Drum circle class provides stress relief and fun

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Jennetta Helton (left) and Jeri Hill of Dearborn Heights on Djembe African drums and Anna Ebi and Heather Mehi of Van Buren Township on frame drums contribute rhythmic beats during a drum circle Sept. 9 as part of a Dearborn adult education class.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – Whether they came to relieve stress or make music, the students in Jeremy Palmer’s Dearborn Public Schools Adult Education beginner drum circle class found they share a desire to discover their inner drummer.

The six-week class, which began Sept. 9, meets from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays at Dearborn High School. The next session begins Oct. 28, and offers participants age 16 and up an opportunity to have fun while relieving stress with different hand drums, shakers and other percussion instruments.

A musical background is not a prerequisite, and Palmer, a Westland resident, provides the instruments during class time as part of the $35 course fee.

For more information, call 313-827-1900 or go to www.DearbornCEonline.org.

Palmer, who works part time in the music department at Henry Ford Community College, is a music therapy undergraduate student at Eastern Michigan University. He said his goal is to be proficient at piano, guitar, voice and random percussion instruments, including hand drums and shakers.

He said because he enjoys doing drum circles in the classes he attends, he decided to offer a similar class through Dearborn Adult Education last spring.

“It was a blast,” Palmer said. “We had eight or nine people, and it was really fun.”

He said he keeps the class fee low because he enjoys teaching and finds it personally therapeutic to “bang on something.”

“Some things you just can’t do by yourself,” Palmer said. “They’re not quite as cool as with a group.”

He said his drum circle class does not have a set curriculum, and tries to go into whatever direction the group prefers.

Jeri Hill of Dearborn Heights said she joined the class to learn a higher level of meditation, while her friend Jennetta Helton, also of Dearborn Heights, said she joined the class to be part of the experience.

Friends Heather Mehi and Anna Ebi of Van Buren Township said they joined the class because they thought it would be something fun to do together. Mehi said she has a djembe, an African drum, and they both have conga drums they would like to learn how to play.

Donna Braden of Dearborn, a violinist and pianist, said she loves the rhythm patterns of other cultures’ music. She said she found the drum beats she heard during past visits to Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom addictive, so she joined the drum circle class to learn to play them.

Susan Myers of Garden City said visiting African nuns recently introduced drumming at her church in Westland.

While the meditation aspect of a drum circle appeals to Diane Smith of Wyandotte, she said the percussive beat draws her in as well.

Yoga instructor Kelly Sharpy, whose daughter participated in a drum corps for eight years, said she always wanted to drum herself.

“I’ve always just loved it,” Sharpy said. “I would like to incorporate it into my yoga (classes) for meditation as well, and see where we can go with that.”

The first week Palmer introduced hand-held frame drums, large bass drums resting on the floor and slightly smaller djembes held between a person’s knees.

He encouraged participants to experiment with the sound, then he split them into sections, assigning each drum type a different rhythm, then adding each different beat to the circle while maintaining the underlying beat with a percussive cowbell.

The group rotated drums around the circle, giving each participant a chance to try each of the three types. Palmer introduced and used small hand-held percussive shakers with the circle as well.

He said the health benefits of participation in a drum circle are both physical and mental.

“If you don’t care about the meditation part, you can burn a lot of calories playing drums,” Palmer said.

“I am happy I found it for it for myself. That’s the main reason I am teaching the class, because I want the experience of working with other people and passing on some of the benefits I have noticed in my own life.”

By the end of the first class, Hill said she felt confident, empowered and centered.

“All of us were strangers yet we were able to keep a beat together,” Hill said. “I think that gave us a sense of unity.”

Ebi, who said she enjoyed the class, was happily surprised that she was able to maintain a beat with the others in the drum circle.

“That was my biggest fear,” Ebi said, “that everyone else was going to be able to keep the beat and I was going to be totally off.”

Mehi said she felt rejuvenated, energized and grounded by the drum circle. She felt that Palmer’s teaching method was calming and relaxing.

Braden liked that Palmer taught with hands-on learning, which had her playing a drum and maintaining a beat during the first session.

“I was playing right away and I actually had rhythm,” Braden said. “I didn’t know if I had rhythm or not, and it was really, really fun.”

Myers likes that Palmer incorporates hands-on learning, and said she had a lot more energy at the end of the hour. She plans to enter drum circle on her daily weight loss program activity log.

“I feel on top of the world,” she said. “I feel really excited and ready to go.”

Smith, who also felt energized, said the drum circle improved her mood.

“We were all in the same boat,” Smith said, “so we could laugh when we made mistakes and it didn’t matter. I feel really good. I still kind of feel the beat inside.”