The email from my editor was brief.
It asked me if I would go to the Lewiston Drum Group at the Trinity Episcopal Church on Bates Street in Lewiston and write a first-person story about my experience.
The press release attached to the email included a quote from Jessy Kendall, a facilitator for the group: “The aim is to be in a place to communicate differently, an environment where language is not as important as listening and attention. A place to drum out frustrations and to express yourself, to listen to the music others are making, to trance out.”
Wait, is this BYOD? Bring your own drum?
“Don’t worry if you don’t have a drum. We have plenty of different kinds of percussion instruments available,” Kendall also said in the release.
“Drumming helps balance your body, bringing your left and right halves together to work on creating rhythms. You will feel a sort of ease or contentment happen in a drum circle, every time,” Kendall added.
While I wasn’t sure how to bring my left and right halves together, I was sure I could use a big dose of ease and contentment. Bring on the assignment.
Entering the Trinity Episcopal Church is breathtaking. It’s an amazing gem of architecture, with vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows and dark wooden beams.
At front and center is a circle of chairs surrounding a wide assortment of drums, percussion instruments, tambourines, thunder sticks and African-looking wooden pieces. There’s a basket of strange gadgets that make noise. You can even find a flute and harmonica.
As I take a seat in the circle, men and women of all ages surround me, a total of eight people. To my left I meet Klara Tammany, who is director of The Center for Wisdom’s Women as well as a Trinity Church member and drum group “maintainer.”
“You must be the writer,” she says. “Have you been to a drumming group before?”
“No. This will be my first.”
With no introductions or fanfare, one man picks up a single bongo-type drum and begins playing a steady rhythm. By his confident style of drumming, this has to be Jessy Kendall. One by one each person chooses an instrument to join in. Klara selects a huge bongo drum, another picks up a tambourine. I choose a small bongo and start drumming. Suddenly, I’m a single drumming line in a pulsating ensemble.
There are no rules, no sheet music and no musical experience required. People in the circle are simply driven by the pattern of beats that they want to add to the cacophony. I keep a steady “one-two-three-four” beat. Sometimes I play louder. Sometimes I tap on different places on the drum to get a uniquely different sound. The rhythms get loud and boisterous or subtle and soft depending on where the mood takes the group.
In a softer-sounding moment of the session, I stop my steady drumming and simply brush my hand on the top of the drum. I’m intrigued by the brushing sound that blends in with the percussion.
Kendall smiles and whispers across the circle, “That’s experimental drumming.”
Proud to be complimented by the expert, I close my eyes and “trance out.”
About an hour passes with three completed sets of drumming. People follow each other’s lead as the drumming ebbs and flows, starts and stops. Drummers change instruments, going from traditional looking drums to wooden sticks to maracas. There’s even one strange device that involves pulling a cord from a small cylinder to create an unearthly spaceship sound.
How did I feel at the end? I experienced that “trance out” feeling that Kendall promised. I told Klara that I felt like I just came off my exercise rowing machine, a bit euphoric, a bit exhausted.
As I was leaving, I looked at the press release once again.
“Recreational drumming increases concentration and focus, helps develop communication skills and encourages people to listen and communicate with each other, naturally.”
Interesting, I thought. If this is all about communication, I realized that I never got to know the names of the other drummers.
That was OK, I conclude. The experience of coming together, creating and going back to our daily lives seems to be enough.