Article from Drums & Percussion magazine – January/February 2018 issue (translated from German)
by Cord Radke
80 Guitarists improvising together as a group? Unbelievable! But amongst our drumming community, drum circles are enjoying increasing popularity, also popular in music therapy, group work or team building. Drum circle veteran Arthur Hull led his last 3-day training in October 2017. His concept: “teach without teaching.”
Sounds paradox: Doing something without doing it. Within Arthur Hull’s Drum Circle method it means that people are “learning by doing” – we learn without recognizing it. That’s why the leader of a Drum Circle, the facilitator, is not a teacher but “somebody who makes it easier for the people.” The word “facilitate” means “to make easy” ruminates the 70-year-old. While Hull tells us about that, he is sitting on a bench and enjoys the October sun that shines down on the monastery Michaelstein. It is located idyllic near Blankenburg in the Harz Mountains. You can find a lot of nature and nothing that will disturb you from the main reason of being here: Becoming a trained Drum Circle Facilitator. Around 40 participants both nationally and internationally gathered together to learn some theoretic basics, but mainly to work practically and to drum.
“Here in this former monastery we are building community withing three days of training. That has a much deeper impact compared to a normal training e.g., in the middle of a city where people live in hotels, come together for the training and split up again in the evening.” says Hull about the choice of the venue. That doesn’t mean that trainings like this won’t happen in the city. But “… I prefer locations like this” states Hull who does trainings like this now for more than 30 years in Europe and all around the world. “I am visiting Germany and the United Kingdom regularly.”
What exactly is supposed to be played in these kind of events? You never know: “The term that fits best for this is ‘in-the-moment-music’. The facilitator doesn’t know what is going to be played before. His role is to find out what the group brings and how to bring the most out of them. What happens is completely improvised music the comes to a common denominator through the work of the facilitator” explains Ben Flohr who led this training together with Arthur Hull. “Arthur observed my work and asked me in the last year if I want to be part of his trainer team that spreads his mission and method” – because this has been the last training in this format for Hull. “Ten years ago I began to select people who are able to pass on what they learned from me – people like Ben. Those 16 people will do the 3-day program everywhere on the planet. Whereever and whenever it is needed” describes Hull of his future plans. Ben Flohr complements that “we believe that the Drum Circle idea has a huge potential for a large number of people. Basically for everybody who works with groups, no matter in which context.” But it has to be a group. “It is difficult to do a Drum Circle with only three people because everyone is very present individually.”
It is the Group Experience that Counts
“It is the group experience that counts” like Ben Flohr points. “The possibility to create something together with all participants without practicing before. Of course, there is an individual point of view because in a Drum Circle people have a great opportunity to express themselves without any target – without telling them what and when to play or what is bad and what is good.” This open mind is a key feature of the teach-without-teaching-concept. “One example is that we are doing ‘call & response’ – the idea of question-and-answer”, clarifies Hull: “The facilitator plays a pattern on his cowbell and the participants can answer. Whatever they answer is correct! There are thousand ways to respond correctly and only one wrong way: Not answering.”
K.I.S.S. – No Mistakes
The concept behind this is called ‘K.I.S.S.’ – Keep It Stupidly Simple. The things we do have such a simple structure concerning the notes that there is a lot of space to make your own out of it, based on this platform. We encourage them to come up with their own variations. There are no mistakes… only learning moments. In a Drum Circle we say: If you think that you made a mistake, listen again. Probably you created a new rhythm.”
The rhythms are played on percussion instruments and drums. But Hull states that the instrument is not that important. “The drum is only the vehicle. Our intention is to give back the rhythmical spirit to adults that we had as children.” The target group is diverse and chosen consciously. No need to limit to musicians like Flohr explains: “You can also use this method to bring a company team together because everybody will be equal. It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or the janitor. All of a sudden they are all on the same level regarding their skills and their group communication. That strengthens the sense of community. Of course, I can use it also with school classes. Musical parameters will be experienced without explaining anything.”
From Artist to Judicial Officer
The group in Michaelstein is a wide mixture which is symptomatic. The demographics in Drum Circle trainings are diverse, like Hull explains: “We have teachers, music therapists, kids-at-risk counselors, coaches, judicial officers. Two participants are conductors. The range reaches from people working with Alzheimer disease patients to freelance musicians.” Stefan Landes from Munich, for instance, is a classical drummer who says that he “started to learn more about mental training and music therapy. It is really about how to support individuals to develop group consciousness. In the end this bunch of percussion instruments becomes an orchestra that listens to itself.”
Jan Hofmann came from Bielefeld: “I am a social worker and I use music as a medium. Drum Circles are a great tool here to bring people into music making without any prior experience.” About this 3-day training, he can tell that he “takes a lot of new experiences, tool and skills back to his work”. Annette Skoreng agrees: “I really loved the possibility to practice. One could not fail. And it was a pleasure and very helpful to watch other participants trying.”
Outlook for the Near Future
Driven by the very positive feedback Ben Flohr has lots of plans. “What we do know is that we are going to strengthen the Drum Circle Community in Germany and Europe whereby they should stand on their own feet. We give support through loaning instruments but also through network, consulting and assistance. “There will be definitely more 3-day trainings in 2018. At least once a year we will bring in national and international trainers, not necessarily with a Drum Circle background but with ideas to expand the topic. Like in April, when Mary Knysh from the US is invited to do a training around improvisation with drums as well as with other instruments. Arthur Hull won’t retire as well: “We hope to bring him back for a 6-day training in a few years.” Flohr states.
If you are interested in Drum Circles, and want to get in touch with Ben Flohr or want to get more information about upcoming events, look at the Facebook page “gewadrumcircles.” The website “gewadrumcircles.com” will be launched in the beginning of the year. The most direct way is via email to email@example.com.
Arthur Hull meanwhile is 71 years old. The percussionist calls himself a “music ethnologist.” In this role he travels all around the world. He passes on his many experiences in Drum Circles. He is travelling around the globe to do Drum Circle for years now. He taught at the University of California in Santa Cruz, wrote books (e.g. “Drum Circle Spirit” and “Drum Circle Facilitation” as foundation for his trainings) and has trained Drum Circle Facilitators worldwide. During the last year he selected a group of facilitators that will lead Drum Circle facilitation trainings instead of him and that will expand the international community that he initiated. One of those is Ben Flohr in Germany. He used to be a drummer and drum teacher for many years. As Drum Circle Facilitator, trained by Arthur Hull, he also works as an expert on this subject for the company GEWA in Germany, that is very engaged in this field together with the world-renowned drum company REMO.