by Sandor Slomovits
It's the third Tuesday night of the month. If you're browsing downstairs in the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore on Main Street you'll hear the sound of drumming from above, maybe even feel it. Climb the stairs, turn left, away from the Tea Room with its savory temptations, and you come to a small room with sofas and chairs ringing the walls. Here, tactile pleasures tempt you. Dozens of drums and other percussion instruments fill the carpeted floor in the middle of the circle; stave drums, frame drums, tambourines, congas, maracas, shakers made of gaily decorated vitamin containers, even a few ice cube trays.
At 7 o'clock a handful of people are tapping, slapping, shaking, pounding, and banging on the instruments. By 8 the room is full, and much of the crowd is still there when the Drummunity! community drum circle ends at 9. It's an equal mix of men and women, college students, middle-aged folk, a few children, teens, and seniors old hands and first-timers. Every level of musical ability is represented: weekend jammers, music students, a few who are clearly pros, and one or two who are following their own inner drummer.
Sitting at the far end of the room is a tall, dark-haired lady masterfully working a stave drum and welcoming everyone with a bright smile. Lori Fithian knows the regulars by name. She nods newcomers to chairs and offers them instruments. Fithian instructs only when needed and then with a very light-handed touch. She shows a young boy how to work a guiro and gives tips to an elderly lady on how to strike the drums without hurting her hands.
A half hour slips by before Fithian signals a stop, and the room becomes quiet. She welcomes everyone, she dims the lights, and the drumming starts again. The intensity and textures vary throughout the evening, but with Fithian subtly shaping the music, everyone is engaged and the energy never flags. You know you're
in good hands.
At regular intervals Fithian introduces musical games and community-building activities. The group repeats a five-beat phrase, and in the three-beat rest that follows, all the participants call out their names in turn. By the third time around the circle, the group's short-term memory muscles have been toned up, and everyone calls out each name. In another game, the entire group plays a rhythmic phrase in unison, followed by brief individual solos, or by short singing phrases. Lots of good-natured laughter and appreciative cheers greet everyone's contributions.
At the end of the evening you walk downstairs and out onto Main Street, hands warm, body still vibrating, resonating with the rhythms, and a little extra bounce in your step.
[Review published November 2007]