Bodywisdom: Drum Circle Season

Bodywisdom / Nancy Ivey

In the northern hemisphere we have just passed the autumn equinox, when the nights and days are the same length. As Earth rotates on its axial tilt relative to the sun, the northern half of the planet foresees longer nights and shorter days ahead. This cycle culminates at winter solstice with its longest night of the year.

In honor of the equinox we celebrated with a drum circle at the yoga dome. Inviting friends and family members to drum together when no one has much experience drumming can be challenging. Experienced drum circle facilitators use various methods to bring everyone into rhythmic community.

Drum circles include different drums like African djembes, Caribbean congas and bongos, Celtic or Native American frame drums and Middle Eastern darbukas. Percussion instruments like bells, clackers and shakers are invited. Our circle consisted of a few experienced drummers with a handful of inexperienced drum circle newbies.

Bakersfield drummers Maryann Kopp and Victorio Starfire used low “beat-keeping” drums called “dun duns” to set the “pulse beat” which everyone follows on their drums. Using their hand drums to introduce techniques about how and where to hit the drums, our teachers showed the different sounds we could turn into easy beats which we mimicked on our drums.

After establishing our basic beat, one teacher would pick up the sticks and start playing the same beat on the dun duns which are a pair of big bass drums, one larger than the other so they have a different pitch. Hearing the deep voice of the dun dun kept everyone on the same steady pulse beat.

Still playing the djembe, our second teacher would start adding something new to the beat for us to incorporate while others kept following the original rhythm with the dun dun. By now it’s getting loud but we can still hear the dun dun and can still play along.

Picking up tambourines, triangles, shakers, or clackers, someone leaves their drum to add the new tone within the basic beat. Listening to the dun dun helps people keep playing the original beat while others experiment with different rhythms and timbres.

Someone yells “faster” and the tempo picks up. The dun dun and others keep the steady pulse at a higher rate. The faster drummers adapt to their pace. The energy is swirling. A dancer emerges from the circle expressing the somatic experience. Everything is loud and thundering.

We play these and other rhythms for nearly two hours moving alternately into silent quiescence and rousing thunder drumming together in community to celebrate the seasonal cycle of the planetary shift as reflected in our seasons.

There is a notion called “bioregionalism” which means “becoming native to a place.” Spending time outside with the wild and natural inhabitants of our river valley fills me with reverence and awe.
Drumming together harmoniously celebrates our myriad values giving rise to festal gatherings. To join our monthly drum circle, text or call 760-549-3709.

Nancy Ivey teaches yoga at CSUB and locally. Email