Guest Blogger: Alex Conroy, Smiling Drum participant for 2 years
I am a psychologist with a passion for psychophysiology, which is the study of how improving the functioning of the body and brain raises the health of the mind. My attention was first turned to drumming because of research I read on how it strengthens the brain. Students who have played a musical instrument for several years have SAT scores 15-20% higher, and the drummers have the best scores of all musicians. The act of playing the sophisticated rhythms of drumming sharpen the function of the cerebellum, the ancient orchestra conductor of the whole brain. Therapeutic drumming is used to improve the emotional regulation of neglected and abused teens and refugees with traumatic damage from war. So, strictly for professional reasons, I signed up to participate in a drumming circle a few years ago. I did not expect to fall in love with it.
Drumming gave me back something I did not realize I had lost, a restoration of community and connection with ancestral ways of living. My drum is made of a reddish hardwood with a goat skin top. The goat skin has irregularities of pigmentation that remind me that it came from a living creature, not a factory. I sit with other drummers in a circle and we play pieces that sound to me like something that might have been familiar to the earliest people.
A few years ago, I had my DNA tested to learn more about my ancestry. I spent extra to have my maternal line traced back as far as possible. The line of my mothers can be followed back through Northern Europe, the British Isles, especially the Celts, the Vikings, Eastern Europe, the Siberian indigenous peoples, then through Syria, and finally back to eastern Africa. When I play my drum with the goat skin top, I feel like I have reconnected to all the women from whom I am descended. I feel like a person of the world, not just the United States. I did some reading on drums around the world, and many of my ancestors might have tapped out a beat on a goat skin stretched over a wood frame.
The feeling I get from drumming is spiritual, and my feelings are in part tied to ceremonial aspects of sitting with others in a circle, and the wood and the goat skin of the instrument. Ancient religions were tied more firmly to veneration of nature and appreciation of animals and trees. The Celts, for example, held religious ceremonies in groves of trees. The letters of an ancient Celtic alphabet (Ogham) were named for types of trees and words looked like trunks with branches. (Above is the word “drum” expressed in the Ogham alphabet.) I like running my fingers over the fine heavy wood of my drum. I love walking in forests or along the edges of water, and drumming in a circle feels nearly the same to me. I am not just happier, my soul is enlivened. So, I started playing the drum because I was intrigued by its benefits for the brain, and I kept on because it feels like being a valued member of a tribe, connected to the earth, to my ancestors, and to each other.