From a child beating on a pan with a wooden spoon to an adult finding tranquility in waves breaking on a beach, we all find pleasure in rhythm. An increasingly popular way to express this seemingly universal urge is through drumming. While drumming has long been an integral part of many traditional cultures, it has appeared fairly recently in a new incarnation in communities around the country—including here, in the Wood River Valley.
For locals Julie and Will Caldwell, drumming has become part of the rhythm of their lives. “It comes very naturally,” comments Julie, a mom and parenting educator in town. She and her husband Will, a local artist, have always been fascinated with drums, and began collecting them as they traveled to Africa, China, Bali, and South America. Today, as participants of a local core group of drummers, they are often called upon to take part in an improvisational percussion ensemble known as a drumming circle.
In the circles, which are usually composed of five to ten people, drummers respond to one another in a very spontaneous way. “The beauty of a drum circle,” says Julie, “is that you don’t need very many people or anything too complicated to have fun.” From beginners to master percussionists, from non-musicians and the curious, to parents, kids, and the elderly, all are welcomed and encouraged to participate. Each individual expression contributes to the group as a whole, and the result is a powerful, harmonious communal event. “Participating in this type of activity builds community and has everyone working together for a common goal—to feel the groove. If you get it, it feels great!” adds Julie.
Drumming circles may also contribute to a healthier immune system. Neurologist Barry Bittman came to this conclusion after asking 100 healthy men and women to try their hand at one of four different hour-long drumming exercises. Bittman found that by the time the drumming ceased, certain groups had significantly more white blood cell activity. In addition, many people claim that music has a healing effect on both their physical and mental health. But don’t just take our word for it: The only way to know and understand the magic of drumming is to attend a drum circle yourself.
I was able to witness a drum circle for the first time in May of this year, at the Sun Valley Mountain Wellness Festival. Drawn to a group of men and women who were producing a contagious beat using drums and other percussion instruments, I stood outside the circle and listened, becoming acutely aware of my feet tapping along with the music. I began to smile and nod approvingly as people within the circle each took turns coming in and out of the rhythm, filling in holes and accenting the major beat. The players seemed oblivious to keeping time because time, as they knew it, had ceased. In its place arose a living, breathing entity that expressed joy, passion, and release through the power of the rhythm.
There are many drumming groups around Ketchum and anyone is encouraged to watch, listen, and participate. One popular venue for impromptu summer drumming sessions is under the trees outside Chapter One, with space (and drums) made available for the interested passerby!
If taking part in a large group isn’t your thing, or if you feel challenged in the rhythm department, you may want to attend one of Will Caldwell’s occasional drumming workshops. (He has even been known to provide private lessons.) In any case, both Will and Julie recommend that you come and find out for yourself. Drumming is free, it’s fun, and, as Julie reminds us, “It’s a whole lot easier to learn than the piano.”