On January 31, University of Redlands students, faculty, staff, and members of the community filtered through the doors of University Hall on the main Redlands campus to take part in an African drum circle (video below).
The event, which was the first in a series of similar gatherings hosted by the Meditation Room Program, offered a hands-on, intergenerational community-building experience and was led by musician Marcus Miller, who has been facilitating drumming events for the past 20 years. Ranging in age and level of experience, participants played a variety of drums from around the world as Miller weaved through them, offering words of encouragement and assistance. Upon returning to the center of the circle, he played complementary percussion instruments to add layers to the rhythm.
“Don’t think—just feel,” Miller said over the steady hum of beating drums. “You don’t get to say that quite often in life. Our tendency as humans is to go faster and speed things up. We need to slow it down.”
Each year, the Meditation Room Program hosts an event that exposes audience members to a spiritual tradition. In the past, these events have included visits from Tibetan Buddhist monks to create a Sand Painting Mandala, an international exhibit about Mother Teresa, and the screening of a film on the life of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl presented by his grandson.
As an active, recurring event, the drum circle differs from past happenings. “We wanted to offer something that is an experience of communal healing,” says Professor of Religious Studies and Meditation Room Steward Fran Grace, who played a large part in planning the event. “People are a bit discouraged with polarization and hate. We’re all needing some experience of being together in spaces where we feel connected with others, regardless of belief system, race, or religion.”
Both Miller and Grace maintain that drumming is a meditative practice. Any sort of activity that pulls people into the present moment qualifies as meditative.
Megan Wilensky ’20, a student in Grace’s Introduction to Meditation class, agrees: “I went to the drum circle to experience something new and as an experience for my meditation class. I enjoyed how free it felt to play the drums with no judgment and the feeling of unity that existed among all the drum players.”
Interim Director of Diversity Initiatives Monique Stennis says she attended the event because she has always wanted to participate in a drum circle. “This was the best time to do so because it was offered right here where I work,” she says. “I loved the fact that there were so many community members from all walks of life.”
In the fall, Grace says that the Meditation Room Program will be partnering with local religious organizations in order to secure sponsorship for the series. She looks forward to hosting more community events in the future: “That’s what will heal the divides in our society, but the opportunities for such events—gathering together with our differences but still becoming one—are very rare,” she says. “That’s why we need to keep doing it—we need those experiences.”
The next African drum circle is scheduled for Friday, February 28 from 5 to 7 p.m. in Watchorn Hall. The event is free and open to the public. Contact the Meditation Room for more information. Learn more about the Meditation Room.