Drum Circle Makes Some Noise
By Sean Sullivan
Approaching the erstwhile church in the dark and middle of last month, a pronounced chorus of drumbeats came muffled through its walls and windows, spilling into the chill air nearby Natick Common. It might have been the drum section of a high school band at work within, or the percussion-heavy players of a Mardi Gras ensemble at practice.
An otherwise-sleepy Saturday night for the town’s center was disturbed there, as the structure of the Common Street Spiritual Center served as a sort of speaker system for the musicians inside. A rhythm had emerged, drummers joining its ebb and flow, at intervals adding some improvisational turbulence to mix things up, keep the music from getting stagnant. But the sound kept its resolute rhythm, its ritualistic temperament.
A ritual, in a real sense, it was.
Acolytes of the Natick Drum Circle meet the second Saturday at the center for their monthly gathering. Pendant lights hang from the building’s nave, its high and sheer wooden ceiling, and these are dimmed to offer an atmosphere more amenable to drumming. The dim conjures the feel of a warm full moon, or a ruddy summer night at dusk.
A surplus of drums is on hand during Natick’s drum circles, brought by musicians to add tonal and tactile variety to the gathering. For attendees who are drum-circle curious, the extra instruments are often available to borrow for the night.
“It’s attractive to a lot of people because it brings out the kid in them,” said Bruno Giles. “You get to make a lot of noise and not get in trouble.” He is a lifelong town resident and the founder of Natick Drum Circle.
Prior to the pandemic, members of Giles’ group would regularly visit nursing homes to play before that audience. Extra drums were brought, so residents there could partake in music making, adding their own contributions to the meandering stream of sound.
“There’s a spirituality about it,” said Giles. “We get them moving a little bit.”
Many communities have their own drum circles, and the events are Venn diagrams whose main overlap are the people who show up to make music. Word spreads about neighboring circles, and drummers travel to take part in these tribes, to sample the varying culture and music of each. That’s how Giles glommed onto the drum circle scene, and eventually started one in his own back yard, so to speak.
He has been drumming for nearly 10 years, having attended circles in neighboring towns. Giles met Dave “Drumhead” Curry during some of those sessions, all of which inspired him to form a circle of his own, one a little closer to home.
Curry grew up in a family of musicians, and is somewhat of a guru in larger musical circles. He currently organizes four drum circles a month, and teaches private and group lessons.
“It lends itself really well to being a community event,” he said. “They’re just very welcoming, very accommodating.” The price of admission, in terms of musical experience, is affordable to anyone. “They just have to be willing to show up and dive in.”
Yet despite that, Curry said the prevalence of drum circles like Natick’s has waned during the past decade. He attributes that phenomenon to ringleaders of the gatherings aging out. They had been captains of these peaceful vessels of counterculture, and ever more are retiring from that leadership role as years pass.
Natick resident Susan Massad participated in last month’s Natick circle. Her drumming journey started on a lark when she attended a session at a friend’s suggestion. That grew into regular attendance, during which she followed the flow and techniques of the group.
“I was just sort of copying everybody,” she said. “I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
But she met Curry in those circles, who she discovered also taught a class on group drumming.
“He gave us a dozen or so rhythms to play with,” she said. “When I’d go to the drum circles, I could recognize those rhythms.”
The tail end of last month’s gathering saw several participants at circle’s center, dancing to the percussion that filled the hall and reverberated off its walls. The scene seemed a connection to, a conjuring of some ancestral part of the human spirit. That’s a sentiment shared, echoed by the eclectic group of drummers. People show up for the drums, but stay and keep coming back for the camaraderie.
“It’s fun,” said Massad. “It’s a real community, too. It’s a nice connection.”