Drum Circle: A Metaphor

Recently, I lead a Drum Circle class for beginners, as a part of our annual Art Immersion, a one-week series of arts classes led by New Joy Arts at my church. I’m not a percussionist by training, but I’ve led Drum Circles in the past, and I do know enough to provide rudimentary instruction to novices (while hopefully making it fun!). So this gave me an opportunity to go a little deeper into the techniques and practices of this particular art form.

A Drum Circle is a simple thing. A group of people, typically seated, form a loose circle and play hand drums (e.g., congas, djembes, bongos, shakers, tambourines, and other hand percussion) together. Everyone has a heartbeat, and thus, everyone is a rhythmic being by nature. We are designed by God to create and respond to rhythm. So the Drum Circle is a fundamental—perhaps even primal—means of making music with others. And it’s tons of fun too.

After some initial instruction on how to play the instrument (including how not to bruise your hands), how to create a groove (learning the rhythmic patterns which form the basis of a song or style), and how to play together (involving active listening, feeling, and interacting with one another and the leader), the drum circle is off and running. It’s a blast watching people discover the joy of music, in the most “hands-on” way possible.

There are lessons we can learn from the Drum Circle, particularly for those who follow Jesus. Here are four.

EQUALITY & INCLUSIVITY.  First, the Drum Circle is a circle. So there is no front or back, no head of the table, no favored position. According to fable, King Arthur created the Round Table because he didn’t want to create a hierarchy, where someone sat at the head of the table, and a pecking order would form depending on where you sat. By design, the Drum Circle invites different ages, different genders, different ethnicities, and even different skill levels together to form one collective voice. So there’s an inherent equality and inclusivity to this musical form.

Interestingly, this is is also how the church is intended to be. The church is supposed to reflect God’s diverse expression of humanity—ethnically, racially, politically, financially, culturally, generationally, and otherwise. A place where we may have nothing in common except the Lordship of Jesus. Unfortunately, in an effort toward unity, many churches opt for uniformity.

LISTENING & SPEAKING.  Music is dialogical. Music involves a dialogue between performers, and also between the performers and the audience. And as in all dialogues, it requires both speaking and listening. The Drum Circle requires each person to listen to one another, in order to play their part in synch with everyone else. I would argue that listening (with your soul as well as your ears) is the most important part of playing a groove.

This also applies to the relationships we have in our life—with our marriages, our families, our relationships, our churches, our lives. Being in community requires us to listen, to be attentive, to feel the groove of the relationships we have with one another, and to respond to that groove. And that attentiveness applies vertically as well, with the Spirit of God.

PLAYING & RESTING.  Playing an instrument requires you to not only know when to play, but when not to play. In other words, a musician must not only play the notes, but also play the rests. A musical rest is an interval of silence with a specific duration. Without playing the rests, the music would quickly implode into a cacophony of noise.

This is also true of life. Without purposeful resting, both physical and spiritual, our lives would also implode. This might appear obvious, but unfortunately, modern man has seemed to have forgotten this. Fast cars, fast food, fast lives. We are victims of our own self-made calendars and commitments and expectations. God instituted the Sabbath for our benefit, knowing that the need for rest (and rest in Him) is hard-wired into us. We all need to understand and incorporate rhythms into our lives—daily, weekly, seasonally, yearly. And these rhythms should include playing and resting.

COMMUNITY & SYNCHRONICITY.   Finally, the Drum Circle models community. When the circle plays together—drums beating, shakers rattling, the physicality of many people in synch with one another, a group consciousness forms.

Humans crave not only community but synchronicity. This is why there is power in reciting the pledge of allegiance together, or singing a song together, or laughing together at the same joke. When the Drum Circle plays in synch, it is no longer individuals playing together, but a circle expressing a single collective Voice.

I’ve shared in previous blogs the idea that the ancient Hebrews saw themselves not only as individual beings following God, but more so as one part of the people of God. This is also reflected in Paul’s writings, where he refers to us collectively as the Bride of Christ, or the Body of Christ. As this very special community of saints, we are intended to collectively express God’s love to the world, and to one another. Our identity is ultimately in Him and through Him and with Him. Thus, as Christ followers, we are more ourselves when we are together then when we are apart.

Over the course of the three-hour session, our small circle explored rock, samba, bossa nova, hip hop, African, and other musical patterns. We traded twos, did call and response, told stories, clapped and sang and laughed a lot. It was a blast. And through it all, we shared the collective experience of music.

And maybe a little more.

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