His eyes were closed, his hands beating his drum. Julian Gregory, the organizer of Kingston’s weekly drum circle, was immersed in the music.
It wasn’t long before I, too, was experiencing the same passion.
Every Sunday, people of all backgrounds come to Kingston’s City Park to form a drum circle. Djembe drums from Ghana, Middle Eastern doumbeks, tambourines, shakers and a host of other percussion instruments all contribute to the sounds of this communal jam session.
On Sunday, June 16, unlike other Sundays, a larger group of approximately 15 people joined in for the two-hour drum circle.
I originally planned to observe the event from the sidelines, and perhaps shake a tambourine if I was feeling particularly adventurous.
I had never played drums before and worried that I wouldn’t keep up with more experienced musicians.
But, given the inclusive atmosphere of the circle, I forgot about my original reservations and was invited to join in.
Gregory established the growing drum circle in Kingston last June, but has spent the last 18 as a drummer.
He created his first drum circle in Ottawa and has since established drum circles in several cities he’s lived in since.
The central instrument, the djembe drum, originates in West Africa. Gregory spent a year in Ghana and said this influenced his decision to start a drum circle in Kingston.
The circle was rained out, forcing us to Ben’s Pub where, according to a fellow drummer, the enclosed space enhances the sound of the drums. It was a cozy venue and the attendees varied greatly in age.
Gregory told me he sees the drum circle as a way to bring people together, as well as a creative outlet for the less musically-inclined.
Anyone can join the circle, and fortunately for me, there’s no drumming experience required.
“It’s basically unity,” he said. “You can just come and grab an instrument and play, so it’s really about building community.”
He invited me to take a drum. Despite struggling to keep up with the beat, I gradually became engrossed in the rhythm and the movements of my hands.
My doubts slipped away, and I felt an exhilarating rush. I sensed I was sharing some indescribable thing with this group of strangers, something intimate and deeply human.
Gregory’s enthusiasm for the event was echoed by other drummers.
James Thomas, one attendee, said he wasn’t initially inclined to play music.
“That was intriguing to me, to be able to play music and express myself,” he said. “I think it’s something we all want but are afraid to do it.”
Although it was only his second time at the drum circle, he felt it was a space free from judgement of others. He began to dance to the beat, and his enjoyment was contagious.
Indeed, once the drums reach a climax, it’s hard to think of anything else. I was consumed by the music and by the infectious atmosphere of the drum circle.
Kelsey Jensen, another attendee, said that it’s a place where people can meet and share a mutual love of music.
Music solidifies friendships, she said, and allows us to meet people we wouldn’t otherwise.
“No one cares, but in a good way,” Jensen said. “No one cares who you are or where you come from.”
In the summer, the drum circle meets at City Park every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. Throughout the winter, the group meets at Ben’s Pub every Sunday from 8 to 10 p.m.
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