VMC Certification Essay

For my Drum Circle Facilitator Certification from Village Music Circles I have been asked to answer the following:

How have I incorporated the principles of Arthurian Triplicities into my Drum Circle Facilitation? What does the Trust Triplicity mean to me? How does one improve their facilitation skills by incorporating the Intuitive Skills Triplicity? And, according to the Career Development Triplicity, what state of development is my DCF career in?


August 1990

Twenty-one years old, halfway through college, wanted to be a teacher, and I was in the process of deciding what I wanted to teach, and to whom. I had just moved to Santa Cruz to finish my bachelor’s degree in History and World Religions at the university, and had not done much drumming. But as soon as I arrived in Santa Cruz, drumming took hold, and then took over. I bought my very first drum the week I arrived. My college roommate had a drum too, and we started playing together almost every day. As my UCSC classes got underway, I took my very first hand drum lessons, a three-day series of events with Babatunde Olatunji at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. I was hooked instantly. Totally. Hopelessly. And when I went to Baba at the end of that weekend to thank him, I asked what I should do to continue drumming. Baba said, “Have you heard of Arthur?”

January 1992

While I was finishing the last two years of my degree, I took all three levels of Arthur’s Village Drum classes, repeatedly, and spent most of my time practicing, drumming for the dance class, and being involved in everything Arthur was teaching.

One night Arthur invited a group of students from his advanced drum class to join him for a meeting in his studio. When we arrived, he explained he was getting busier and busier, and out of town a lot, and Don Davidson would be teaching more of the drum classes at UCSC. Arthur told us he wanted to share some of his unique teaching strategies, so we could help Don run the classes during Arthur’s absences. As I walked out of Arthur’s studio after that very first Tuesday night meeting, I turned to Quentin and Todd, my drum brothers, and told them I felt like I had been waiting my entire life for the opportunity Arthur just presented.

The meetings in the studio became weekly. Step by step, Arthur and Don taught us how to respect all the different forms of traditional drumming around the world, and how to teach the rhythms. We also learned how to explain everything for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners, how to listen for the connections within the rhythmical arrangements, and how to empower the students to do the very best they could. Those weekly Tuesday night meetings were the beta version of what Arthur went on to develop into the art and science of contemporary drum circle facilitation.

January 1993

Once I graduated, drumming took over my life. Santa Cruz was an incredible vortex for traditional hand drumming in the 1990s. There were classes and performances led by masterful drummers and dancers nearly every single day. I continued to participate in Arthur’s advanced drum class, and hung around his other drum classes, assisting him whenever possible, and soaking up as much rhythm as I could. I also attended some of the other drum classes downtown, and got a job working at Arthur’s drum shop, West Cliff Percussion. I was enrolled in night classes at San Jose State University, working on my teaching credential, planning to become a teacher at an elementary or secondary school. But all my days were spent making and playing drums.

Arthur told me, “If you want to do drum circles with adults, practice with kids.” So I borrowed a pile of drums and went around to every school, church, YMCA, and community gathering I could find, volunteering to host drum circles for anyone willing to let me. I made tons of mistakes, and began learning. Little by little, I collected my own worthwhile pile of instruments and a fledgling set of DCF skills. I kept working at West Cliff Percussion, and took days off whenever I had a “gig.” I kept helping Arthur and Don teach the drum classes, and kept doing as many circles as I could with youth in schools.

The single most valuable thing that happened during all of this was my apprenticeship with Arthur. It wasn’t planned. But in retrospect, it was the cornerstone of everything I did. As the months and years went by, I spent more and more time around Arthur, helping him teach his classes, make drums, clean the garage, watch the kids, whatever he told me to do, and got to ask thousands of questions along the way. During the years immediately after graduation, I worked as Arthur’s roadie for dozens of drum circle events. He taught me how to assess the gig, collect and load up the appropriate instruments, get there punctually, connect with the facilities staff and the contact person, set up the chairs and the gear, run the very best event possible, talk with the client afterward, clean up, drive home, and put everything away. The schlepping wasn’t very glorious. And drum circle roadies don’t get paid very much. But the opportunity to watch the master time after time, memorize most of his formats and sequences, and, best of all, ask questions about each gig on the ride home – that was priceless. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Thanks to Arthur’s patience, and willingness to share, I spent my young adult years devoted to learning Arthur’s approach to the art and science of drum circle facilitation.

August 1995

By the time Arthur hosted the first Hawaii Playshop, I had facilitated hundreds of drum circles with youth in schools, helped teach hundreds of drum classes at UCSC, and facilitated dozens of drum circle events for Village Music Circles at festivals, community events, and corporate gatherings. My apprenticeship with Arthur was several years deep,

and as my experience grew, I was tasked with more and more challenging facilitation gigs. Up to that point, virtually the only drum circle facilitation I had ever seen was by Arthur or Don. I knew some professional drummers and percussionists, but had hardly ever encountered any other facilitators.

Some of the attendees of the Hawaii camp that year were fabulously well known names in the drumming industry. I was in awe, all week long, playing alongside legends from the airwaves and music store displays, as they played incredibly fantastic riffs, time after time after time. Other attendees were completely inexperienced as drummers and facilitators, but wanted to learn, and were encouraged, and so used whatever skills they had, and worked with whatever possibilities emerged.

I remember standing at the point at Mokuleia the afternoon camp concluded, gazing out at the ocean, mystified by the realization the entire week had come and gone, and none of the high profile drummers seemed to be at any higher level of facilitation; none of the famous musicians had blown my mind with anything totally new and different. I realized many of my favorite memories from the week were moments facilitated by the inexperienced drummers. It shocked me. Deeply. And as I thought about all the laughter we shared, I realized the level of joy among the participants is often a reflection of the joy of their facilitator, so have fun whenever you’re in the middle. I sat there a long time, pondering the value of Arthur’s techniques, and how universally adaptable the concepts were.

June 2015

I’m forty-six years old, and have been a drum circle facilitator for twenty-five years. Most of my adult life has been shaped by the experiences of being a full-time DCF. I have hosted dozens of events each week, all over the world, with the intention of empowering individuals and communities to reach their highest levels of rhythmical potential, and receive all the benefits therein. The twentieth annual Village Music Circles Hawaii Facilitators’ Playshop is next month, so this seems a perfectly appropriate time to reflect on Arthurian DCF macrocosms.

Twenty-five years deep, when I ponder Arthur’s Triplicities, I realize all these elements are within my daily habits of facilitation, although I do not think of them in sets of three. Yes, I constantly scan whatever group I am working with, internally double-checking my Rapport with everyone, maintaining Congruency in intention, words, and actions, and, always maintaining total Honesty with the participants, and myself. But do I group those notions into a meta concept I refer to as “The Trust Triplicity?” Cannot say that I do. Do I intentionally avoid dropping into habits and sequences I am already familiar with, in order to keep everything fresh, and respond to the circle’s unique musical needs, as they arise, every second that we all play together? Yes, absolutely. But does that mean I specifically think of the words, “Awareness, Adaptation, Rapport,” or that I cluster those three notions into a grouping I categorize as the “Intuitive Skills Triplicity?” No, I confess, that is not my internal process.

One of the biggest concepts I try to cultivate within my DCF practice is non- compartmentalization. I strive to remove any mental blocks, partitions, and groupings between different modalities of knowledge, so all concepts can flow as freely as possible, and all possibilities are accessible. The greater the transparency of knowledge, the more it enables a zen-like state of fluidity while working in the middle. I consider this approach the highest level of drum circle facilitation.

Rapport is always a critical component when facilitating the final fifteen minutes of a drum circle, but it may begin in an elevator ride to the room, long before the event gets underway. I always demonstrate the myriad of percussive colors and flavors within the drum circle, to facilitate the participants’ enjoyment of the melodies created by the low, middle, and high-pitched drums, and the spicy contributions of the shakers, blocks, and bells. But selecting a nice mix of pitches and sounds happens when I’m packing my truck, hours before I get to the event site. Musical possibilities and applicable metaphors always emerge during drumming activities, but I usually ponder the reason for the gathering long before the day arrives, and consider themes and ideas that may be beneficial to include, sometimes months in advance. So it is not that I do not value the teachings within the Triplicities themselves. Quite the opposite: I try to embody all of the concepts simultaneously, all the time.

One of the reasons I am a drum circle facilitator is that it requires me to be the very best person I can possibly be. Planning the event requires communication, coordination, creativity, listening skills, professionalism, punctuality, and attention to detail. Being ready to provide high quality events for my clients requires maintenance of my website, promotional materials, products, instruments, communications, vehicle, and home. Whenever I step into the middle of a ring of drummers, I know I need to be focused, fast, supportive, patient, sincere, humorous, and have all my drum skills, facilitation skills, verbal skills, body language skills, and intentions ready for action. I need to be completely devoted to the service of my group. My mind needs to be well rested and free from distractions, my body needs to be ready for action and appropriately dressed, and my spirit needs to be centered, calm, and happy. I need to simultaneously be ready to be a dictator, conductor, facilitator, counselor, comedian, sage, drummer, soloist, support player, motivational speaker, witness, and/or guide. Drum circle facilitation is my career, passion, and philosophy. It is my church, gymnasium, and home. It is the lens through which I see the world, and my place within it.

Every single time I step into the ring, everything I do, how I do it, and all of my intentions, are based on what I learned from Arthur, and how he taught me to facilitate drum circles.

July 2015

My packing list for the 20th annual Hawaii Playshop is the most flexible it has ever been. I may take long pants. Or not. I may take some of my favorite pieces of hand percussion. Or not. I may take a favorite djembe. Or not. None of the details matter any more. I have infinite trust in the process, and the opportunities to find and use whatever tools are needed.

In April of this year I attended the World Rhythm Festival for my seventeenth time, and taught and facilitated numerous drumming events for people of all ages, styles, and levels of drumming experience. In May I graduated from the music department at California Institute of the Arts, the highest ranked world percussion program in America, with a Masters degree in Fine Arts (MFA) in World Percussion. In June I went to Canada, for the third year in a row, to continue training my current apprentice, Lucas Coffey. I am planning the recording and production of my fourth instructional djembe album, and developing curriculum for a series of instructional drum circle facilitation videos. I teach djembe at my local drum shop on Sunday afternoons. This fall, when school gets underway, I will teach drumming at one or two colleges in the greater Los Angeles area, and provide drumming and drum circles for elementary school children throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. In November of this year I am scheduled to host the annual drum circle at the Percussive Arts Society International Conference (PASIC), and the five-hour-long clinic on drum circle facilitation.

Twenty years ago, when we concluded the first annual Village Music Circles Hawaii Facilitators’ Playshop, we did the very first ball of string ceremony for drum circle facilitators. Each person went up to Arthur holding their piece of string, answered the specified question aloud in front of the entire group, and added their string to the ball. The question we were asked was, “What do you plan to do with the knowledge and experiences you have learned here?”

My answer was, “Everything I possibly can.”