Jane Bentley

Jane is a drummer, facilitator, consultant and trainer; specialising in music in communication, health and wellbeing settings. She believes that everyone can make music – piloting musical social innovation projects as diverse as: exploring musical communication skills with corporate trainers through the medium of paper; making music with prisoners and their children to encourage family bonding; sharing the delights of improvisation with orchestral musicians who want to play in hospitals; creating a spontaneous bicycle orchestra for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2018 European Championships; investigating the potential for rhythm in aiding language learning, and articulating the potential of music in the lives of people with dementia.

She has been a student of Arthur Hull’s Village Music Circles since 1999 and is now recognized as an international trainer in drum circle facilitation. She deepened her studies by completing a PhD based on drum circles and improvisation, highlighting the effects of group music making on human wellbeing – the first time that the practice of drum circle facilitation has been studied at this level.

Her work as a facilitator has broken new ground in the field of health and wellbeing, through her long-term collaborations with mental health occupational therapy staff in the UK National Health Service. In 2007, she established ‘The Buddy Beat’ drumming group, which won the Epic award for the best voluntary arts project in Scotland and inspired the formation of several other drumming groups for mental wellbeing. In 2016, she was named a BBC Music ‘Unsung Hero’ for her work in the community. She presents at both national and international conferences on the subject of drum circle facilitation, and the potential of music making for social development. As a trainer, she has worked with musicians, orchestras, music therapists, educators, trainers, arts practitioners, and health professionals from Bathgate to Bangalore.

In 2015, she was awarded a Winston Churchill travelling Fellowship, researching the role of music in the wellbeing of older adults in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore. She has just completed a year as an Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Global Brain Health, at the Global Brain Health Institute, focusing on music as a resource for a healthy brain!


1. How have you incorporated the principles of the Arthurian Triplicities into your Drum Circle Facilitation practice?

I haven't. I've incorporated them into MY WHOLE LIFE. It's impossible to disentangle who I am now and the way I show up from the stuff I learned in Arthur's classes. It's not the whole picture (I'm not going to flatter you that much!!), but it has had a deeply significant effect on me. I've had edges rubbed off, faced fears, overcome apathy and feelings of competition, and found a place of authentic expression.

My first encounter was back in March 1999 - I'd been to a very inspiring samba drumming workshop run by a freelance musician, who also had interesting things to say about some of the esoteric aspects of drumming and rhythm - I came away thinking 'I want to be like that when I grow up'. As soon as I got home, I did an internet search for 'how to run drumming workshops' - bearing in mind that this was 1999, and I was living on a tiny island where there was only one phone line where you could connect to the internet! Up came a result for the newly published 'Drum Circle Spirit' - which became my first ever order from Amazon.com - I had to order it from the USA because it wasn't available in the UK yet. Instantly the title grabbed me - and even more so the subtitle 'facilitating human potential through rhythm' - if I wanted to do anything, I wanted to do that!!

I devoured the book in a single sitting - and received my first little personal 'nudge' which changed my worldview: "It's not about you…." As someone with a performing background, and a burning desire to be individual and 'special' (oh yes, and to serve others, of course…), that was a reality check! How could that be as much fun? But it definitely turned things around, before long I was completely wedded to doing music WITH people, rather than FOR people. My direction had changed from being a performer, to being a facilitator.

My first attempts at doing drum circles from the book were AWFUL - mostly consisting of rumbles and stop-cuts, and it was another two years before I finally was able to make it to a playshop and see what a DC actually looked like - Scotland at the time was a drumming desert, and I was the only drummer in the village. But at least I was sharing my joy with others, and the good thing about a blank slate is that it's blank for everyone else too, so none of us knew any better! So most of my early playshop learnings were all about technology and musicality - I'm not going to go much further into that — you've got my thesis [find it here]… 😉

Actually, Arthurian theory has mostly RUINED my experience of other workshops! It's made it far too easy to spot when it's all about the leader, rather than the group, and when the power is kept firmly in their hands, and not handed over. But it has given me missionary zeal, both in my own facilitation practice, and in my practice as a teacher of others who wish to be music leaders. I think that's definitely part of my life's work - if people have the grace to give you their time and attention (and money…) then you owe them the best possible experience in return - to give them back to themselves, to enable people to realise their own gifts and resources, and to use them to connect with others.

2. What does the "Trust" Triplicity mean to you as a Rhythm event facilitator?

I think it’s the basis of my whole practice - if it’s not present, then people won’t have the confidence in you when you start to nudge them beyond their perceived boundaries. If you build trust in the group, then we can all jump together, and take a risk. If you’re asking the group to take a risk, they have to see that you can go there too - otherwise it’s just manipulation.

For me, my journey has been about transparent vulnerability. In the early days, I wanted to be A BRILLIANT FACILITATOR: to have all the tricks, create amazing music, and be praised by my peers. I thought if I could do that, then that would be a way to create connection, as people would like me. Well - it gets you so far, but then there’s still a part that’s hidden - the part that’s afraid of failure, and I’d been very good at not failing - I’d try ambitious things, but in reality I’d know that it was still my comfort zone. And so I never really got to share the bigger, slightly wobblier ‘me’, and have that part connect with others.

So, here and now, I’d like to celebrate:

THE PUBLIC FUCK-UP

As a way to health, happiness, inner harmony, and building rapport, honesty, and congruency. It doesn’t mean shitty, ill-prepared drum circles - it means having the courage to play on your edge, to be constantly growing, not to be ‘the expert’ all the time, and to put other peoples’ comfort and esteem needs ahead of your own. It means acknowledging that we all have vulnerabilities, and that if we weren’t trying so hard to hide them, we’d actually make better friends - and better facilitators. If you, as a leader, can slip-up, and model a constructive and humane response to it, then maybe other people will be encouraged to give it a go too. At the very least, they’ll be thinking “well, if she can do it, it can’t be all that hard - let’s help her out a bit”.

However, there is a time and a place for it as well - the ‘overly ambitious fuck-up’ will not build trust in the early stages of the circle - people need to be able to trust that you know what you’re doing and where it’s all going - that’s where the congruency comes in - taking small achievable steps together, so that we reach a point where we trust each other enough to head off into the unknown together. It took a few years, but the playshop trainings were eventually the place where I found my inner fuck-up! Jean Vanier (an incredible guy who’s done a lot of work with people with special needs) once said ‘vulnerability creates community’ - and I think my best facilitation moments have come out of a wish to embody this.

These days I’ve spent many hours working alongside people who are extremely vulnerable, and who have very low levels of trust - and my learning in the drum circles has been a solid foundation for this work - nothing gives me greater pleasure than the small moments of connection reached in groups composed of people who have really experienced life. For me, it’s what it’s really all about.

3. How does incorporating the elements of the “Intuitive Skills” Triplicity improve your Drum Circle facilitation?

This is also what it’s all about! I like the way ‘rapport’ makes it into both of these triplicities. As for ‘awareness’ and ‘adaptation’, these have all become foundations for living as well as for facilitation. Over the past five years or so my work has changed greatly from being completely drum-focused, to broadening out into the wider field of ‘music and health’, and in particular, teaching others to work in these circumstances. Basically, it’s all about working within this triplicity. Being able to pick up the subtle signs from people, the environment, and the music, which informs where you go next, which you hold in awareness, which informs where you go next, moment to moment, in an endless loop. Whether that’s reading a transition point in a group of 200, or looking for a subtle change in breathing underneath the bedclothes that signals someone is responding to your music, it’s the same thing.

My happiest place is going ‘naked’ (mentally!!!) into a drum-circle, and responding to what’s going on. Again, it’s taken me a good few years to be able to do this - I think I needed to do solid work on building up my skills and options first, but eventually after enough experience, you end up with a toolkit of responses - and the capacity to think up new ones. It’s an absolute creative joy to identify something that members of the group are coming up with for themselves, amplify it, and have it affect the potential of the whole group. Giving the group back to themselves.

For me, it’s my version of meditation. I find it very hard to sit still and concentrate, but in the middle of a circle, I feel an expanded and entirely present-moment awareness, and a universe of possibility (or I feel really stuck and ‘get out of the way’!!) I think I’m a very skilled ‘receiver’ in a drum circle - but I’ve struggled more in recent years with being more directive when the need calls for it - I’ve definitely swung too far to one end of the spectrum, but I’m getting increasingly comfortable with standing up and asking for something directly if it is in the service of a larger goal. I think that’s my growing edge.

4. Evaluate where you are in developing a professional Rhythm event facilitation career using the “Career Development” Triplicity.

Oooooo… interesting. It’s been a good number of years now, and my career has evolved and changed over the years - and it’s not over yet. Sharing my rhythmical bliss came first, and easiest! Serving community - is most of what I do on a daily basis, with the most under-served members of the community. But I’m at a very interesting transition point at the moment.

Right now, I feel like I’m just around the corner from something. Right now, I’ve been really enjoying a mix of doing circles ‘at the coalface’ still, combined with training other people - mostly in the field of music and healthcare - that’s where I find the balance. Having become a VMC trainer - I have deeply enjoyed sharing in the training of new facilitators. I feel the this resonates with other areas of my musical life, where I’m increasingly shifting from being a practitioner towards more training, development, and mentoring of the next generation. I will always keep one foot in the face to face business of facilitating rhythm events though.

I’d also like to branch out a bit more into the personal development field, and look into running some weekend programmes using music as a tool for relationship building. I’d like to work alongside colleagues and in collaborations a bit more. I’d also like to write a book on drumming as a tool for mental health and social wellbeing. That involves sitting still in once place long enough to write it! I’ve made a start, but I keep getting distracted by the practical side of things. It’s taken me this long to sit down and get these essays done!

Anyway - to wrap up, I wanted to say thanks for the incredible journey. Things really have come full circle - and the fact that the UK Playshop happens at Wiston, where I took my first steps as a lonely drummer, 24 years ago, fills me with joy.