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November 12, 2010

The light shining in their eyes after we drum together is the reason I do my job. The laughter, the giggles, the grins, the easily identifiable signs of joy; the transformation from our individual hang-ups and concerns into a cohesive, harmonious state of happiness.

I schlepped piles of instruments to a couple of different elementary schools today, and drummed with dozens of sixth graders this morning, and dozens of first graders this afternoon. Drums and assorted hand percussion in the morning, Boomwhackers, the Hang, and a personal djembe in the afternoon, one hundred and eleven students, plus seven teachers, totaling one hundred and eighteen participants today.

Today wasn’t a “job” it was a “gift” because I was providing music for the classes my niece and nephew are in. I didn’t asked to be paid, I just tried to be a good uncle by contributing musical enrichment to a couple of elementary schools. But as I sit here in the slanting rays of fading, chilly November sunlight, beside the creek in the back yard of my mom’s property, among the pines of Plumas county, watching the steam rising from the flanks of the horses playing in the field next door and the leaves dropping from the trees like weightless flecks of gold and crimson and reflect on today’s music-making, I feel no less rewarded than if I had been paid top wages by the most prestigious private school.

Twenty-one years deep into this career of drum circle facilitation, I look back, consider the four hundred thousand-plus participants I have hosted, mentally peruse the spectrum of school cafeterias, concert halls, corporate ballrooms, castles, pubs, fields, beaches, backyards, living rooms, trains, buses, restaurants, spotlights, bonfires and sunsets in which I have held events, and realize nothing has changed. I still do it for the same reasons I got hooked on it in the first place.

Drumming together creates a uniquely beautiful state of love.

VMC Certification Essay

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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.”


Message for Fellow Artists

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RISE UP! Never fear the unknown. Never doubt your talents and inspirations. Never, ever forget ART IS CRUCIALLY IMPORTANT for all of our happiness and well being. RISE UP. Do not let go of your dreams. Never stop being an artist. RISE UP. Don’t worry about the end result. Make art because you know it is good and right, and because you are compelled to make it. RISE UP because there are millions of earthlings who do not have your gifts, your creativity, your insight, the intensity of your feelings, and they cherish the art we make; appreciate the effort and years we spend learning our craft; adore our unique creations; find strength and solace in our ability to express the divine in all of it’s forms. RISE UP and BE what you were meant to be. Never hold back, never give up, never give in. RISE UP. And know that I thank you and love you for who you are, and all that you do.

Two Months Deep

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As the second month of my CalArts graduate education concludes, I am venturing into vast new worlds of melody and rhythm. Latin salsa arrangements, frame drumming fingertip techniques, Ghanian Ewe stick drumming and dancing, Indian talas, arrangements in 7, and in 9, an arrangement in 63 (!!!) and a mountain load of music theory are expanding my horizons faster than a nuclear shock wave.

I’m enrolled in fifteen units and have no schoolbooks. I record my classes, lessons and rehearsals onto my phone and spend twenty to thirty hours a week listening to it all and practicing. I’m enrolled in weekly piano lessons to (hopefully) survive music theory, and hour-long private lessons with the indescribably talented Randy Gloss to (hopefully) survive my two-year-long World Percussion MFA curriculum.

Every day I feel like I’m drowning. At the end of every week I wonder if I’ll ever make it to the other side. For all the hours of concentration and sweat, I cannot perceive growth on a daily basis.  But now, after two months, I realize how fast and far this train may carry me, wonder how much personal growth may be possible, ponder how deep these new knowledge pools may really be, and imagine the possibilities to come.

I am indeed living the dream.

May I find the strength to persevere and the diligence to waste not a single day in the pursuit of these goals.

~ Amen

Miraculous Enjoyment

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April 29, 2013

Another day, another miracle. Today my job consisted of teaching drumming to groups of fifth and sixth graders at a local public school, and today, like so many times before, I went to work injured, and left work healthy.

For several previous days I had significant pain on my left side, as if all the muscles were sprained. It hurt every time I moved. When I got home last night, my left hip and knee were in so much pain it was difficult to walk, impossible to climb stairs. I soaked in a hot bath, and then used cold packs for several hours. When I awoke this morning, the pain had lessened, but was still constant. Any movement triggered muscle spasms up and down my left side. I went to work, and slowly set up all the instruments and chairs, trying to not put any pressure on my left leg. The first group of students arrived, and we began to play… Seventy minutes later, there was a text from my girlfriend, asking if my hip was all right. It surprised me to realize I wasn’t feeling the slightest pain at all. It was completely gone. I had drummed, bounced around, stomped, and even jumped a few times, and had not been in any discomfort at all. An hour of drumming had miraculously cured the pain I had been feeling for a week.

Many times I have gone to work feeling sick, fatigued, or hurting, and had my symptoms cured by the end of the day. Sometimes I almost overlook the daily miracles drumming brings into my life because they happen so frequently. On a yearly average, I only get sick once, typically for only two or three days, and otherwise, stay physically healthy, all the time.

As the decades go by, and my doctors become increasingly surprised by my ongoing state of remarkable physical health, I credit the majority of my health to drumming. Playing drums is my health maintenance program. Every time I play, I get moderate exercise and a heightened heart rate for an extended period of time, I exercise both sides of my body and both hemispheres of my brain, it alleviates all my physical and emotional stress, I get cooperative musical interaction with groups of friends and neighbors, and I have an art/sport/philosophy that brings me health and happiness. The price for a professional caliber djembe and lessons for a year is far less than any medical insurance I’ve ever heard of, and the tests and check-ups are far more pleasant. And sometimes, like today, it even heals my physical injuries.

Play drums. Enjoy your life. And enjoy all the miraculous benefits along the way.

Chap Stick Cap Stop

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January 12, 2012

This morning I was working with a group of seventy 6th graders, and giving student volunteers a chance to go into the middle and signal the stop cut for the entire group. We were experimenting with various ways to signal the rumble to stop non-verbally, and there were some very stylish and inventive signals taking place. The students were lovin’ it.

One of the students volunteered… so everyone else rumbled, and he went out to the center of the circle (“orchestration spot”). Then he held up a stick of Chapstick lip balm. All seventy of us stared at his hands. He lifted the cap off the Chapstick, looked around at everyone, and then brought the lid back down onto the Chapstick… and the rumble stopped in perfect unison!

Howls of laughter erupted all around the room.

Please show me, I’m blind

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August 6, 2012

Saturday I taught my Fundamental Djembe SOLOS class, and began the class by demonstrating the three essential hand drum sounds (bass, tone, and slap). Most of the participants had less than one year of drumming experience, so we spent significant time practicing. After about ten minutes, one of the people in the circle said, “Can you please show me how to do this?”

I paused. We had been practicing technique for quite a while, and I thought I had shown and described the content several different ways. I wondered if I had heard his question accurately. Then he said, “I’m blind. I cannot see your hands. Can you show me how to do this?” So I went over and asked how to help.

He asked me to put his hand in the shape and place it was supposed to go. I slowly placed his hand and fingers on the drum, slowly moved his hand up and down, on and off the drum, and talked to him about the areas of the hand that make contact, and where the sound comes from. His question brought everyone’s focus to the precise details of micro muscle placement. He was calm as we proceeded. Several people got out of their chairs and came over and sat on the carpet so they could watch what we were doing. Everyone copied the slow motion demonstration on their drums. It became the best demonstration of technique I have ever been able to provide. When he succeeded in making tones and slaps, everyone cheered.Note to Self: Because I slowed down and patiently helped him with his question, everyone benefited. We all paid more attention to the micro muscles involved in the techniques, and we all connected in the teaching moment and learning process. I never would have planned to spend fifteen minutes teaching three notes, but it ended up being the most valuable section of the class. I feel like I am the one who learned the most. I learned from his calm, strong, patient request, the way he accepted the help, and the reminder, “The slower you go, the faster you learn.”

The lessons continue…