First, there is a steady beat coming from a single drum. Boom — boom, boom, boom. Other drummers gradually join in, each on differently sized and toned drums, as they match the beat created by the leader.
Participants in the drum circle focus their eyes on the floor or the ceiling to concentrate on the rhythm. Others grin at their neighbors as the beats match up in a satisfying pulse. Some of the drummers introduce variations, which the instructor of the class, Sheila Klotz, calls “layers.”
The group speeds up a little and then dissolves into laughter when Klotz stops the class to point out the unwanted speed change.
This is a Drum Circle class, a non-credit personal enrichment class at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) on the Leonardtown Campus. It is one of approximately 400 personal enrichment class options offered every year at CSM’s campuses.
Latin Dancing, Basic Dog Obedience, Backyard Chicken Keeping, numerous cooking classes, Fit Over 40, Build Your Own Drone, The Art of Songwriting, Aqua Zumba, Pottery — the options are wide-ranging, accessible and designed to help area residents find a new skill or hobby or polish old ones, including drum circle skills.
Instructors for these courses come with excellent credentials and wealth of knowledge and experience.
CSM Program Coordinator Shaunda Holt, who helps develop the programs offered by the college’s personal enrichment department, said she sees learning as a way for people to re-create themselves. “Personal enrichment is just that — living an enriched life creating knowledge, inspiration and passion, no matter what stage of life you are in. Anyone can re-create themselves and CSM’s personal enrichment program helps people to do just that.”
This summer is the first time CSM has offered a class on drum circles — an activity growing in popularity where a group of people play hand drums and percussion together as an activity as opposed to preparing for a performance. Students in CSM’s Drum Circle class take an hour, one evening each week, to focus on the activity for a variety of reasons.
Shirley Steffey of Lusby is a member of Daughters of Veda Sereem belly dancers, as are several other members of the Drum Circle class. The belly dancers use a doumbek, a drum from the Middle East, in their performance. “We wanted to refine our skills,” Steffey said. “Try new things.”
Andrew Mauro of Great Mills, an aspiring writer who cares for his parents during the day, says the class is a break for him. “It’s fun,” he said. “It definitely has a good energy. Makes you want to keep going. Positive vibes.”
Grace Calo of California, who kicks off her sandals and participates in the drum circle barefoot, said she was so excited to see that Drum Circle was one of the classes offered by CSM this summer. “For 57 years I’ve had rhythm in me,” Calo said, adding that when she saw the schedule of classes, she knew this was her chance. “I get lost in it.”
“We love it. We all love it,” Steffey said of the Drum Circle class. “Our teacher is amazing. Patient.”
Klotz teaches from a wealth of experience. She has been playing drums and percussion instruments since she was 10. She majored in percussion at West Virginia University and then served in the military, performing as a percussionist in The United States Air Force Band, Washington, D.C. She later played as a percussionist in the National Guard Band, also in Washington, and after one year became commander and conductor of the Army Guard Band in Washington. Now retired, the CSM class is a way to share her expertise with the community.
Klotz supplies the drums and other percussion instruments used by the class, including the conga, djembe, djun djun and kenkeni, while students like the belly dancers may bring their own drums if they prefer. Klotz teaches about the history of drumming and emphasizes that, done correctly, drumming is a way to communicate.
Participating in a drum circle has also been shown to have health benefits. “It slows the heartbeat,” Klotz said. “It’s a release of tensions.”
She has a goal for her students beyond these benefits — the skills and knowledge that will allow them to participate in this activity. “They will be able to go to any city in the United States and sit in on a drum circle and be able to play,” she said.
The Drum Circle class will be offered again in the fall as CSM strives to meet the diverse needs of students and the community by providing accessible, accredited, affordable and quality learning opportunities for intellectual development, career enhancement, and personal growth.
Students can register for personal enrichment classes up until the day of the class, although earlier registration is encouraged because some classes have minimum registrations required to run. For information on non-credit, personal enrichment offerings at CSM, visit http://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/non-credit/personal-enrichment/.