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Free event at huge music gear trade show in Anaheim expected to draw up to 500 rhythm-makers
| Thursday, Jan 21, 2016

For the 33rd year, Valencia-based drum and percussion manufacturer Remo Inc. will present the All-Industry NAMM Drum Circle, a free, open-to-the-public rhythmic jam session Friday at the annual National Association of Music Merchants trade show in Anaheim.

Photo: Brandon Daniel

Photo: Brandon Daniel

The winter NAMM show packs 1 million square feet of music-related gear into the Anaheim Convention Center, this year from Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 21-24. Tens of thousands of manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and musicians from all over the world converge to make winter NAMM the music industry’s biggest annual trade show.

On Friday, between 400 and 500 drum circle participants are expected to gather in the Palm Garden outside the Convention Center, adjacent to the Anaheim Hilton hotel. The first downbeat is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. and the final thunderous trashcan ending is set for 7 p.m.

Remo’s annual drum circle is free to all comers, while admission to the massive NAMM show requires registration and fee and has an 18-and-older age restriction. Remo will provide all the instruments – a wide variety of hand drums, tambourines, shakers and other exotic rhythmic objects that make joyful noise.

“The NAMM drum circle’s effect is phenomenal. The energized, connective nature of the experience makes it very compelling,” said John Fitzgerald, Remo’s manager of recreational activities and the NAMM Drum Circle’s organizer.

“Many of these people have had no prior musical experience,” he said. “They’re part of the music industry, but also part of the general public because it happens in a public space.”




Arthur Hull Set to Facilitate NAMM Drum Circle

Modern drum circle pioneer Arthur Hull will serve as facilitator of Friday’s event, as he has done for the past several years. Hull is founder of Village Music Circles and author of “Drum Circle Spirit: Facilitating Human Potential Through Rhythm,” and is widely considered father of the drum facilitation movement. He has led drum circles and trained others to lead them since the 1970s.

In its purest form, a drum circle is spontaneous, in-the-moment music-making, Fitzgerald said.

“There are no notes, no traditional patterns that must be played. It is really about creating the context for people to come together and express themselves rhythmically,” he said. “We all come in and express ourselves in the moment, in community, and create something new every single time. It is not a performance. It is a pure experience.”

Photo: Greg Gebhardt

Photo: Greg Gebhardt

The facilitator is not a conductor in the symphonic sense but is essential to organizing the cacophony – herding the musical cats.

“If you let go of the activities and don’t focus them, they would go into what I would call a ‘texture fest’ and become un-rhythmic,” Fitzgerald said.

Drum circles are not about dazzling displays of musicianship. They level the playing field, so to speak, between musicians and non-musicians.

“There are opportunities for communities of any size, small or large, within any type of organization to connect their members in a way that creates a sense of safety where people can be vulnerable,” Fitzgerald said.

“It’s a celebration of the unique value that each person’s bringing to that experience and the clear awareness that each person’s contributions help create something greater than the sum of the parts,” he said.


‘Drums Keep Poundin’ a Rhythm to the Brain’

Rhythm is as basic to life as a heartbeat, which is why just about anyone above ground can rock a drum circle.

“We are all very intuitive rhythmic beings,” Fitzgerald said. “Science tells us the universe is organized rhythmically in one way or another, whether it’s cycles of orbits or vibrations of molecules and so forth. So our thinking and the way we organize our actions is largely rhythmic.

“It’s part of the brain function, it’s the way our neurology functions. Obviously the diurnal-nocturnal cycle is a big cycle we live in, and we live on a 365-day cycle. All these are rhythms of one sort or another.”

Rhythm and rhythmic instruments pre-date human historical records, of course.

“Rhythm as an easy access point for music-making has always been very powerful,” Fitzgerald said. “Music-making has been around since the beginning of our culture and there’s a reason for that. It has an evolutionary value. It connects people. This is why armies march in time, why there are work songs to unify action.”

But while rooted in the primal human urge to beat on stuff and make noise and send messages, the modern facilitated drum circle is a bit different from those our ancestors might have joined.


remo-facilitator-logoModern Drum Circle’s Counterculture Roots

“The modern drum circle is a unique phenomenon in human history in that it does not rely on any particular traditions,” Fitzgerald said. “African music, Native American music and so forth all have long traditions of specific rhythms that have to be played for that music to be meaningful.”

Today’s drum circle has more recent roots, in the tribal gatherings of American counterculture-types – OK, hippies – of the latter 1960s and 1970s.

This writer’s first drum circle was in summer 1968 on L.A.’s Venice Beach, as a 16-year-old. It brought all kinds of people together – young, old, black, white, Hispanic, you name it. People were banging on everything from real percussion instruments to wine jugs and pots and pans, just enjoying the camaraderie of a shared experience.

It was great fun until the LAPD raided the beach and put the lid on the jam.

In later years, the Venice Beach drum circles got much bigger and unruly, going on for hours, day and night, until the cops came to break them up. Eventually, enough complaints from sleep-deprived neighbors along the Venice Speedway led to severe restrictions on such bashes at the beach.


NAMM drum circle organizer John Fitzgerald displays a new drumSTRONG sound shape in his workspace at Remo’s HQ in Valencia. drumSTRONG is an initiative to fight cancer. Visit drumstrong.org.

NAMM drum circle organizer John Fitzgerald displays a new drumSTRONG sound shape in his workspace at Remo’s HQ in Valencia. drumSTRONG is an initiative to fight cancer. Visit drumstrong.org.

Drum Therapy Comes of Age

Fortunately, four-plus decades ago, prescient folks like Hull also began exploring and developing the more positive aspects of drum circles. Over the years, drum circles have become far less anarchic and more organized and respectable and are now very much in the mainstream of the self-improvement movement.

Numerous scientific studies have shown the therapeutic value of drum circles, Fitzgerald said.

“What has happened is the fundamental principles of the drum circle – in its original form an opportunity to celebrate and connect – have been utilized to build programs that deliver wellness, curriculum integration, corporate team-building, drug and alcohol intervention and more.”

Since Remo Belli founded Remo Inc. in 1957, the man and his company have been key players in the growth of NAMM from a national organization to one operating on a global scale, Fitzgerald said.

“I believe that both the company and the man have had great influence within that organization,” he said, “because Remo has been at the forefront of using music as a life-enhancing activity for its extra-musical outcomes – not just for the creation of a product or a performance or a recording, but for the experience it affords the individual.”

Remo’s Health Rhythms and Recreational Music programs are extensions of the company’s rhythmic outreach.

“In the San Fernando Valley, Remo has a recreational music center – remormc.com – and we host all kinds of activities,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s a free Tuesday night drum circle, Wednesday night lessons of different sorts, a Thursday night drum circle, a women’s drum circle once a month, and kids’ drum circles every weekend. Those are extremely popular on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

In the Santa Clarita Valley, the Boys & Girls Club of the SCV is set to host a short introductory training on drum circle facilitation in February.

“We want to train lots of facilitators in the SCV so lots of different populations have different opportunities,” Fitzgerald said. “I would love to see a public circle that’s available here on a weekly or monthly basis.”


The Beat Goes On at NAMM Drum Circle

Meanwhile, Remo and several hundred drum circle rhythmists are gearing up to shake the trees lining the Anaheim Convention Center’s Palm Garden early Friday evening.

“All you have to do is come up the walkway and you’ll hear us, and join in,” Fitzgerald said. “You allow the beat to take you where you need to go. Add your joy, your rhythm and your inspiration and create a rhythmic stew that you get to cook with all your friends and neighbors. It’s a wonderful experience. Hope to see you there.”

For more information, visit Remo’s website at remo.com (click on “Health Rhythms” and “Drum Circles”) and the Remo Recreational Center site at remormc.com.

On social media, visit Remo’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, or tweet @remopercussion.


skpSanta Clarita journalist, Grammy nominee and drummer Stephen K. Peeples is an entertainment reporter for SCVTV’s SCVNews.com and Santa Clarita radio station KHTS-AM 1220’s HometownStation.com. He hosted and co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” music and interview program for five seasons, 2010-2015. He blogs at his personal site, http://www.stephenkpeeples.com.


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