African drum circle series offers meditative, community-building experience at University of Redlands

Drum circle participants play a variety of drums from around the world, as musician Marcus Miller, center, offers words of encouragement.

University of Redlands students, faculty, staff and members of the community filtered through the doors of University Hall on the main Redlands campus on Jan. 31 to take part in an African drum circle.

The event, which is the first in a series of similar gatherings to be hosted by the U of R's Meditation Room Program, offered a hands-on, intergenerational community-building experience and was led by musician Marcus Miller, who has been facilitating drumming events for the past 20 years.

Ranging in age and level of experience, participants played a variety of drums from around the world as Miller weaved through them, offering words of encouragement and assistance. Upon returning to the center of the circle, he played complementary percussion instruments to add layers to the rhythm.

“Don’t think — just feel,” Miller said over the steady hum of beating drums. “You don’t get to say that quite often in life. Our tendency as humans is to go faster and speed things up. We need to slow it down.”

Each year, the Meditation Room Program hosts an event that exposes audience members to a spiritual tradition. In the past, these events have included visits from Tibetan Buddhist monks to create a Sand Painting Mandala, an international exhibit about Mother Teresa, and the screening of a film on the life of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl presented by his grandson.

As an active, recurring event, the drum circle differs from past happenings.

“We wanted to offer something that is an experience of communal healing,” says Professor of Religious Studies and Meditation Room Steward Fran Grace, who played a large part in planning the event. “People are a bit discouraged with polarization and hate,” Grace said. “We’re all needing some experience of being together in spaces where we feel connected with others, regardless of belief system, race, or religion.”

Both Miller and Grace maintain that drumming is a meditative practice. Any sort of activity that pulls people into the present moment qualifies as meditative.

Megan Wilensky, Class of ’20, a student in Grace’s Introduction to Meditation class, said:, “I went to the drum circle to experience something new and as an experience for my meditation class. “ enjoyed how free it felt to play the drums with no judgment and the feeling of unity that existed among all the drum players.”