No Politics, Just Percussion at the National Cathedral Drum Circle

Photo by Katy Gaughan

Drum circles are commonly seen on beaches and in parks: public places where the sound of djembes, didgeridoos, shakers and hand-clapping accent perfectly the dancing, chanting and joy felt by anyone willing to pitch in their “voice.” These same people who attend drum circles are unique; in a sense they are just as different as the reasons for holding these events. That’s why when there is a special call to join together in the spirit of “Seeing Deeper,” the surprise instead becomes just how similar we all are, no matter our reasons for being in that moment.

In Washington, D.C., the place for a drum circle is usually Meridian Hill Park, but, January has brought out the winter weather, and the rhythm on the Hill has given way to chilly winds and slushy pathways. Even with the cold that has invaded the area, few would anticipate the National Cathedral in D.C. to be the site of a drum circle. Granted, it has a Darth Vader gargoyle and a walking labyrinth, but, for a building that represents the interfaith community of our country, who would expect a drum circle to end up in such a place?

From what we know, over 300 people expected just that, and made it happen.

Under the guidance of Katy Gaughan, a community drum circle made waves in the lives of all who attended on January 13, just by asking them to be in the moment. As part of the “Seeing Deeper” series hosted by the National Cathedral, this event was part of a week of celebration of how spirituality and creativity intertwine, and what better way to experience such a woven tapestry of mindfulness than with a drum circle!

We asked Katy to share her thoughts on "Seeing Deeper:"

I was asked to lead a drum circle as part of the National Cathedral’s “Seeing Deeper” which is a special event each year where they take the chairs out of the nave and then hold various programs in that big expansive space that invite people into “new ways of praying”, especially in a contemplative way, which is a way of praying where you practice being Present with God. Much like mindfulness.

So basically, my intention with that drum circle was to invite people to see deeper and listen more deeply, using the drumming as an experience of connecting to the Present moment, and listening deeply to the amazing sounds in that resonant space, listening to their own internal bio-rhythms of heartbeat and breath, and then leading them in a guided meditation to go even deeper and listen for God’s heartbeat, the one pulse that connects us all, and to just listen. From that place of listening, I invited everyone to play their drums from that deep place, to drum from intention, to drum their prayers. And then the energy was charged and full of energy, healing, love and light and we made a MIGHTY SOUND in that holy, sacred, resonant cathedral. It was amazing. It became a huge celebration.

It was the largest drum circle I’ve ever facilitated, we think there were 250-300 people there. And to make the event even more amazing, the power was out in the Cathedral the entire day. It looked like the drum circle might have to be canceled, but the public interest in the event was so big (the drum circle announcement was one of their most re-tweeted tweets ever!) they decided to hold the drum circle anyhow and use emergency lighting and ask people to dress warmly. Well, wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I pulled up and unloaded the first bag of drums, the power came on in the Cathedral! What a sign of things to come!

Katy Gaughan,
Drum Circle Facilitator
Music Heals Us

Katy’s efforts were more than well received. Tweets about how people felt after the event showed a spirit of transformation and spirituality. Social media continued to buzz with the energy of the event for days. Photos were shared, videos were swapped and the personal experiences all continued to expand as more stories were shared.

Kristin Pedemonti had much more than a tweet to share about the drum circle. As a professional storyteller, we knew exactly who to ask for a personal look into what it was like to be in that space and moment. As expected, the “Free Hugs Lady” didn’t disappoint:

The Sacred Drum Circle at the National Cathedral vaulted us to the stratosphere with 320 people gathered all ages, backgrounds, colors, and religions or spiritual practices, as we explored various faith traditions through drums & various instruments.

We began with a meditative piece like the beating of the heart, all of us deeply breathed together as one, centering ourselves to allow the spirit in. You could feel a shift in the space and what a space in which to host a drum circle! Those towering vaulted ceilings, the scope of the room echoing our drumming and our breathing. People began smiling at each other.

I had my “Free Hugs” sign with me and set it up on my drum and then held it up over my head. A few people beckoned for hugs early on, others simply smiled and placed their hands over their hearts nodding back at me.

The music progressed as more participants joined in, releasing any trepidation for “doing it wrong” and just beat with abandon. There were didgeridoos and wooden flutes, wind chimes, rain sticks, cowbells, people’s hands clapping and of course djembes. The music swelled; soon people were on their feet dancing. I was one of them, arms flung open, I leaped and spun in the center circle, a young lady joined me and we mirrored each other’s movements. Others began dancing outside the circle and in the aisles. The sanctuary pulsated with our energy. You could feel spirit in the room; God, Yahweh, Allah, whatever name you wish to give, we were all one with the music & dance.

We chanted, “I put my roots, down into the earth. I put my roots down, down, down into the earth.” It was low, deep and full of power as it built and more joined in with hand motions and stomping feet.

And then quiet meditative music again, it felt like another kind of prayer: as voices hushed, only large bass drums quietly beat slow rhythm, wind chimes, rain sticks, & a xylophone gently played. It was incredibly powerful.

By the end of the evening, I felt as if my heart might beat out of my body with the rhythm of the drum echoing off the towering walls. My smile did not leave my lips, more Free Hugs were shared. It mattered not the color of our skin or what we called God, the music brought us together as one.

I can’t wait for the next one.

Kristin Pedemonti,
Cause Focused Storyteller/Speaker/Author

It is events like this that make it clear how much of an impact community drumming can have in our world. The connections that hold our planet together are as simple as listening to our own heart beats, looking deep within, and then expressing our own rhythm without fear of judgment. Over 300 people rocked the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., with drums, percussion instruments and with an intention to celebrate the moment. It is those moments that keep rocking more than the center of the nation, but, the center of our hearts, minds and souls.

And that is what community drumming is all about.

A special thank you to our contributors, Katy and Kristin, and to Anna Maripuu for sharing her personal photos and videos with us!

21st Jan 2015 Kristin Stancato

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