Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Wedding Drum Circles & Drum Circle Receptions

Wedding drum circles, and drum circle receptions are really quite romantic, and they’re very moving for me also. They are always different, but they all have one thing in common. Connection with the families, and romance. I’ve facilitated a few different kinds of them, some have themes such as Island, Latin American, Hawaiian, African, Mid-East, even retro hippie. (I have to admit the throw back clothes thing was kind of fun.)

With some couples, they want to have a drum circle during the reception. Some want it to happen outdoors, and even right out on the beach. I guess it’s wherever the couple wants to have it on their special day is cool, right? These are fun, and you are there when two people are making a lifelong commitment to be together, and helping them to celebrate it. Plus we are bringing them and the two different families together in rhythm. Many times the families don’t know each other. Creating and playing music together helps them to come together in a different way than just chit chat. They discover their musical selves.

I love wedding ceremony drum circles. In my world, a drum circle is celebratory and special just by its very fundamental nature.

It kind of makes it feel to me, and to the couple, that an ancient tradition is being honored and followed by having the tribal drumming involved. I mean it could also be a few Woodstock hippies who want a drum circle there. But the tribal feeling of it is so powerful. In other cultures, drumming at wedding is common, but here, I think it is still perceived as a little too hippy fad like. Some of us are working on improving that.

One time during a drumming wedding, I was asked to play a particular rhythm as the groom stood there. (It seemed like forever, the bride was late.) Then when she showed up I transitioned to a different rhythm, and played that as she walked up the isle. I stopped when they both are together at the altar. The idea was for each person to have their own rhythm, and once these two were married, the two rhythms would be merged, and played at the same time, signifying the union of the couple. (Obviously the drum rhythms need to fit together in the first place. Just use two rhythms in the same time signature.) Once they had announced Mr. and Mrs., I played the two parts of the rhythm together as they walked down the isle. It was really very beautiful. It was kind of romantic to see their rhythms, families, and souls all blend together.

At the reception, we had the real drum circle. It was the same kind of idea. The bride’s side of the family was on one side of the circle, and the groom’s was on the other. The groom’s rhythm starts first, and played for a few minutes. Then the bride’s side played the other rhythm. Then we merged the two rhythms and families together.

Special event drum circles always tend to peek with some spontaneous magical unexpected happening. All of a sudden the bride and groom bolted out together, and danced in to the center as we all played their rhythm. That came out of nowhere, and everyone loved it. I hope they are still married.

Now, obviously, most of the time the wedding planner, or the bride is the one to suggest particular ideas about the drumming and/or the drum circle. You might even have to go to a rehearsal. Some just want one at the end, so both families can do something fun together, rather than just wanting a band or DJ spin mp3’s. It’s a comfortable way to get to know new people. Musically, that is. I have to respect the planner’s wishes, and how they envision things to go. I can make suggestions, and that’s about it.

Another beautiful one was a wedding where the bride’s mother started dancing followed by the bridegroom’s father, until both sets of parents were dancing and then they invited the bride and the groom into the circle. They came in, a Conga line broke out going around the room. It was a Island them so it worked great.

I saw one where the elders began playing first for five minutes or so. Then the parents, five minutes later. Then the older teens, followed by the kids. It worked very well. I like that idea.

I often get hired to just drum alone as a part of the wedding ceremony, or facilitate a drum circle at the wedding reception. More often than not, they will just want a drum circle at the reception. I am not a big fan of drinking, and drumming either. (Friends don’t let friends drum drunk, but at wedding receptions all bets are off.) You can insist that no one drinks before the drumming, but I tend to let it go and let them have their fun. I add in a little extra cost for damage. Believe me, it happens. Charge a little more if you need to, for damage, etc. When people drink and drum, stuff gets broken. Doumbeks with synthetic heads are the best for these, that’s why I have many of them in my kit. They make real fine coasters too. My goatskin djembes stay at home for another day.

I make sure to bring only my most durable drums – congas, bongos Remo & Toca djembes and aluminum doumbeks. Nothing played with sticks, no goatskin heads.

But there is another side to this. This is just my opinion now. I have a little bit of an edge with these, because I’ve hosted drum circles at wedding receptions, and casual drinking establishments for many years. I’m used to dealing with people with various levels of intoxication. It does take some special skill and experience to deal with drunks.

One thing to consider is that it is their wedding, and if they want to get a buzz on and have a good time, drum, and party, I sometimes try to discourage it before the drumming, but usually it’s how they want it. After all, it is their special day, and they are paying a lot of money for all of this. It is not all that hard to manage. Just let them have fun, and the event will flow naturally. I use a set list of rhythms like a band gig, and modify it as we go. It gives me a base to work from. If the wedding is a theme they may want rhythms from a particular culture, so I adjust accordingly.

My experience is as far as the actual facilitating is, as always, less is more. As I mentioned before, I just get them playing and creating. I let people know right away that the support rhythm I am playing is just a starting point, and to add their voice to the group song and take it wherever they want. Explore the unique sounds you can make with your drum. Play whatever you want – just follow the beat. After a rhythm or two we have found the group dynamic, and it is pretty easy from there. Use some humor here and there if you can, you are after all, an entertainer. If something goes wrong, that means the couple’s marriage will last. (An old superstition I heard.) When I got married the minister mixed up our names up, and we still love and desire each other after 25 years, so maybe it’s true.

On a side note, another facilitator once called me “A Facilitainer”. It was supposed to be a derogatory term or something. I think that’s what many of us do, is facilitate entertainment. Then, years later, I saw them copying my style, approach to facilitaining, and even calling themselves facilitainers now. Happy I could be of service.

Mostly I like to leave the center open for dancing and facilitate from the side. Once they are feeling it, and they want to get in the center and dance, you have got them eating out of your hand for the rest of the night. Play danceable grooves and they will dance, odds are, that's what they want to do anyway. I check all the drum circle games, and call and response stuff at the door, unless it‘s really necessary. They are there to party, to make music, and have a good time, not get a drumming lesson.

Usually things are started with a warm up jam, a few pointers on hand technique, a note about volume, and away we go. I use the Heartbeat rhythm next. It helps them all find a good solid groove to then build on.

I always ask the bride and/or groom before the start, if they would like to do this:

Somewhere in the middle of the reception, or at the beginning, I start a rhythm out for the groom and his family for about 2 – 3 minutes. Something like the first half of Fanga, or a Middle Eastern belly dancing beat. The rhythm I suggest depends a lot on their cultural backgrounds, and the theme if there is one.

I end it after they have the hang of it, and next we do the other half of the rhythm for the bride, and her friends and family. (The second half of Fanga etc.) Let them dance and party, however long it’s grooving, etc. Then I end it, and go right into this:

To symbolize the bringing together of this new couple, and these two families, we bring the two parts of the rhythm together. I start them out playing the complete rhythm, and let them go to town on it. Things just roll on from there. Start out different rhythms and away we go.

Every wedding reception I have ever done, they have loved this one. The bride and groom danced with champagne in the center, and cherished every minute of it. The families join in when they want. I feel good seeing them all have a great time on their most special day of their lives. My only real concern is watching the drumming volume, and that is easily manageable. The drinking isn’t a problem, until maybe later on. And the drumming is hopefully over by then. But not always. Sometimes these things go late into the night. With this kind of thing I charge them for the day, because that’s usually what it is.

My fondest drum circle reception was a guy from the Ukraine. He met me at a weekly circle I was facilitating at a nightclub. He approached me with the idea of a drum circle at his reception. It was going to be big Russian wedding. The bride was Middle Eastern so they wanted Mid-East rhythms. This was out on a Florida beach in front of the hotel they were staying at. It went wonderfully, at the end we had an evening drum circle complete with fire fan dancing. We kind of freaked out the hotel staff. They had never seen anything quite like this before. But, they didn’t stop us either. After all, they were guests there, (like 100 of them.) and they hired the beachfront for their reception. It was a blast.

If the idea of a drum circle at a wedding, or drum circle receptions interests you, I think a wedding planner is the right one to approach about it. That’s who contacted me about doing many of them the first place. I’ve also facilitated a few where it was the bride or groom that wanted a drum circle at their reception, and they contacted me directly. I can’t wait to do the next one.

I hope some of this is helpful to you, and it gives you a few ideas if you plan on working with drum circle weddings or at drum circle receptions. Please keep in mind that these are just my opinions, and based on my experiences.

If you would like to read some more about my approach to hand drumming, and many of the various kinds of drum circles, please consider picking up my book, “A Practical Guide To Hand Drumming And Drum Circles” It’s 300 pages, $8 on Amazon Kindle or Nook.

Also, have plenty of fresh drum circle rhythms to try out, or jam along with on my hand drum rhythms DVD (or Amazon Instant Video) 101 Drum Circle Rhythms DVD($15)If you buy my DVD, I include a 70 minute drum circle jam CD free. Both discs for $17 shipped anywhere in the USA. $19 to all other countries.

If you choose to purchase something from me, thanks in advance for helping out an independent musician. The funds help me with the drum circle finder website, with drum repairs, and work in our community.

Shannon Ratigan


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