Drumming for peace
A rambling by Tom Knapp,
28 August 1994

From a distance it sounded like thunder.

But the rumble had cadence. It pulsed and swelled like a heart. And it didn't fade.

It was the rhythm of beating drums, and they beat in Lancaster, Pa., in the cause of peace.

This particular Sunday was dubbed "Drum for World Peace" by the United Nations, marking a day for drum circles around the globe. The Lancaster event, which drew several hundred spectators and more than 100 percussionists to a grassy meadow along the Conestoga River, was just one echo of a much larger movement.

The five-hour event at Lancaster County Central Park started at 3 p.m. with a single drummer, who sat astride a barrel drum as he rapped out a brisk tattoo. Around him people, many carrying drums of their own, slowly gathered.

Local organizer Kurt Johnson officially began the session with a solemn peal from a gong after reminding everyone that "we're just a small part of a big event of unity. ... Think thoughts of peace."

The loose circle began haltingly, with several discordant rhythms clashing until the drummers found a thread and caught their stride. As more people arrived at the gathering and the circle expanded, the sound grew in volume and power. Since a lot of folks brought more than one drum apiece, spectators were quickly enlisted into the band.

Soon the ground and even the air seemed to vibrate with the sound. The beat was infectious, and people without drums began to improvise. Before long, soda cans, plastic water jugs, a metal bundt cake pan and a large steel barrel were part of the orchestra.

Several people cast aside their instruments in favor of spontaneous dancing around and through the circle. The dancers seemed to delight in a raw expression of inner rhythm.

"When I dance I feel a spiritual uplifting," said Linda Noll of Lancaster. "I think this is raising everybody's energy level right now. You carry that with you, and hopefully you spread that around."

The event drew people young and old, who merged sounds from a wide range of instruments, including congas and shaman drums, Irish bodhrans and Middle Eastern dumbeks, talking drums, pow-wow drums and tambourines. The gathering also included peace-oriented artwork, organized dancing and a chorus of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."

"I just wanted to get a bunch of cool people together, and I did it," Johnson shouted over the microphone to enthusiastic cheers. He said he hopes to arrange a bigger event for next year.

"I hope it happens again, and more people come out and participate," said Debbie Stuart of Lancaster. "A little bit of what was happening today was like a microcosm of the world," she added. "There is harmony and disharmony in the world. ... As we started getting in synch, I really felt we were part of something big."

Conrad Miziumski, a physics professor at Millersville University, said the circle was "a blast ... and a good way to spend the last evening before classes begin." Miziumski, who never attended a drum circle before, said the event was "spectacular, just the perfect atmosphere. ... It inspired me."

Michael Nebroski of Harrisburg said he wished he could have attended the big drum circle at the Grand Canyon, where thousands of people were expected to attend.

"The drum is the heartbeat of the earth," he said. "We drum to reconnect our hearts with that heartbeat. ... So often we get disconnected from the earth, disconnected from each other."

When the circle was finally broken at dusk, drummers scattered over the meadow to pick up soda cans and litter. Johnson said the turnout for the day was phenomenal. "Everything flowed really freely," he said. "We got more than enough people willing to come out and donate their time and energy.

"I think we refueled each others' souls, and hopefully everyone will carry that out with them," he added. "Gatherings like these send people home with a completely different mindset."

[ by Tom Knapp ]