Rhythm for Unity: Drumming and Person-Directed Care

December 17, 2013
Laura Beck, The Eden Alternative

I hold dear a particular moment during the 2010 Eden Alternative International Conference in Denver. During the evening welcoming ceremony, residents from the North Star Community in Denver gathered in a circle at the center of the space and began to drum.  The hum of reception conversation and clanking glasses began to hush as the crowd drew toward them and circled around them. What made it even more inspiring was that many of these North Star residents live with multiple sclerosis and other neurological challenges. Each member of the circle brought a different quality of expression to the circle, but what they all conveyed was their complete immersion in the experience. Their love of drumming, their sense of connection with each other, and the fact that they just plain ROCKED was so captivating, it wasn’t long before we joined in by clapping, grabbing available rhythm instruments, or just using our voices.  It was an incredible way to launch a conference focused on the art of creating a caring community, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Needless to say, then, I was delighted to hear that our 2014 International Conference scheduled for April 30-May 2 in Nashville will welcome rhythm facilitator, Tom Gill, as a special guest.  When you talk to Tom about his work, his passion for rhythm as a source of well-being is totally infectious.  I had the honor of chatting with him last week, and here are some of his inspiring reflections that fit hand-in-glove with ideas central to the culture change journey:

Where it all began…

“One day, I heard on NPR about couples who were doing this form of therapy where they used Native American frame drums to really listen to each other.  The therapist would say, “You have a beat, and your spouse has a beat… and if you don’t listen to each other, it’s going to be a mess.  But if you really tune in, you can create something beautiful together.”  Hearing the recording of what these couples created was really amazing.  This was the first hook for me.  I thought here’s an instrument that’s really accessible to a lot of people.

The second hook came later, watching a woman who was really in the zone playing a conga drum.  It was so clear to me that what she was experiencing transcended music somehow.  Things really came to a head meeting Arthur Hull, the author of Drum Circle Spirit, Facilitating Human Potential Through Rhythm.  He taught me it wasn’t about learning a skill set and hanging a shingle; it was about learning by doing.  At this point, I gave myself over fully to this path.  I chose the business name ‘Rhythm for Unity’ because my mission was to share with others what I discovered. 

What it’s really all about…

“Anyone can be drawn into the power of rhythm.  Facilitating rhythm is essentially about three things:  Creativity, community, and the element of surprise.  To feel like you are a part of creating something that all participants involved can claim as engaging and rewarding… this is what it’s all about.  It’s about always having beginner’s mind and giving people the opportunity to ‘impress themselves’ by contributing something that they value.  Facilitating rhythm is about helping people feel comfortable, making it easy, and then getting out of the way.  Once you’re out of the way, people are empowered.  They begin to see that they are the ones doing it.”

About the first time working with Elders…

When I began to work with Elders, there was this energy with them – I was amazed by how much their life experience came through in the drumming circle. The first time for me involved a group of retired nuns.  I remember running out of my material within an hour.  So, I called one of my mentors to ask him what to do.  He said, “Tom, these nuns have over 1500 years of collective service, you are there to learn from them.  This was another wake-up call for me. 

Eventually, I moved into working with people who live with dementia.  This is where my heart really is.  Their involvement always surprises everybody. I always hear how this person or that person would never do anything, until they came into the circle. I’ve been able to witness over and over again how, as people, we can connect in new ways.  Drum circles literally reflect what each group is about… who they are and what their shared stories are.

Learn more from Tom Gill at the 2014 Eden Alternative International Conference.  He will also offer two hour-long workshops as a part of the Domains of Well-Being Break-Out Sessions.  Early registration lasts until January 15th.

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RT @edenalt: Rhythm for Unity: Drumming and Person-Directed Care #EdenConference http://t.co/nnXBwsFYBA


Nice capturing and sharing of our energized conversation! I am really looking forward to presenting at the Eden Conference and meeting like-minded/spirited people to learn with and from.


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