Every second Thursday of the month, people throng to the fire station on Dallas Street at 6:30 p.m., and within 10 minutes, the sound of beating drums booms from within.
The monthly Community Drum Circle led by Susan Hall, proprietor of RhythmWorx, is a regular event for drumming enthusiasts who meet regularly to make music. Many of them come for the sheer joy of community.
The city of La Mesa’s Live Well Initiative funds the drum circle, which Hall started in September 2010.
“Living well means to incorporate all aspects of our being into our lives,” Hall explained. “You get to do that in the drum circle. You make music, you make friends, you use your arms and tap your feet. It’s good for the whole person.”
After people seated themselves in a circle in the community room of the fire station at the January meeting, Hall made an important announcement.
“We have been asked to be part of the pre-game entertainment for the Padres game on June 14 this summer,” Hall said, smiling big. “I am obligated for 100 people, so I’m hoping you all will sign up for that day. Everyone who is interested in attending can come. Don’t worry about having to practice. We know how to make rhythm together.”
Everyone cheered and all but a couple of people put their name down on the chart.
Hall explained that the city of La Mesa is sponsoring the drum circle for that day, providing them with t-shirts with logos.
“And don’t forget that we’re in for the Flag Day Parade on May 30 in La Mesa,” she said.
After the announcements, Hall explained the drum circle procedure to the new participants.
“Everyone contributes his or her sound to the circle and the music. You choose what instrument you want to play,” she said.
Hall pointed to her collection of bells, drums, rain sticks, seed pod shakers, maracas, tambourines and even a xylophone. She picked up a djembe drum and positioned it between her knees, showing how to tap on the different parts of the drum to elicit different tones. Then she invited the percussionists-to-be to choose from boxes of musical instruments.
“Everyone ready?” asked Hall.
She began tapping out a rhythm on her drum and the people joined in. They happily banged on drums and shook bells and tambourines. The fire station filled with a heart-pounding boom. Everyone watched for direction from Hall, who alternately slowed and sped up the tempo.
For another round, Hall picked up some plastic tubes.
“These are called boomwhackers, and I like to use a shorter tube with a longer one. You can use them on the drums and tambourines, but not on each other,” she said, smiling.
At her direction, the percussionists joined in and a comical, hollow popping sound reverberated throughout the room. By the time Hall made a motion with her hand to slow then stop the commotion, everyone was laughing.
At 7:50 p.m., Hall said it was time for the “Celebration Song.” For 10 minutes, they banged and pounded and shook their instruments. When Hall raised her arms and called out with a whooping cheer, they all followed along until closing time.
“See you next month! And tell your friends they can come,” Hall said, sighing with a happy smile. She looked over at Angela Large, who was packing up her own Djembe drum.
“How are you doing, Angela?” Susan asked.
“As usual, I’m so relaxed. This is a very healing circle for me,” said Large, who had joined in the circle a couple years ago when she had been diagnosed with cancer.
“It is for me, too,” said Theresa Fox, who had come for the first time that evening. “I’m energized. I feel like I could go run a mile.”
Her daughter Ashlyn Fox, 16, said she would like to come again to the drum circle.
“I feel good now, too. I’ve been stressed out with a lot of different issues,” she said.
Nearby, Rob Lohman, a regular with the circle for a little more than a year, was packing up his instrument that he’d made with seed pods attached to a curtain rod.
“I agree. This is a great event, stress-free,” he said. “Susan doesn’t press people to do this a certain way. She’s open-minded. And that’s good because there are so many other things in life that you have to do a certain way.”
The La Mesa Community Drum Circle, open to everyone, takes place the second Thursday of each month, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Fire Department’s Station 12 (8844 Dallas St.). For information, go to www.meetup.com/RW-DrumEvents.
—Cynthia Robertson is a San Diego-based freelance writer. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.