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They've Got the Spiritual Beat

Drum circle participants play, dance and unwind.

By John Cadwallader Jr. in the GraftonPatch - January 14, 2011

Susan West

It's Saturday night, the lights go down, the instruments come out, and the music starts.

No, it's not a concert at the DCU Center. It's the monthly drum circle at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Grafton and Upton meetinghouse in the center of town.

Grafton resident Susan West started the drum circle at the meetinghouse more than nine years ago after talking to the minister about using the space for something she called "spiritual drumming."

"We would be lucky to get five people to come back then", said West, an authority on African rhythm, drumming, and dance. Today she averages 25 to 30 people in attendance.

Shortly before 7 p.m. on Jan. 8, people of all ages started arriving

"We've had all ages come to our drum circles, from 18 months to 83 years old," said West.

Many people bring their own drums and West brings extra instruments for folks to play as well. West also hosts an annual drum-making workshop. Several of the players who participate have made their own drums at these workshops.

But it's not just drums at this concert. People bring flutes, guitars, saxophones, and even bagpipes. Russell Andrews of Northbridge has been coming to the drum circle for four years.

"I started coming to the realization that I liked the dancing more than the drumming," he said with a laugh. Andrews plays a hand-carved drum which he made out of a piece of maple with handmade tools. He then put a coat of finish on the drum and used a buffalo skin to cover the wood and create a resonant sound.

"The drumming can be very heavy and fast and it can also be meditative," said Andrews. "Drumming puts you in touch with natural rhythms. It's a way to make a connection with other people."

Drumming can "really be a spiritual experience," said Brad Harris, also of Northbridge, who added that the activity can help people feel more grounded. "It's a way to relieve whatever stress you may have. It can be cathartic."

Harris is accompanied by his nine-year-old daughter Jordan at most of the drum circles. "She usually doesn't want to leave at the end of the night," he said with a smile.

Uxbridge resident Melanie Moore made her own drum, a Middle Eastern drum called a Djenn Dombek, at West's annual drum-making workshop.

Moore has been playing and attending the drum circle for a year and a half and said she especially enjoys the dancing. "It recharges me," said Moore.

West has brought her great knowledge and passion for drumming and music in general to at-risk youth in inner cities where she teaches lessons in African rhythm and African dance.

She has also introduced drumming to pre-schoolers in the area, working with kids at Apple Tree Arts in Grafton. Additionally , she is a drum circle leader at the annual Eastern Massachusetts Rhythm Festival which is held every summer at the River Bend Farm in Uxbridge.

The Grafton Drum Co-op offers weekly drum lessons and drum-building workshops for adults and kids. For more information visit their website at

The next drum circle will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 12.

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