Monday, August 30, 2010

Drumming Up The Golden Ratio & The Center Of The Drum Circle

It’s not about gold plating your djembe to increase the value of your portfolio. The Golden Ratio can apply to drumming. It dates back at least to the ancient Greeks, who noticed that certain proportions in architecture resulted in a more visually appealing construction. Since then, it has become a standard of design for art as well. The mathematics are complex, but not necessarily required. The interesting thing is that it applies to music, also. There it refers to relationships of chord progressions and harmonics. Many of the great classical composers, as well as current ones, utilize this.

For percussion, in drum circles, and even in bands, the application is more subtle. Combinations of rhythms produce a more powerful impact than others. Since a drum circle is, by its very nature, highly improvisational, this is not something that can be planned. But, it can be perceived, as the combination of individual drummers' beats will suddenly produce a solid, powerful unity of music. This is just the random occurrence of everything coming together and locking in…to an extent that everyone can feel it happening. Sometime for only a few moments, sometimes for much longer. It’s hard to describe the feeling and sensation in mere words. I think that in some ways, analyzing it is just an attempt to make scientific sense out of what is truly and inherently pure magic.

I’ve experienced the golden ratio playing songs in bands, and in drum circles. Here we are, doing the same old routine song, and all of a sudden we start to improvise, and suddenly it morphs and changes into this amazing moment. You can feel this sort of glow.

But more often I have seen, and experienced it during open freestyle drum circles. It just magically comes along and happens. Some facilitators are critical of what they might term as a thunder drum circle, but I think they are missing out on the free and open willingness to be creative and let this kind of thing to happen naturally. As hard as you might try, it’s almost impossible to create the musical Golden Ratio. But you can create an environment where it might occur.

One way I try to encourage this is by leaving the center of the drum circle open. To me, this is a place for the participants to express themselves and be creative. I saw this at my first drum circle in the mid 70’s. To me, the center is a place for expression, not a place to play teacher. If you are a drum circle facilitator, I’ve seen a few that spend most of the time in the center giving out instructions. With beginner groups I may get in the center to introduce a rhythm, or bring one to an end so we can move on to something else, but I do 95% of my facilitating from the side of the circle as a participant, and mostly use the music to do it. That way, it doesn’t seem like such obvious facilitation, and the group is more empowered to be creative. It all just comes together. Even what may be perceived as a train wreck, can be laughed off, and a kickin’ new rhythm can then emerge.

Spontaneous things are less likely to happen unless there is an open space for people to get up in there and dance. I never ask people to dance, they will do it if they are feeling it. The onlookers who might not be ready to drum yet, can wander in there and dance, wave scarves, wander around to the beat, or whatever they are feeling. People that are drumming might want to take a break from drumming and dance.

Depending on the group, if nobody is in there, perhaps suggest that they are welcome to lay down in the center and feel the rhythm soak into their bodies for a few minutes. I suggest that they try it two at a time and close their eyes. I bring along two beach towels for this purpose. It is a remarkable, and very moving experience.

Another idea is to get a couple of inexpensive hula hoops, and suggest that people can give that a try in the center. It ramps up the fun, and jump starts the dancing. I keep them off to the side and mention they are there if anyone “wants to have a go at it”.

I personally love open drum circles, things don’t always go smoothly, but that’s half of the fun. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Neither does anyone else. I love it when people are "finding" their inner rhythms. I see them taking risks in a place where they feel safe. It’s the safety net, the bottom beat, that they can rely on and fall back to if they need to. I try to guide them on how to listen to what the entire group is doing, using their peripheral hearing. And that it’s ok, to look with your ears. You can see a lot more than can with your eyes. So even if my role there is as a facilitator, I try to create the open drum circle vibe. Let the music flow and evolve, magical things can happen like The Golden Ratio.


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