Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Seven Circles of Friday Night Drumming

    Anyone who has traveled through downtown Asheville on a summer Friday evening has heard a rhythmic beating from the heart of Pritchard Park. Those more familiar with the city recognize this pulsing sound as Asheville’s drum circle.
    Asheville is a popular destination for weekenders looking to unwind, and the drum circle certainly gives them the chance to loosen up. I’ve spent quite a few Friday evenings at the drum circle myself, sometimes listening and occasionally attempting to dance. After many weekends I have noticed a hierarchy within the circle, beginning on the sidewalks around the park and working to the center. 

    On the outer level are the hula hoop dancers. Though not quite part of the true drum circle, these hoopers enjoy the attention of those headed to check out the beating drums. Their swirling LED-lit hoops also add to the rave-like atmosphere. 

    Moving slightly inward are the interested yet shy onlookers. This audience is typically comprised of  middle aged couples (often with kids), those wanting to join the party but not quite outgoing enough to actually get up and move their hips. They still provide quite a bit of on- and off-beat clapping creating their own rhythm. 

    Many of the drummers in attendance aren’t quite part of the real ensemble, rather people of the community who play for their own enjoyment. Instead of sitting on the stairs with the others, these rogue percussionists (or piccolo players, occasionally) wander through the throng to the beat of their own drums.  

    The drum circle is a college kid hot-spot, and the 4th level is made up of raving students. Often less inhibited, my peers contribute to the loud and raucous yelling that accompanies an increase in cadence. My cross country teammates and I often bring recruits here to get a taste of Asheville life. 

    Some of my favorite drum circle attendees are the dancers in the middle – those who have jangling bell-bedecked scarves tied around their waists to contribute to the music. Even on my most outgoing days I don’t sway half as hypnotically as these entertainers. Their twirling hands are the only movements I can imitate. 

    One of the most important parts of the drum circle is the crowd of drummers sitting along the steps in the park playing on smaller mobile instruments. Percussionists from around Asheville unite to create the beat that pulses through the crowd. Interestingly, these drummers have no written notes to play from. Instead, someone introduces a tempo and everyone else adds their own beat creating a new authentic sound every week. 

    Finally, those who apparently have no fear of bursting ear drums make up the inner sanctum. These drummers play on standing drums allowing them room to dance with the mob at the heart of the park as they beat their instruments.
   The first time I went to the drum circle in my first week of college, I was intimidated by all of the people who were not self-conscious. But, through many trips to the drum circle this summer I’ve managed to enjoy every level of the experience - even taking a drum stick to a snare in the very center of the throng. I had to dance my way back out of the mob camera in-hand and toes tapping.