Drum circle delivers ‘powerful medicine’

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(Photo by DAVID GUNTER) Drummer Jack Green leads a Native American-style drum circle Wednesday evenings at the Hope Memorial Community Center. The gatherings are “more than a jam,” he said. “It’s an experience.”

By DAVID GUNTER

Feature correspondent

HOPE — Feeling like you’ve lost your mooring in a world gone mad? Maybe it’s time to get back to your roots. One local man has been gathering people on Wednesday evenings in Hope to literally drum their way down into the deepest taproot of all — the one that connects humanity to Mother Earth.

Jack Green has been involved with Native American drumming for the past 14 years, hosting drum circles and taking part in some that have included as many as 200 people. The results are transformative, he said, and, starting late last year, the drummer was moved to open the sessions to the public.

One of the early tipping points toward that invitation came when Green joined musical forces with a massive circle in Livingston, Mont., where those taking part put their drums into action to push back against a bill that, he said, put bison in Yellowstone National Park at risk. They drummed, Green explained, “to protect the buffalo.”

And while some might scoff or roll their eyes at such a notion, the drums emerged victorious in that legislative standoff.

“It’s powerful medicine,” said Green. “A couple of days later, we got news that this detrimental legislation had been lifted.”

Native American drum circles are less common — at least those open to the public — than African- or Caribbean-style sessions, according to Green, who leads the Wednesday night event each week at the Hope Memorial Community Center.

“People tend to judge a Native drum circle as being monotonous, compared to African, Caribbean or South American beats,” he said. “It’s more of a spiritual endeavor — a meditation — than it is entertainment.

“The Native American drum circle is not a jam, it’s an experience,” he continued, adding that the gatherings have ancient, ancestral roots. “I truly believe it has an impact on the whole world, because of the prayer and the unity behind it.”

Prayer. Meditation. Unity. Words with a solemn resonance that tell only a part of the larger drum circle story, Green pointed out. In fact, the actual experience usually defies the expectations of newcomers to the group.

“They don’t really understand how potent the drum circle is — how high and mighty it is,” he said. “But it’s not somber at all. We have a blast.”

One thing that sets the Native American drumming style apart from other parts of the musical globe is its adherence to “four-four” time. That steady pulse is set from the beginning and — rather than branching out into rhythmic variations — builds on the innate power of the beat. The cumulative effect of what also is known as shamanic drumming has the power to generate change, Green noted.

“If you get the full benefit of Native drumming, you will feel it more than anything you’ve felt in your life,” he said. “It’s a peak experience. That’s why I do this. That’s why I can’t stop doing this.”

Still, these descriptions lack of sense of exactitude, begging the question: What is the circle all about?

“The drum circle is many things,” Green said. “It’s music, it’s a dance, it’s communion with the spirit world, it’s a meditation and a prayer. I practice the Native medicine and this is the Native face of this continent.”

The Hiawatha Drum Circle, as Green calls the gathering, takes its name from the Native American leader who persuaded the tribes of the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, Mohawks and Tuscarora to join the Iroquois and band together to become the nations of the Iroquois confederacy.

“Hiawatha was a medicine man, a Native prophet,” the drummer explained. “He united the tribes — at least, temporarily. I had a vision in the wilds of Wyoming to put together this drum circle.”

Still dreaming of that 200-person circle near Yellowstone, Green has been content with smaller groups since inviting the public to join him in this pursuit. His hope is that a ripple effect will grow the group organically over time, as more people learn about and experience the power of the weekly sessions.

“Ideally, that’s what you want to happen,” he said. “The more, the merrier. I love it so much and I’m so grateful to have a place to drum, that I’ll never abandon it — even if I’m the only one who shows up.”

Along with the distinction of adhering to a four-beats-to-the-measure rhythmic framework, Native American drumming also focuses on the use of particular instruments — in this case, hoop drums, gathering drums and rattles. Too, the circle forms each week with a specific intent, laid like an offering upon the broader, spiritual underpinnings that tie things together.

“I always invite people to offer up their own prayers, but there is a constant theme built on the base of peace, abundance and the healing of Mother Earth,” he said. “We’re connecting with the heartbeat of Mother Earth of the Great Spirit Himself. And, all that time, we’re offering prayer to the whole world, so it’s altruistic, in that way.”

The Hiawatha Drum Circle meets every Wednesday evening from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Hope Memorial Community Center, 415 Wellington Place, in Hope. The event is free and open to the public.

Information: 208-304-9300

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