Advising drummers that they can be as loud as they want or as soft as they want, Pat and Dan Susany of Lisbon, have been leading community drum circles for the past 15 years.
"The No. 1 thing to remember is to have fun," said facilitator Pat Susany, when she and her husband, Dan, brought their program to the Niles Senior SCOPE Center in October. "You can't make a mistake," she said.
More and more people are taking part in drum circles as a way of reducing stress and finding peace from a difficult situation. Each Friday evening, drum beats can be heard echoing from the Yoga Room in the Niles Park Plaza on Youngstown Warren Road. Anthony Ellis, a truck driver from Niles, said he has been drumming for more than six years.
Pat and Dan Susany, of Lisbon, brought drumming to the Niles Senior SCOPE Center in October. According to Pat Susany, drumming has many benefits, including increasing the immune response and helping with pain and the healing process. Pictured from left are Jo Fiorenzo, Pam Susany, Dan Susany, Vincent Forte and Sara Claflin. Photo by Kathleen Evanoff
"I do it for the community and creative aspects," he said.
Ellis first began drumming when a friend encouraged him to give it a try.
"Once someone put a drum in my hand, there was no looking back." he said.
Calling it "sound empowerment," Ellis roused the rest of the group by pounding a steady beat on his drum with a type of drumstick called a percussion mallet. Each of the eight drummers in the circle followed his lead and began expressing themselves on their own instruments, not necessarily following Ellis's pattern of drumming, but keeping the original beat. Sounding as though each drumbeat harmonized with the rest, the reverberations could be felt throughout the room. On the floor in the center of the circle, various sizes of drumsticks, wooden blocks and mallets were available for drummers to swap out when they felt the need to change the method of their music.
Sherry Catoline, of Austintown, attends the sessions regularly and participates in drum circles for the therapeutic aspects. Catoline, who also attends the Dancing Mindfulness classes at the Yoga Room, said she is recovering from an abusive past.
"I needed something to hang on to," Catoline said. "I needed something to make me feel I'm still alive."
In addition to Ellis' and Gatta's drumming sessions, Catoline said she also has attended drumming sessions led by musician, teacher and motivator, Jim Donovan.
Donovan, of Pennsylvania, and who also trained Ellis as a facilitator, will be leading a drum and chant workshop at the Yoga Room on Dec. 5.
"Drumming is a very old way of making music together," Donovan said. "Before electricity, people made music together."
According to Donovan when those early people formed their drum circles, it included everyone from the youngest children to the oldest grandparents and everyone in between.
"They all did this together as a community," he said.
"In the present day," Donovan said, "it's pretty common knowledge that we're suffering from epidemic stress, loneliness, depression and addiction."
According to Donovan, people can come into a well-facilitated drum circle experience, and not only become part of a group, but have a means of expressing themselves that is nonverbal.
"Music is one of the ways we can express things that we don't have words for," Donovan said.
Drumming also gives people permission to make their own sounds and music without the pressure of being perfect, he said.
"What we don't do in a drum circle is tell people what to play, but we rather give them a framework and support that they can play."
By giving them the instruction of what to do with their hands and give them the technique, drummers can feel what it's like to co-create the experience with other people, Donovan said. And when the pressure of perfection is gone, we allow ourselves to improve and have fun in the process, he said.
According to Donovan, participating in a drum and chant workshop will help people energize their brains and clear their minds. It lessens resistance, fear and apathy and it creates deep relaxation and stress relief. In addition, the experience can expand conscious awareness, unblock energetic and emotional congestion, open creative thinking and expression and enable the drummer to have deeper, more restful sleep.
Donovan holds a bachelor of arts degree in music performance from the University of Pittsburgh and is completing graduate work in education leadership at Saint Francis University where he is also on faculty. He is involved in research at Saint Francis where he has developed a training program that teaches occupational therapists, medical professionals, parents and teachers how to use percussion techniques as a complementary intervention for autistic and children with other disabilities.
In addition, he records, performs, writes and offers workshops that focus on using rhythm. He was a founding member of the '90s band, Rusted Root, and was voted Drum Circle Facilitator of the Year by the readers of Drum! Magazine.
The drum and chant workshop will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Yoga Room. For information, contact the Yoga Room at 330-637-7171.