Drumming Up Community: A Sociological Analysis of Contemporary Drum Circles

By Tanice G. Foltz.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Contemporary drumming circles can be viewed as a secular form of community ritual. Sociologist Emile Durkheim ([1912] 1965) wrote about the social significance of religious rituals as sacred gatherings that serve to bring people together in meaning-making activities. They unite participants in solidarity, serve to vitalize the group, generate a moral quality, and produce “collective effervescence,” an emotionally energizing characteristic. Randall Collins alters Durkheim’s view, deflecting the religious orientation, and defines ritual as “a mechanism of mutually focused emotion and attention producing a momentarily shared reality, which thereby generates solidarity and symbols of group membership” (2004:7). He suggests this definition can be applied to most gatherings, which he calls “interaction rituals,” and posits that the “emotional charge” sparked therein can result in a sense of group solidarity, emotional energy in the individual, symbols that represent the group, and feelings of morality or rightness that can be transformative (Collins, 2004:43). This paper examines facilitated drum circles as they exhibit these features and create community, focusing on drum circle facilitators who see themselves as “rhythm evangelists” on a mission to spread “rhythmaculture.” Trainees learn to create percussion orchestras with drum circles that are directed towards special needs populations, such as veterans, recovering alcoholics, and the physically and mentally challenged, as well as the general public. Participation in drum circles is associated with feelings of well-being, increased awareness, self confidence, and group solidarity. Group drumming has the potential to increase participants’ physical and mental health, connect people, and inspire social action.

Keywords: Drumming, Music-making, Community, Ritual

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.79-90. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 610.036KB).

Dr. Tanice G. Foltz

Associate Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Indiana University Northwest, Gary, Indiana, USA

The author is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University Northwest where she has taught for twenty years and won numerous teaching awards. She has specialized in Deviance, Gender, the Sociology of Health and Illness, and the New Religions, with an emphasis on alternative healing, ritual, and Witchcraft. Since 2000 her focus shifted to the exploration of group drumming as used in religious ceremonies and healing, and more recently, facilitated drum circles as they are related to individual empowerment, creating community, and social action. Publications include the book Kahuna Healer and over twenty refereed scholarly articles and book chapters, and she is currently working on a book about drumming circles.

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