drum community on beach

Rhythmaculture: The Roots of Community

According to Arthur Hull, father of the drum circle movement in our nation, “You won’t find the word, ‘rhythmaculture’ in your dictionary.” This Rhythmical Evangelist refers to it as an “Arthurian” word, based upon the fact he coined the term to describe “a culture that has integrated ritual, dance, song and music into almost every aspect of its existence, its expression of itself, and its celebration of life.”

These powerful words emanate from an outspoken yet humble ambassador who has dedicated the major part of his life advocating for cultural musical expression as an innate human right. His dreams are to foster a deep and enduring sense of community through creative musical expression, and to reestablish group drumming as an effective tool for unity.

In the Arthurian context, drumming is a natural expression of who we are. It demonstrates our capacity to build unity and synergy when we learn to express the essence of the rhythms within us. Yet beyond self-expression, Arthur recognizes that a community is far more than just the sum of its parts. It functions best when an evolving sense of order and self-regulation is encouraged, and it becomes predictably effective when people are willing to work together.

Hull is perhaps best described as a rather unique and eccentric community architect. Beyond his fisherman’s vest and beanie (the traditional Arthurian drum facilitator uniform), one immediately recognizes both musical and cultural genius. Beneath his elf-like comic demeanor is a caring and compassionate leader who is genuinely devoted to the communities he serves.

Through precise timing and phenomenal rhythms which seem to naturally emanate from the unassuming counselor within, he has elevated the art of reading a group and its individuals to an unprecedented level. Even his humor is exquisitely tuned – a brilliant orchestration of laughter creating an incredible healing rhythm.

And speaking of orchestras, while a conductor precisely follows a musical score, Arthur nurtures the evolution of his unwritten symphony one beat at a time. He attributes incredible success to the trust he places within the circle. Through precise use of body language, sculpting and listening (Arthurian “tools” of facilitation), an empowering rhythmaculture seems to magically evolve through a living, breathing organism he refers to as “community.”

In his quest to foster personal empowerment, Arthur strongly emphasizes listening over playing. His students learn to develop a heightened awareness of what’s actually transpiring within the circle. They also study the art of carefully listening for signs of “impending train wrecks” – the critical points at which the music predictably begins to dissolve into a state of cacophony. Novices soon discover that early recognition prevents such disasters while enabling new opportunities for developing successful rhythms. The inherent value of such insights immediately transcends the drumming experience well into societal realms.

While Arthur’s workshops cover elements such as rhythm patterns, tempo, pitch, volume dynamics and time signatures, everyone knows he really isn’t teaching music.

Five minutes into the workshop the metaphor smacks you in the face. It’s obvious from the start that his protocols are basic methodologies for enabling community, and his tools are the foundational implements for building societal bridges.

Arthur’s formula simply works – it brings out the best in each person while creating a functional, supportive environment for self-expression and group cohesiveness. Synergy naturally results as the overall effect of an Arthurian drum circle represents far more than just the additive effects of each individual part. Strangers emerge as friends with a heightened awareness and understanding of each other and a sense of cohesiveness that extends beyond words.

A few weeks ago I spent a week filming Arthur at his annual Hawaii Facilitators’ Playshop which drew more than 120 participants (many of whom attended previously) from 11 nations. Roughly two thirds of the group comprised human services workers – educators, nurses, counselors, rehab specialists, corporate trainers and music therapists. Despite diverse cultural differences and professional backgrounds, they worked and drummed together as a community. Arthur and his staff served as the glue that held them together by imparting a wealth of insights and valuable lessons in a light-hearted, nurturing and enriching atmosphere.

Arthur’s extraordinary team includes Don Davidson, whose depth and brilliance takes drumming deep into the realm of cultural anthropology, and Cameron Tummel, whose charisma, enthusiasm and spirit touches the heart of everyone fortunate enough to learn from him. These three “faciliteers” (sorry … the word is not Arthurian – it’s mine) enabled the creation of a rather remarkable rhythmaculture within the Playshop. Bonds of friendship, camaraderie and support now extend thousands of miles across the globe as the vast drumming community continues to evolve.

While you might be wondering why I spent a week learning about group drumming, my goals were simple. As a physician, I primarily hoped to discover important insights for inspiring and bringing out the best in our patients. I was also searching for enjoyable rhythmical ways to encourage the development of supportive communities of individuals facing similar health challenges. In essence I returned with far more.

Perhaps Arthur’s greatest lesson is cherishing and respecting the unique person you are, and using that sense of internal harmony to build rhythmical and cultural bridges of understanding with others. Drumming for him is a joyful bliss that transcends the boundaries separating us from each other. Seeing, hearing and feeling that bliss is amazingly contagious – Mind Over Matter!

For more information about Arthur and his training programs, visit www.drumcircle.com, or read his book, Drum Circle Spirit published by White Cliffs Media Inc

©2001 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved

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Written by Barry Bittman MD

Explore Wellness in 2021