," says Regena Stith. "It's a gathering of people in a circle with drums."
It's all congas and bongos and frame drums. Most are played with hands, though a few require the pound of a mallet. When the mood's right, Blake accentuates the sounds with the subtle infusion of an African kalimba, an Australian didgeridoo or an agogo bell. The tings, twangs and occasional chant give the evening the full world-music experience.
"It's really a very ancient form of expression," Stith says of the drum circle she started. "You move out of your head." the rest