For 12 plus years now I have been facilitating community drum circles and supporting others who do the same here in the UK.
This last week past I was awarded my VMC Certification. I could have had it 5 years ago but I was stubbornly refusing to write the last 4 essays required, arguing with my Mentor and Teacher Arthur that he knew, that I knew what I knew, and so didn’t need them.
Unfortunately he turned out to be as stubborn as me.
I dug in my heels.
Then in June of this year I wrote the essay. Yes Essay. My final act of rebellion.
Upon receiving the certificate I was informed that I would facilitate the closing of the community drum circle for this year’s UK Playshop after two other graduates, Alex Miles and Steve Hill, did their stuff.
This facilitation will live with me always. It was a pure celebration and I enjoyed every second of it.
I have to thank Arthur for being a superb Mentor over the years and Jim Boneau for helping me to open my heart more.
I feel blessed to know them both.
Below you will find the essay and a copy of my certificate, of which I am hugely proud.
VMC Certification Essay by Paul Dear of Rhythmbridge June 5th 2013 ( Updates added to final section)
Here were are the original four essay titles:
- How have you incorporated the principles of Arthurian Triplicities into your Drum Circle Facilitation?
- What does the trust Triplicity mean to you as a Drum Circle Facilitator?
- How does incorporating elements of the Intuitive Skills Triplicity improve your Drum Circle Facilitation?
- Evaluate where you are in developing a professional career using the Career Development Triplicity.
Introduction: As is my nature, I am going to approach this the way it feels best, which is to write one essay to answer all four questions. Much in the way I would facilitate a circle I am going to allow all the elements present to inform me and guide me instinctively to a place where the answers are provided. As with a drum circle, I embark from a position of no expectation and trust; trust in my own self and that of the process.
I began my journey into drum circle facilitation at the end of the year 2000. Arthur had been invited by Ianto Thornber of Knock-On-Wood in Leeds to facilitate a community drum circle in the city. At the time I was teaching a hand drumming class and I picked up Ianto’s invite and headed over to Leeds. I had never heard of Arthur Hull. When I arrived late there were maybe 120 people playing in a circle. The sound was thunderous and to my ears a little chaotic. I strapped on my djembe and began to play a basic West African support rhythm at the edge of the circle. Ianto had noticed my arrival and pointed Arthur in my direction as well as that of another local drum teacher Steve Hill. Arthur stopped the circle and left Steve, Ianto and myself playing (not very connectedly I might add). He introduced us as elders in the community and with my ego being stroked I noticed my thinking was along the lines of “Yeah you lot…look at me…this is how you really drum.”
Arthur then stepped into the circle and, using the ‘elder’s’ rhythm as a platform, began facilitating what I now recognise to be an orchestrational sequence. Once completed, the group dropped back into the groove on THEIR one. I was flabbergasted. Something had just happened that was outside my understanding of how rhythmical groups functioned. This was a living breathing entity that was able to respond and move in the moment. It was a Eureka moment and it was humbling. Since that day my world view of how rhythm works shifted 360 degrees.
Of course I had to go and train with this short, impish, funny man in a hat.
I did so in the year 2001 and returned to Mentor in 2002 and so my journey was under way. In the early days Triplicties were no more than a theoretical concept to me and a new one at that. Arthur could talk a lot back in the day and so a lot of the information felt like it was flying over my head.
13 years and many more trainings later I get it in multiple ways and at multiple levels. What has informed my learning the most is the doing. Facilitating a regular community circle since 2001 has deepened my process within the circle and within my life as a result.
Rather than talk about ALL the Triplicities one by one I am going to dip into the ones that have more relevance for me as a long standing professional working with circles. I am sure that subconsciously I am pulling on ALL the theory about ALL the triplicities ALL the time, but in my day to day practice I am most definitely working primarily with these: Intention, Drum Circle Song, Drum Pitch and Drum Circle Potential.
Every circle I do begins with a moment of breath: a silent pond into which the pebble of my intention is dropped. It is always my intention to serve; to empower the circle rhythmically. To build community in this moment, this next two hours, with whomsoever shows up. Then I practice my first GOTW ( Get out of the way) before the circle even begins. I let go of it all. It will be what it will be. It is my long held belief that working in this way is a powerful and effective method for creating connection. You can sense it from the players, see it in their smiles, hear it in their laughter and more importantly in the music as it grows and becomes deep. For me too there are benefits. This is the most present I get in my practice.
It serves me to serve them.
All of my circles are set up according to the Drum Pitch Triplicity. I love to have all the sounds, wood, metal, shaker and drums to play with but always at the core is a good balance of low, mid and high toned drum sounds. It’s the glue for me. Listening to dialogue emerge from within the circle is always a thrill and without these complimentary sounds it would be less possible. Early days there were lots of djembes out in my circle. Now there are usually 2 or 3 mixed in with darabuka, conga sets and kpanlogo drums.
The drum voice created by good pitch selection is essential as a core constituent for the emergence of a drum song. Melody lines are far more likely when 3 distinct and different voices converse in a way that offers the potential for rhythm to move into the realm of more complexity. A spacious 3 drum conversation is much easier to drop wood, metal or shaker parts into, than a busy single pitch groove can ever be. It is in my opinion the perfect kind of platform from which to move towards deeply interactive rhythmical play. The dance of the drum, which can be created by the selection of correctly pitched groups, leads us into melody without too much thought and this can be hung around a universal pattern or the latter can be easily laid on top of a groove. That’s the beauty of the universal. It’s universal
I am an audio learner followed by kinesthetic and visual. I am always moving towards balance and in the same way the circle is too. ALL of the Triplicities are in play, ALL of the time and working together in a multi-faceted way. It’s not linear.
Maybe there’s a Triplicity song here? (Think thigh bone-knee bone melody)
Intention connected to the Drum Pitch, and the Drum Pitch connected to the Drum Song, the Drum Song connected to Potential and Potential connected to Intention and the…..you get the idea.
Talking of Potential, it’s another of the obvious Triplicities at play for me. We can see that potential is linked to ALL of the above. Everybody having the same pitch of drum will limit potential. Everybody being a hot shot who can’t listen will limit potential. Lack of melody, no facilitator, poor acoustics…all can limit potential. Every group that shows up has potential and given the intent to serve them it is possible to find it. I can’t measure the potential beforehand but I can create an environment where the journey to discover it is possible, perhaps even probable. There is always some potential discovered but can we always reach our fullest? Perhaps those moments are few and appear when we are not looking for them but when we have provided all the elements for the possibility to occur.
All the elements! What might these be? We’ve looked at the drum pitch, drum song and intention. These are key building blocks but how about the participants themselves and their relationship to one another and to the facilitator. The group consciousness if you like. This is a dance of high importance. If there is no group then the potential remains just that. Potential. What might have been? Here is the heart of the circle. The dance of the humans being and the humans doing.
This is all based upon Trust. As a facilitator how am I presenting myself to the group? Upon their arrival? During the introduction to the instruments and each other we have named drum call? Am I creating space for listening? Am I empowering dialogue in the circle? At times when things don’t gel am I smiling encouragingly? At times when things are flying am I flying with them? For me it all works around the intention to be open, to receive what is offered consciously and unconsciously, to allow and to empower and to listen. To really listen. I often talk in my windows of communication about the difference between hearing and listening just to illustrate this point. Listen. To each other, to the drum song, to the melody, to your heart.
In recent years the phrase ‘small successes’ has crept into the training and it has moved into my circles now as a practice. One step at a time up the rhythmical staircase, slowly and cautiously at first but with increasing confidence until we are free to run up and down the stairs at will in the end. Trust. Can I facilitate a small success? If I can the group will risk the next step, trust me a little more. If I am genuine in my words and deeds I will develop trust. Once again all of the elements present are operating all of the time. The group consciousness is connected to the trust present, the trust is connected to our relationship, and our relationship is connected to the drum song. The ….yeah…you still get it right?
I trust them enough to find a place where they can trust themselves which increases their trust in me and allows me to deepen my trust in them until all we are left with is a circle full of trust. Then the magic can happen. Then the group consciousness is sufficient to recognise itself in all its musical beauty and move rhythmically in the moment to a place of pure unbridled magic. You’ll know when you are there. It’s genuine. It’s real. Then it’s gone. Over the course of an event trust can develop to the point where I can walk away from my role and sit and play. We don’t need facilitation…Hey facilitator…leave us kids alone.
How does this trust grow? What do we need to bring to the circle to allow it to develop? Again there are so many things operating on so many levels it can feel overwhelming when we begin a process of analysing this but in reality this state of being is as comfortable to me as the clothes I wear. It has developed over time and is constantly doing so. I still mess up. I still get a little anxious but I am so much more aware now of the environment in which the circle exists it feels like a kind of home.
This sense of belonging, of being, for me is wrapped up inside the Intuitive Skills Triplicity. This ability to BE in the moment, to allow the circle and all its participants to feed me musical and emotional information on multiple levels and to then offer it back to them in such a way as to re-inform them with what they had presented, to respond to them as it were and inspire them to take it a little higher. I have to be present. I have to listen fully. To feel completely. To see completely. I must be able to adapt on the spot and to remain connected with them and with myself. This is not an exercise in spacing out and connecting with higher realms or dimensions. This is about us Here and Now. Us and the drums. Here and Now. It is a kind of Zen practice for me now. The Zen of facilitation, which has become an effortless way of being, born out of some 13 years of regular practice. I am still practicing. When I talk to my friends about their meditation practice for example, I find so many parallels and it has led me to the only conclusion it could. This is my life’s practice. My life’s work. To facilitate groups of people to their highest rhythmical potential.
I am grateful for this and it has been enormously challenging emotionally and financially to make this step across what has become for me the Rhythmbridge, the vehicle through which all of my work to schools, companies and community groups has been delivered this last 16 years. Rhythmbridge has existed as a company and a charitable foundation since 1999 has delivered workshops with close to 3/4 million school children, the main focus of my work. I have also taught weekly hand drum classes and facilitated regular monthly community drum circles where I live. I have helped to seed other community drum circles in the UK and through all this time continued to train with one Arthur Hull here in the UK.
In recent years I have established the Wee Drum Gathering, a coming together of drummers, singers, dancers and musicians to share and grow and am currently developing a Music and Arts company based at Wiston Lodge called ‘Tinto Music and Arts’. I plan to run a Drum Trek this year ( 2105) in order to help raise funds for the Arts at Wiston and to support the buying of land for another Festival close to my heart, Stainsby. I have also recently established my own international training program called Expressive Rhythm Stories.
When I look at the career development Triplicity I see how strong I am in 2 of the three areas. I share my bliss and I serve my community. Having left the corporate world to do this I am aware that I consciously left behind the third leg of the tripod, develop business skills.
Why? Because at heart I am a bit of a hippy? Because I don’t believe in capitalism? Partly. The honest answer is that I was tired of that world. I wanted to follow my heart. My art if you like. I chose to ‘let it flow’ as opposed to pushing it. The result has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride financially and I am still seeking balance in this area. I am aware that if I don’t feed myself literally and figuratively, I am in trouble. At the same time I am a person who lives on a planet where many cannot even find clean water. Balance it seems is also a global issue.
I want to tread lightly where I can. I don’t want to take more than I need. I’m not great with managing money and in recent times debt has caught up and overtaken me to the point where the business almost folded.
Having stared into the Abyss I can tell you one thing I learned.
I am a drum circle facilitator and Community Builder and I can’t separate what I do form who I am anymore.
I have set up a local community drum circle that can survive and thrive now regardless of my own financial state. It is free, independent and sometimes wild. It is self sufficient and can survive without me. It is not connected to my business. It is something I do purely for the love. Other drum circle work can bring me money but this local community circle is all about passion for playing.
(Edit: Having now moved to Scotland the circle has continued to thrive without me. I have not established a regular community circle in Scotland as yet because my work is now taking me to other countries too and I am not around regularly to be the facilitator…I will set one up and have a local facilitator run it though)
My dream moving forward is to help to establish circles like this all over the UK and to that end I am hoping to establish UK Playshop as a charity to allow new facilitators to receive support in getting up and running using the same model. This is a new business development with heart and so will hopefully strengthen the third tripod leg whilst allowing the other two to continue growing.
(Edit: The ongoing success of UK Playshop means this Foundation Fund has been created to allow this work to continue. REMO have also supported our programme with a UK Playshop Community DCF kit which will be housed at Wiston and made available for supporting dcf’s UK wide)
I am on my path and am happy to be doing this work.
Hope to see you across the Rhythmbridge some time soon.
Paul John Dear