Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section

(last revision 02/11/99)









JULY 10-12, 1998

Arthur Hull is the most widely recognized name in drum circle facilitating. Last weekend's "playshop" was advertised as an opportunity to "learn to facilitate community drum circles and rhythm-based events." Among the things covered were basic facilitation principles, rapport skills, orchestrational ideas, drum circle games, facilitation exercises, group improvisation, reading the circle, body language and vocal techniques, and facilitation skills for different populations. It should be noted here that Hull stresses universal rhythm elements, and it is of little consequence to him which instruments people bring to the circles. He is not trying to introduce people to specific cultural output. Instead, he adapts those rhythmacultural features all societies have in common and which all of us, even rhythmically recessive Americans, essentially have within ourselves.

Since this past weekend had brought me on business to Chicago at the same time as the Arthur Hull Playshop that I had seen announced over the djembe-list, I jumped at the opportunity to attend. Having heard about these classes and others conducted by Arthur Hull over the years, I knew there would be a lot to learn and much valuable experience to be gained. Having been in sporadic contact on earlier visits to Chicago with various members of the local drumming community, including playshop producer-organizer John Yost of Rhythm Revolution, I also assumed I would be learning with a varied and talented group of people. All these presuppositions proved to be well-founded. The weekend was well worth the $200 enrollment fee ($225 for people signing up in the last two weeks of the sign-up period).

Twenty-two participants (fourteen men, eight women), most of them from the greater Chicago area--but with others from Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa and Arizona--signed the facilitators list at the conclusion of the Sunday class, which ran from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Saturday class, which had started with upwards of twenty-five people, went one hour longer, and that was preceded on Friday evening by a two-hour introductory session. Saturday's session took place in the spacious auditorium of the "Hot House," a club conveniently located just across from the park at the south end of the loop. A fortuitous change of location on Sunday meant that we could hold all of the final day's activities in Grant Park near Buckingham Fountain. Shortly after the last class session ended, a widely publicized two-hour community drum circle took place in the same park, during which a half-dozen of the participants, along with Arthur, had an opportunity to demonstrate facilitation skills while the rest joined the crowd and played along.

It was a wonder to behold Hull's mastery of detail stemming from his depth of experience, and to perceive his earnest commitment to community building behind the frequently jocular presentation--(he can be quite a clown). The science of "reading the circle," involving peripheral vision, hearing and feeling, which were taught and demonstrated (and practiced) in a variety of ways, was for this reviewer the most fascinating aspect of the program. In short, it brings about in the facilitator a sense of knowing how to lead while being led. Another exciting exercise was impromptu group orchestration, using everything from voices and hand-claps to drums and boomwhackers. But while these may have been the most intense elements for me, I was captivated throughout.

Because our participants represented a wide range of individual interests targeted at various groups--from "hippie anarchist thunder-drummers" to developmentally handicapped kids, from seniors to younger at-risk populations, from men's and women's sensitivity groups to generic community drum circles, from schools and church congregations to management seminars--we all had slightly different goals in mind for utilizing what we were learning from Hull. While we were "charged" with energy from this talented teacher, we were also charged with the task of adapting this set of tools and techniques to our own personalities, and molding them into an ever-evolving facilitation repertoire, to be applied in whichever groups we believe can be aided by skillful, resourceful, and perceptive facilitators.

By the way, Hull's brand new 206-page book (with cd) DRUM CIRCLE SPIRIT: FACILITATING HUMAN POTENTIAL THROUGH RHYTHM (White Cliffs Media; 5150 Mae Anne Ave. #213-208
Reno, NV 89523; Tel: 775-674-1671;Web:; Email:
1998) was available for purchase by participants, and all the copies he brought along were snatched up well before the playshop was over. If you are interested in further information about Arthur Hull and his playshop schedule, you may access his website at

Pete Carels