Starwood with Yay Diallo

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation

Summer 1998

Although it’s been a while since we’ve put out a newsletter, we’ve been keeping very busy. This past spring and summer were full of drumming and dancing and strengthening connections, old and new.

In May we attended the twentieth annual Rites of Spring festival in western Massachusetts, sponsored by the EarthSpirit community. This festival is dear to our hearts, as both of us have been a part of EarthSpirit for many years (both of us were there for the thirteenth time this year), and Rites is where we met ten years ago. Over the years we have watched the EarthSpirit community mature, literally and figuratively. Many of the young people who began to gather years ago now come with their children (and grandchildren!), and a whole new generation is expressing the youthful, exuberant Beltane energy of Rites. (Don’t get me wrong, us old fogies still manage to get in on the Beltane spirit, albeit in our somewhat more low-key way!) We have developed traditions, and that new generation is growing up in a new culture very different than the one in which most of us were raised. At the community web-weaving ritual, we witnessed how many people have been a part of the web for ten, fifteen, twenty years. There is a sense of tribe, and of gratitude that we have built a community to grow old in.

One of the most gratifying aspects of the maturing of the community is the continuing development of the community’s drumming. From its beginnings as either random noise-making or an activity reserved for an elite few, drumming has evolved into a cornerstone of community spirit. Most rituals now include drumming as a tool for shaping consciousness, and the drum fire circle happens every night the weather allows, involving almost everyone at the gathering (nearly 500 people) at one time or another as either a drummer or a dancer. Through our workshops and the teaching of many talented drummers including Abbi Spinner, Imani Buchanan, Black Hawk, Joss Price, and others, drumming has become universally accessible at Rites of Spring, and the level of skillful listening and playing together has increased dramatically over the last few years. The community has also had the benefit of the energy of Jeff Magnus McBride, who has worked tirelessly over the years to create a beautiful space at the fire circle, and regularly contributed his facilitation skills and magic at exactly the moments they were needed. This year we had the opportunity to spend more time at the fire circle than we have since before Kaylin was born, and the experience was consistently excellent. There is a level of shared facilitation and group intention that is extraordinary, and even though some problems did arise, they were handled with grace.

Then, just a few weeks after Rites, we were back at Camp Hi-Rock for the Earth Drum Council Weekend. As usual, the quality of the teachers and the spirit of the participants was fantastic. The high energy was not even slightly dampened by a solid weekend of rain. We received enthusiastic feedback about all the workshops. The Guinean drumming and dance intensive with Abdoulaye Sylla and Sekou Sylla challenged everyone at just the right level. (What a pleasure it is to watch both of these guys dance! Totally inspiring.) Marilyn Middleton’s African dance class was not only big fun for the participants, it was also beautiful to watch. Cornell Coley brought his Brazilian dance expertise, and had us working with partners doing Capoeira. The drumming workshops were equally fine, with Inara Ramin spicing things up with his combination of cookin’ grooves, hot licks, and wide grin. Jorge Arce joined us for the first time, and offered a fascinating workshop that included a look at the history of Afro-Caribbean drumming. And we were glad to have the opportunity to bring Joss Price to teach at EDC before she moved to Seattle for her Ph.D. studies. We’re going to miss Joss’s impish humor and solid bottom in the drum circle.

On Saturday afternoon towards the end of council, it seemed that the sky was clearing and we had hopes of holding our fire circle outdoors. And so, after dinner we gathered outside for the procession with bells and shakers, playing a three-part rhythm orchestrated by Joss. Many of us had carried our drums out to the fire circle area earlier, and covered them with plastic bags or tarps. As we gathered outside the Lodge, it began to mist, and then to drizzle lightly. In denial, driven by our strong desire to drum by the fire, we kept going. And so did the drizzle, a little harder now. We processed to the fire, circled round, played our drums in their trash bags (Jimi says, "That’s the first time I actually played my jun IN a trash bag; sounded good, too!"), then gave up the drums but kept playing bells and shakers, unwilling to concede defeat, supporting the dancers who accepted the rain’s caresses with pleasure. It began to rain harder, then harder. Finally we accepted the inevitable and brought the drums inside to the dining hall, where the drumming and dancing continued for hours. (One intrepid soul was still drumming in the morning when the kitchen crew came down to begin breakfast! We do get some hard core folks at EDC.) Later we heard that no fewer than five drums (including Morwen’s) which were out in the rain that night had broken heads within the week. I guess this could be construed as an endorsement of synthetic drums, but we’d rather just remind people that your wood and skin drum is alive and doesn’t like getting wet and cold any more than you do.

Next year will be the tenth annual Earth Drum Council Weekend. (Can you believe it’s almost been ten years?) We’ve already booked the Bear Rock Lodge, and we’re planning an extra-extra day to celebrate ten years of drumming together in community. June 11-13, 1999 will be the regular Weekend (with teachers Yaya Diallo, David Korup, and Annegret Baier, among others), Friday June 11th will be a Haitian drum and dance intensive with John and Mona Amira, and Thursday June 10 will be an advanced hanging-out day, with community sharing workshops by community members. We’re thinking that some of you who have been EDC regulars might enjoy this chance to spend a day together jamming, sharing, swimming, and playing. And of course, new folks are more than welcome, too! It will be a great way to meet and connect with people in a smaller group.

Moving right along, in early July we returned to Vermont for the second Mountain Spirit Drum Council weekend. MSDC was originally modeled after EDC, but it has a flavor and spirit all its own. It was lovely to share the energy with the 30 or so participants, reconnect with our MSDC friends, and spend a few days on the gorgeous land of Camp Wihakowi. This is a little gem of a gathering, and we look forward to returning July 9 — 11, 1999.

Then, of course, came Starwood. After all these years (this was our seventh time at Starwood) we didn’t think we could be surprised, but this year’s Starwood was full of unexpected pleasures. We were not on the "official" program (in order to make room for new drumming-related teachers and performers, of whom there is great and growing abundance), but we managed to plug in nevertheless. Because our camp is right beside the large pavilion where most of the drumming workshops are held (you might remember that a crew of EDC folks built that pavilion at Brushwood a few years ago), we met most of the drumming teachers and had a chance to observe and participate in a great variety of drumming workshops and activities. We were glad to find several people whose teaching comes from the same place as ours: to make drumming in community accessible to everyone. Rhythm evangelists love company! One night we hosted a large fire circle at our camp, which was very well attended, and on several other evenings drummers gathered around our fire for a mellower alternative to the drumming at the Roundhouse (which we can’t help but call "Stumple Dome" in honor of the late great Grouple). Morwen was asked to drum to support Nicki Scully’s invocation to Hathor at the main concert on Saturday night, along with Imani Buchanan, Owen White, Billy Woods, and Joshua Levine, with Karen Berggren on percussion and Sylvia Brallier on flute. Other high points of Starwood included: Magnus and Spinner’s presentation of a new song at our fire circle, and Imani’s performance at the bardic circle, both of which included acknowledgments of Earth Drum Council’s work and our relationships with them over the years; participation in Webweaver and Merlin’s kitchen, which relieved us of having to worry about cooking dinner or organizing a community kitchen, as well as giving us a place to hang out with good people; bringing Kaylin out to the fire circle late one night when he had awakened, and having him drum along in perfect rhythm; the mondo-amazing fireworks, laser and music show (Jimi’s personal favorite), which seems to get better every year; connecting with Yaya Diallo and listening to him talk about tradition and women drumming; re-connecting with our Toronto friends David and Carol, who put so much creative energy into the kid village; long hours in philosophical (and not-so-philosophical) discussion over mead; watching our new Aussie friend Len get his mind blown; living next door to Dave & Amy and James and their kids for a week.

Our story would not be complete without the tale of what happened on our last night at Brushwood, after Starwood was officially over. As we sat contentedly beside our fire, savoring the quiet calm that had descended upon the camp with the departure of hundreds of festival-goers earlier that day, we were roused from our drowsy peace by the arrival of a dozen bards and clowns, bearing drums, guitars, and bottles of wine. It was an instant party, instigated by Magnus and some of the organizers of Starwood, including Ian and Liafal. A hearty round of songs and jokes commenced, when suddenly the air was filled with the sound of roaring and a host of flashing and spinning red and blue lights approached across the field. We watched in amazement as the lights and sound came closer and then surrounded us on all sides. Were we being visited by beings from beyond? No, it was Spinner and Joss, playing with some new toys, bull-roarers equipped with LED’s powered by the spinning motion, and other gadgets with tiny laser lights that glowed in various configurations. In the moonless night the dancing lights were glorious to behold, and the scientific explanation of how these toys were powered did not detract from their magic one bit. Looking back, this evening stands out for us, because it reminds us so clearly of the blessings of being part of a community that so joyously celebrates the creativity and child-like wonder of its members.

Even though Starwood is a long way away and we consider not going every year, somehow it’s always worth it once we get there. Where else do you get to live in a village for a week among such an astonishing variety of creative, talented, uninhibited, fun, colorful, crazy people? We’ve been a lot of places and done a lot of things, but we’ve never seen anything else like it.

And then, something completely different. From Starwood we headed up to Quebec for a Native healing gathering. (For more on this, see "A Spiritual Gathering.") It was a bit of culture shock to go from the "undress code" and "anything goes" atmosphere of Starwood to the modest dress code and conservative mores of the Kitigan Zibi reserve. But we were ready; as wonderful as Starwood is, it can be a burn-out after a while. Our week in Canada was refreshing and grounding. We came away with a deep appreciation for the connections we made and deepened there, especially with Frank and Sandra Decontie. We also recognize and appreciate our own ability to walk in many worlds. It is this capacity to interact with many different types of people and groups that makes us effective in our work.

Thanks are due to David Breen and VDA, Inc., who generously loaned us a van for several weeks in order to travel to Starwood and Maniwaki. We deeply appreciate all the support that VDA has given to Earth Drum Council over the past several years, and look forward to continuing our collaborative relationship.

And so another summer season draws to a close. As this is being written, there are a couple of events coming up for us: Harvest Gathering ’98, and Unity With a Beat with Barry Bernstein, Randy Crafton and Bob Bloom. In the spring we are looking forward to the return of Reinhard Flatischler and TA KE TI NA (April 3 & 4, 1999), and next November we will be sponsoring a Facilitator’s Playshop with Arthur Hull. As you can see, we are staying on track with our mission to bring the Spirit of the Drum and the healing of rhythm to people from all walks of life. We’d love to hear from any of you who have ideas about ways we can expand our work.