Monday, February 1, 2010

Eeeking Out A Living Facilitating Drum Circles In Today's Economy

Times are especially difficult in the arts these days. Everybody is cutting back on expenses. Like in any other field, gaining actual experience is the best way to learn the ins and outs of drum circle facilitation.

Obviously taking facilitation classes is a good idea. But more importantly I think the best thing to do is just attend lots of public drum circles by all the facilitators you can find that are near you. Participate, but watch what they do, and how they deal with various situations. Study what they are doing right, and what they are doing that can be improved upon. If you're considering taking classes, or training I think it's a good idea, but I suggest auditing one of their classes first. If they aren’t willing to let you do that, then perhaps it's wise to move on to another teacher. It is possible to facilitate drum circles for a living, but it takes a lot of work.

One way to get established is to be visible in your community. Get a weekly circle started at a cafe, night club, museum, yoga, art center, public park, community center, even at the beach. Try to get any venue you can think of. Weekly is better than monthly, because people tend to forget what week it is being held. You may start out only making $100 a circle, a commission, tips, or even for free, but it will give you a home base, plus you will be doing something positive for your community. It may take 4 or 5 circles to get things rolling, but once you do, medical professionals, event planners, and even the media will eventually find you. That leads to higher paying gigs. You might even get jobs working for your city, or county. If it's something you love to do and are passionate about it, you can do it. There are some out there that just want to sell classes, and cash in on the drum circle boom, but most are legit.

Another way many facilitators earn a decent living is to approach your city or county arts council. Depending on the city you live in, they can possibly hook you up with city events, festivals, art shows, and even get work in the school system. If another drum circle facilitator gets to your arts council before you, that can be a problem. Some facilitators get non profit corporations going. They get donations from local businesses, and make a nice living that way. Applying for individual state grants to do this kind of work is very difficult. Some medical and special needs facilities can apply for state grants to help fund your work, but you may have to work for free for awhile to prove yourself to them first. I know of many who are making a living this way, but it took a lot of work.

Drum circles are becoming more popular in the corporate world, and that's the area where many facilitators make a very good living. That's where the big bucks are, but it takes a lot of experience, letters of reference, and credentials to break into it. Corporate drum circles can be extremely effective for companies that want to enhance the generation of new ideas and better team work. When people discover that they can collectively produce a good sound without any musical training or background, they start to realize that they can be more effective at work by putting their heads together, brainstorming, and working as a team.

Also, drumming uses the brain in a different pattern than the linear thought process that is usually needed in the work environment. For example, when suggesting a drum circle rhythm, I like to vocalize the first few measures before we play it. The logical analytical side of the brain can process it quicker, which then frees up the creative intuitive side. People can then play what they feel, rather than over thinking it too much. Simply following someone's instructions on what to play is like what you do at work, doing your job, by following instructions.

A drum circle brings the group to a more open mental and psychological process, which can be carried over to the production of new and better ways of working. An excellent tool to kick off any kind of brainstorming session and optimize the quantity and quality of new ideas. In other words, the team improvises and is more creative.

The thing some don't understand about drum circles, is that it's more about the people, than it is about the drumming. Many facilitators agree with me on this, some don't. The quality of the music produced in a drum circle isn't really based on the musical experience of the players, but on the developing quality of the relationships of the people that emerge. As a facilitator I try to help people to empower themselves through drumming, music, and fun. They need no experience at all to play a drum in a drum circle. I try to encourage individual creativity, and group dynamics.

As a general thought, very little is planned in advance except maybe a list of rhythms to suggest. All the rest is improvised on the spot. Most of the facilitating can be done from the edge of the circle through the music. Some insist on facilitating by over conducting and running around giving instructions in the center of the circle. I believe the center of the circle is for self expression, some may just want to get up and dance. If someone is in there orchestrating, it's not going to spontaneously happen. The musical communication, supporting of the beat, and ending points to a jam, are easily done with the drumming. It's leading without leading. All of this can be done from the edge of the circle.

Sometimes even transition points in the drumming just naturally occur. Recognizing, and supporting the group's expression is a key element, because, since drum circles are so organic in nature, that to an onlooker, there are times that look like absolute chaos is going on...but it's an organized chaos. It levels out into a group song, and it uniquely theirs. They created it. Usually there are transition points, or a time to just move on to a new rhythm. It takes time and experience to trust in the natural process of creating a group vibe, and knowing when to move on to another rhythm. A lot of people WANT there to be lots of rules, true in business world, true in art world, so it's not surprising to find it here in the drumming world.

I prefer working with special needs groups. A key part of the intent of groups that are oriented toward those with physical and/or mental restrictions is finding ways to bring them into general society as much as possible. It's been my experience that drum circles are an excellent path to this goal. This is the kind of work I believe I was put on this earth to do. Working with special needs individually, or in groups touches my heart very deeply, especially when I get home and have some time to reflect on the experience.

With this one particular group, after a few drum circles at their facility, I invited them to a public drum circle at a cafe where I was hosting a weekly drum circle. They were comfortable drumming with me at that point, and it worked out great. Months later, when I was asked to host an Earth Day drum circle show up on a big stage, I asked the staff and the group if they would like to drum at this event. They jumped at the chance. Sure it was a little risky, but that's what life is about, taking chances. We played for over an hour and a half, the crowd didn't want us to stop, two encores and everything. I was so proud of them, and it was a joyous moment of achievement seeing them being applauded, beaming with self confidence and pride. It was like a dream come true. Nobody in the audience even knew they had disabilities. It was a blend of them and the general drumming community. I was booked for a 45 minute performance, but it was going so well the organizers asked us to keep going, so we did. All of this happened in less than 6 months. It just kind of all fell together. I found out later on that usually their outings were highly controlled activities, and all closed to the public, like bowling. How would you feel under those circumstances? The public drum circles gave them a chance to be "just one of the guys", and not treated as "special". The effect was profound.

I'm not a licensed medical practitioner, and I have no medical degree in music therapy. However I do have extensive experience working one on one, or with groups teaching drumming to children and adults with ADHD, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Neurologically Injured Individuals, and many others. I noticed right away that seeing abilities, and not disabilities in people was the key to a fulfilling experience. You may not make a whole lot of money, but your heart will feel like it earned a fortune.

Around the country many night clubs, pubs, and coffee shops are struggling to find working formulas for weeknights. Having a drum circle night quickly builds up a community around it with a loyal following that grows very quickly. The cost to do this is minimal, I've been doing this successfully for years at various venues. What the venue needs is an organizer to help keep things running smoothly, and promote the drum circle. A percussionist, circle facilitator, or drumming group. Plan on a small base pay or a percentage of sales like 10%. Because believe me, there is a lot of work involved. Also it isn't the drummers, musicians, or dancers that do the majority of buying your products. They will help support the venue and buy one or two, but it's the onlookers that are attracted, who will be doing most of that. And it takes a few months to really get a drum circle community established. I go into this in much more detail in my book "A Practical Guide To Hand Drumming And Drum Circles". Please consider picking it up. It's 300 pages to help get your circle, or drumming career rolling. The price is $18 and it includes a free facilitated drum circle jam Cd if purchased from my website (Also at Amazon, but no free Cd.)

This book is jam packed with practical information, suggestions, and ideas for people who love hand drumming. If you're interested in starting up a drum circle, an interactive drumming program for your group, or facilitating drum circles for a living, this read will help you along your drumming path. The focus is on sharing as much information about hand drumming and drum circles as I possibly could. Introducing people to drumming is what I love to do. I cover a wide variety of topics and questions I frequently get asked. For example:

How do I start up a drum circle? What kind of drum(s) should I get? How should I approach working with this group, or that group? And many other hand drumming, or drum circle related topics. Drumming with special needs groups, health and wellness, with kids, teens, adults, elders, and mixed age groups. Drum circles in night clubs, cafe’s, and pubs. Team building, conventions, businesses, corporations, and events. Drum circles with at risk populations, at spiritual gatherings, and community events. Working with music directors, educational teachers, in schools, music therapists, and medical professionals. For more information, and the full table of contents, please visit my website. Thanks, I hope some of this helps, and Happy Drumming!

Shannon Ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

What That First Drum Circle Was Like...

I encountered my very first drum circle at a city park in Fort Lauderdale, FL. back in the summer of 1977 at a state park. I didn’t know it yet, but I was hooked on it right then for life. I had no idea that first drum circle I ran into would change my life so greatly and in so many different ways, and that I could bring so much joy to so many people and even enrich their lives through hand drumming. So there I was one day, slowly driving down this long one way trail of the park, just wanting to get a little time and space away from the routine of city life. To just see some trees, the water, and nature. To give myself a little break from the concrete and chaos of the city life for a little while.

Anyway, in this park, there were these little picnic clearings about every ¼ mile or so along the trail surrounded by all this lush green tropical foliage. It was relaxing to take a break there, a place for me to get away from it all for a little while. At one of these clearings, I saw this circle of about 20 people all sitting around playing these hand drums together. Mostly hand drums, Congas, Bongos, and all kinds of other percussion instruments. I turned down my car radio when I heard it, and listened a little. Man, it was cool. The sound of all the drumming was so captivating, that I pulled over and kind of tentatively wandered over there. I couldn‘t help it. I just smiled and listened, enjoying the Samba rhythm they were playing. It had all these different layers, textures, and dimensions. And it was only hand drums, and it sounded so good. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. It wasn’t like playing in a band is like, they were all improvising, having a good time, playing what they were feeling, and letting it go wherever it took them.

While I had played in the high school marching band drum line, and various night club bands, it was nothing like this. It was drawing me in closer and closer, the drum beat almost calling to me. They were having what looked like a private picnic, so I didn’t want to interrupt them. I didn’t know who they were, they all looked to be of Latin decent to me. As it turned out they were all Puerto Ricans, and only spoke a few bits and pieces of English. And I spoke no Spanish at all.

There were kids, adults, elders, males, and females. All of them were playing together and having a great time. I was standing there trying to figure out some kind of a polite way to ask if I could join in. But before I could, the rhythm ended, and they all applauded each other. It was obvious they weren’t performing for anyone, just for themselves. How cool is this, I thought. They motioned for me to come on over with gestures, and indicated that I could join in if I wanted to.

Boy, did I!!! I hopped on some Congas and proceeded to hang out and jam with them for hours, playing mostly Latin rhythms. They welcomed me, and treated me like family, and I really appreciated it. That meant a lot to me. Even though we spoke different languages, and couldn’t really verbally understand each other, we were able to communicate through the music. The language barrier didn’t seem to matter. That day gave me a whole new perspective on life, and a new found respect for different cultures I knew nothing about. It showed me for the first time, how to bridge the cultural gap. It was only after I had some time home later that night to reflect on all this.

I never did see that particular group again, they affected me profoundly in so many ways. I think they were just there on vacation, but they were the ones who started me on my drum circle path. Ever since then I would seek out and attend drum circles whenever I could, wherever I ended up living. In an instant I had become a drum circle lover. Most of the drum circles back in those days were held on the weekends, outdoors in parks and on the beaches. They were all mostly freestyle drum circles with no leader. It was just a bunch of people hanging out and playing. Whoever wanted to start out the next rhythm would do so, and if it took off, away it went.

Fast forward to the present in 2010, a lot of people think a drum circle is just a bunch of banging noise with no real discernable beat to it. Well, guess what? Sometimes that’s exactly what it is. A lot of banging noise. Especially at outdoor open community drum circles. Sometimes there is no musicality present at all. It feels better if it sounds good. But at that very same place, the next week, it can be a group made up of mostly the same faces, but this time it is some quality music with real performance level musicianship.

The kind of musical pieces like I described earlier, that simply captivate you and draw you into it. A drum circle where the people are all listening to each other, taking turns leading, even passing it around so everyone gets a chance to start out a rhythm if they want to. All these people have come together as a group with a real synergy to it. Some of the absolute very best drum circles I have ever been to were just freestyle drum circles out on the beach. And, some of the crappiest ones also. That’s part of the fun. The unpredictability of it. You don’t know what it will be like until you get there. Will it be magical this week?