August 21, 2012

Drum Circles Aren’t Just for Hippies: Using Music to Heal Children’s Spirits—One Beat at at Time.

Photo: Constantine Alatzas

*elephant is proud to media partner with our local colleagues at Sounds True, and their first annual Wake Up Festival.

One of the moments that taught me the most about the power of the inner music happened when I was working with a young child in a healing center for the wounds of war.

I was invited to lead a drum circle at the Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Sulaimaniya, Iraq, sponsored by Kurdistan Save the Children. The Center treated children with conditions ranging from amputated legs to heart disease to learning disabilities.

When we arrived to demonstrate the drum circle for music therapy, we found that the center lacked a large gathering space, so we improvised and passed out drums in the waiting room, which was filled not only with patients, but also, in many cases, with their whole families.

I noticed a young boy, who looked to be eight or nine years old, slumped over in a wheelchair. He was missing both legs and looked depressed. But when I handed him a drum, he brightened up immediately. To my surprise, he sat up straight and started playing a traditional Kurdish beat. He had a fantastic sense of rhythm, much to the surprise of his parents and the therapists. His eyes were sparkling, and the shift in his energy was amazing. I could feel his spirit expressed on the drum as I got closer and tried to follow his rhythm. Without words, just demonstrating on his drum, he showed me how to play the Kurdish beat; he was giving me a lesson.

Meanwhile, drums were being passed out to the other children and parents. Before I knew it, the waiting room, which had once been filled with depressed faces, was filled with smiles and a unified spirit. The drum circle grew as therapists came from other parts of the center.

I started to play an improvised melody on a flute that I had purchased in Iraq. The boy whose rhythm had started the whole thing kept on going, smiling and checking in with me with a nod of his head. When it was time to finish our program, I cued the group, speaking the numbers in Kurdish: 3–2–1–Stop! As everyone applauded, I pointed to the boy in the wheelchair, who acknowledged the applause with a bow.

As we were packing up the drums, I went over to the boy, whose parents were standing beside him in awe. He just looked at me and hugged the drum tightly. I knew he wanted to keep it, and I certainly would have given it to him, but instead I had to explain through the translator that I didn’t have enough drums to give to all the children. I vowed that we would bring back enough drums for the center someday. He resultantly handed me the drum. I nodded to him with my hand on my heart. He did the same.

As I walked away, I was filled with emotion. Suddenly, I heard a rhythm, but it wasn’t on a drum. The boy was tapping out a beat with a pencil on the side of the metal wheelchair, a statement that burst my heart open. He did not need the drum to make his rhythm: the music was in him, not in the drum.

We kept our promise, returning the following year with drums for the center, and were pleased to find the music therapy program flourishing under the direction of Raz, one of our trained facilitators and a physical therapist.

Hopefully it doesn’t take an injury or challenging health condition for you to recognize your inner musical spirit. Even trained musicians can become disconnected from their musical spirit, losing their connection to the joy that making music brings. Without spirit, their music may be technically impressive, but it may not touch the soul.

I am more moved by the beat played by a child whose inner music broke free and whose essence—which could not find words—began to speak than I am by the greatest technical performances if the latter are lacking spirit. Musical skill can enhance our expression, but musical spirit is essential to all music. As we express ourselves creatively, we bring forth the inner music that only we can play. It cannot be taught because it is as natural as your heartbeat and as intimate as your breath. It’s why music resonates with us so deeply. It’s why all cultures have music. As Mickey Hart says, “No culture has existed without music. . . . Music makes us human.”

See Christine Stevens, live, Thursday, August 23rd-Saturday, August 25th, 2012 at the Wake Up Festival in Estes Park, CO, sponsored by Sounds True. Visit Wake Up Festival for more information: www.wakeupfestival.com.

Christine Stevens MSW, MT-BC, is an internationally acclaimed author, music therapist, and speaker. The founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, she has appeared on NBC, CBS, and PBS. She has drummed with many Fortune 500 companies, students at Columbine High School and Ground Zero, survivors of Katrina in New Orleans, and in northern Iraq. Stevens is the author of The Healing Drum Kit (Sounds True, 2005), The Art and Heart of Drum Circles (Hal Leonard, 2003), and most recently, Music Medicine: The Science and Spirit of Healing Yourself with Sound (Sounds True, August 2012). She lives in San Diego, CA. Visit http://www.ubdrumcircles.com.

Break-Out Workshop—August 23rd-25th, 2012

The Wake Up Festival, Estes Park, CO

“Music Medicine: The Science and Spirit of Healing Yourself through Sound”

Discover the healing music in you with author, musician, and the founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, Christine Stevens. Drawing from scientific evidence and world spiritual traditions, Stevens shows you the transcendent power of sound. Learn practices to attune yourself to the four healing properties of music in the Music Medicine Model based on the medicine wheel: rhythm—the medicine for the body; melody—the medicine for the heart; harmony—the medicine for the soul; and silence—the medicine for the mind. Put it all together in the inner music that awakens your human instrument—the medicine for spirit.

This interactive workshop is full of musical joy, play, and cutting edge science. Learn techniques such as healing drum massage, toning your energy centers, chanting your personal anthem, harmonizing in a language that is transcendent, and resting in the space between the notes. Move from loving music to living music! No prior musical experience necessary.



Editor: Brianna Bemel


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