The following article appeared in the July 2006 issue of Journeys, a newspaper distributed in Blackstone Valley and the surrounding region of Central Massachusetts.
Mesmerizing RhythmsBy Susanne Cayford
Susan West, founder of The Grafton Drum Co-op, is deeply passionate about and immersed in the art of drumming. She was first introduced to drumming at a Spring 2001 retreat when she attended a "fire circle" one evening with drumming, singing and dancing. Being immediately drawn to the drumming rhythms, she was inspired to purchase a drum and attend her first drumming workshop that weekend. Thus began Susan's journey into the world of hand drumming and mesmerizing rhythms, which often unite a broad array of people who share the same passion.
West's experience is also very spiritual for her. Drumming and its gripping and often challenging rhythms provide her a deep sense of connection and interaction with nature, other people and the divine. It has also served as a healing influence in her life from the heartbreak of losing her husband several years ago in a tragic accident.
Only months after her first drumming retreat, Susan organized her first drumming workshop with demonstrations and practice at her home. The following month, the first official Grafton Drum Circle was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Grafton Common.
On the second Saturday of each month at 7:00 PM, the Drum Circle meets and creates an inviting and intriguing experience. The drumming here ranges from very exhaustive techniques and rhythms to more apprentice types eagerly anticipating learning new rhythms.
About fourteen people gathered around the circle with various drums or percussion instruments. All are welcome to attend and Susan is pleased to say that attendees have come from as far away as Maine and Rhode Island. Some may be inspired to dance or sing, as the atmosphere is casual and engaging.
Grafton Drum Circle has continued to evolve into The Grafton Drum Co-op, which formally began in late 2003. The many facets of the business include private and group lessons, purchase and sale of drums, drum-making workshops held in conjunction with Stan Secrest of www.buildadrum.com, frame drum-making workshops, sale of drumming accessories, as well as organizing drumming circles for other adults and children. The Grafton Drum Circle is now only a part of the overall co-op. In addition, Susan has a performance troupe called Bese Saka, which provides enrichment presentations throughout the community.
Although there are many different types of drum circles, Susan's circle is based in traditional African rhythms. She explained that historically African women created the rhythms, while men performed them. Every rhythm has a meaning and a purpose. For example, the aconcon rhythm signifies the harvest, and the sofa rhythm signifies preparation for battle. Rhythms can also denote weddings or various festivals.
The basic technical aspects of drumming can be fascinating. Drums of assorted sizes, shapes and sounds are used to play the rhythms. The three main types are the globe-shaped drum or djembe, a cone-shaped drum called an ashiko and a cylindrical-shaped drum called a dunun. Dununs come in the three basic sizes of small, mid-sized and large, called kenkeni, sangban and doundounba, respectively. All rhythms are played with the three fundamental sounds of slap, tone and bass. The sound of each rhythm comes from striking a designated part of the drum with a specific part of the hand. Susan clearly delineated these techniques with an enjoyable demonstration of delightful and captivating rhythms.
Susan has also joined with four other drum circle leaders from Milford, Framingham, New Bedford and Yarmouth, Maine, to create the Eastern Massachusetts Drum Coalition. A rhythm festival has developed to share their love of drumming with the larger community. The very first festival was held in August 2005. The second annual Eastern Massachusetts Rhythm Festival is scheduled for Saturday, August 26, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm at the River Bend Farm, 287 Oak Street in Uxbridge. There will be demonstrations, breakout workshops and a jam session to conclude the day. In lieu of an entry fee, free-will donations are accepted to help fund the event. River Bend Farm is a great place to host this fun and compelling day of drumming and a harmonious community.
Toward the conclusion of our interview, it was obvious that Susan's passion for drumming is like a ripple effect when a stone is skipped across the water. The circles begin small, but get larger as they extend outward across the water's surface. Susan's interest in drumming has evolved from an individual passion, to monthly meetings at her church to a business and now to the larger community with the Annual Eastern Massachusetts Rhythm Festival.
For more information about The Grafton Drum Co-op, or the upcoming festival, visit Susan's website at www.graftondrum.com.
- Drumming, Chanting are Sacred Practices for Grafton Mother, Community Advocate, March 27, 2015
- They've Got the Spiritual Beat, Grafton Patch, January 11, 2011
- Yoga Day USA, Webster Times, January 30, 2009
- Beating away the blues, Worcester Telegram, September 27, 2007
- Journeys, July 2006