Thursday, July 31, 2008

Drum Circle Simplicity

One of the most pure, authentic experiences that I’ve had in Washington DC has to be the drum circle that is held every Sunday in Meridian Hill Park. Picture dozens and dozens of people from all over, (young and old, black and white, American and foreign, rich and poor) just getting together for an afternoon to jam. This particular circle is imaginary (it’s more like a rectangle) but the rules are clear:

-do not enter the circle if you are not prepared to play something.

-if you don’t have an instrument to play with borrow one.

-if you have extra instruments you must share.

-if you can’t play an instrument someone will show you.

-if you are unwilling to play, you have to dance.


It is still hot and muggy by the time I park my bike inside the park. I have the essentials in my backpack: a copy of Herodotus, wine, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, tapenade, and crackers. As the afternoon gets longer, I am seduced by the wine, the women and the sounds of long, flowing drumbeats. The music howls at me like a cornered animal, always rough, ever vengeful, untamable. The large black man with the double drums maintains the beat long enough for a young Asian girl to find another. The rest of the circle follows. This is an animal with tentacles.

There is the disabled black girl, sitting in a wheelchair, beating a miniature drum, occasionally flashing a smile that is dry and lonely.

There is the young summer intern who closes her eyes often, confident that she can stave off adulthood for another year.

There is the card game guys. Some have prison tattoos, others wear Rolex watches.

There is the belly dancer. She moves like a rhythmic serpent, caressing sounds unseen.

In the end, for an afternoon as least, everything is simple and complete.


Sharon J said...

Sounds like a great day out. Unfortunately we don't have anything like that in our small town. Glad you enjoyed yourself, though. And the post was so evocatively written.

Anonymous said...

Just love those kind of days. One of my favorites--a free kite festival I took the kids to one summer several years ago (I think it was hosted by Toyota) in Georgetown, KY. They had all kinds of international performers, but my favorite, hands down, were the Kabuki drummers.

Congratulations on the blog award, btw!

LiveWorkDream said...

Oh I love stuff like that. In San Francisco, hippie hill in Golden Gate park is the place to be for the Sunday drum circle. I miss that about my very simple life living in the Haight. If you're ever in the City, be sure to check it out.

Nicola said...

very very cool

Carolyn said...

How neat. Sounds like fun.

Me said...

I love drum circles too.... I think you read John and I are gonna start building a Cajon drum.... and he's looking into buying a tongue drum... it's a real raw music that's beautiful all in it's own...

There was ONE time i didn't like it though... at Langerado. We were camped next to the main entrance and a drum circle started round 7 PM on sat. and lasted until we LEFT at 4 PM sunday!!!!!! They are wonderful but after 21 hours of the continuous beats, I bout lost it!! :-)

Elizabeth Halt said...

I don't think I've run into one yet. Hopefully someday ..

Jack said...

Sharon, nea, carolyn

Thanks. The drum circle is definitely something I don't think I would have tried before this recent kick of vol. simpl. And, of course, it's nice to give my two cents whenever I come across something that provides 'simple' pleasures. I wonder how many 'simple stories' I will write about by the time I hit 200 posts...??

Jack said...


What is kabuki drumming? It sounds delightful, whatever they are.


It's funny, because someone that I met at the drum circle mentioned that there was one over in san fran that had been there for ages. Thanks for the recommendation!

Jack said...


Yeah, I did see that. Didn't really have any context about that until my own drum circle experience. I think if I was a little more musical and coordinated I would be thinking about getting my own drum and joining the circle! BTW, 21 hours is plenty for me!!

Anonymous said...

I've never seen a get-together like that. I like it. I like it a lot.

Ms Hen's said...

I did this last summer with my then 11 year old son.......there is a coffee house on Staten Island of NYC where the owners... long hair hippies... (smile) have a drummer circle every month on the night of the FULL Moon. My son was whisked away by a lady that came in to sit with her and she let her use his drums (there were drums there that the owner had too). I looked at my athlete son's face and saw he was really getting into it. What fun.

Anonymous said...

Jack, I'm a lawyer in Chicago who has dealt with many of the same issues as you. I honor your work and your commitment to change and simplicity. I strongly encourage you to consider the idea of taking your work to a deeper level by clearing out some of the emotional clutter that may be preventing you from finding true happiness. As you are clearly aware, true happiness doesn't come from outside distractions. It comes from our connection with others. Take a look at:
This is a program that offers weekend retreats for men. Not surprisingly, we have many lawyers that go through the "Breakthrough Weekend". I was skeptical about the program years ago, but I quickly learned that the opportunities offered on the weekend have the power to not just change lives, but to save lives. Years ago, I was terribly skeptical about the notion of going on such a retreat. I had all the judgments that I think most men have about men's weekends (e.g., "Are we going to be running around the woods naked and pounding on drums?"). There is a weekend coming up in December in Southern Wisconsin that you may want to consider. I'll be on staff for that weekend and would love to see you come out for it. My name is Ryan. In any event, I wish you the very best of luck in your journey.