Thursday, July 31, 2008

Drum Circle Simplicity

One of the most pure, authentic experiences that I’ve had in Washington DC has to be the drum circle that is held every Sunday in Meridian Hill Park. Picture dozens and dozens of people from all over, (young and old, black and white, American and foreign, rich and poor) just getting together for an afternoon to jam. This particular circle is imaginary (it’s more like a rectangle) but the rules are clear:

-do not enter the circle if you are not prepared to play something.

-if you don’t have an instrument to play with borrow one.

-if you have extra instruments you must share.

-if you can’t play an instrument someone will show you.

-if you are unwilling to play, you have to dance.


It is still hot and muggy by the time I park my bike inside the park. I have the essentials in my backpack: a copy of Herodotus, wine, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, tapenade, and crackers. As the afternoon gets longer, I am seduced by the wine, the women and the sounds of long, flowing drumbeats. The music howls at me like a cornered animal, always rough, ever vengeful, untamable. The large black man with the double drums maintains the beat long enough for a young Asian girl to find another. The rest of the circle follows. This is an animal with tentacles.

There is the disabled black girl, sitting in a wheelchair, beating a miniature drum, occasionally flashing a smile that is dry and lonely.

There is the young summer intern who closes her eyes often, confident that she can stave off adulthood for another year.

There is the card game guys. Some have prison tattoos, others wear Rolex watches.

There is the belly dancer. She moves like a rhythmic serpent, caressing sounds unseen.

In the end, for an afternoon as least, everything is simple and complete.

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