Many of you were drumming with us several years ago when the elders from The Highlands first started drumming with us. For
those who weren't, let me tell you the story.
I received an email from Cindy Winder, the Activities Director at The Highlands, a retirement community in Topsham, ME. One
of their seniors had read an article about drum circles and was interested in them. Cindy did a search online and discovered
that Different Drummers Drum Circle was going strong in Yarmouth. She emailed me and asked if I would come to The Highlands
and give a talk on drum circles to some interested elders.
I did and it was fun. I got to meet some very nice men and women who asked great questions. I brought a Middle-Eastern doumbek
and an African djembe with me to show them the sort of drums we use. One man toward the back asked, "So, are you gonna play
that thing, or what?" I replied, "Are you asking me to show off?" He said, "I think I am." Everyone laughed and I sat and
soloed on my djembe. The seniors all applauded. A woman named Cynthia approached me after my presentation and, with a mischievous
smile, asked, "If you have a community drum circle that's open to anybody, would it be ok if a busload of us came to your
drum circle sometime just to check it out?" I laughed and told her that they would be most welcome. Later Cindy Winder and
I discussed the possibility of doing just that.
On the evening of 4/22/05, when we had a pretty good sized crowd drumming, a bus arrived with a bunch of seniors. There were
enough of them to form a circle around our circle! They observed for a while until our drummers started passing drums and
percussion instruments to them. It was a most memorable night.
Cynthia, the woman who first suggested this visit, sat beside me. I remembered her very well. I already liked her a lot. At
one point, between drum pieces, she leaned in close to me and said, "I can't believe it took me 80 years to find out I love
drumming!" ...I nearly melted! What a wonderful and heartfelt thing to say. I shared that statement with our drum circle community
in my next weekly email. When I wrote our drum circle's history a year ago I even included that visit and that statement because
I felt it was an important part of our history. It was the evening our drum circle community built a bridge to include seniors.
About ten of those seniors formed their own weekly drum circle as a result. Still three or four of them would drop in to drum
with us every few months. On a recent drum circle four or five weeks ago, Cynthia brought her daughter and two granddaughters
to experience our drum circle. I remember looking across at them thinking how incredible it was to have three generations
of women drumming together.
Two days later, Cynthia was diagnosed with cervical cancer which was fairly advanced and had already spread to other organs.
Already weak and bedridden, on Monday, 8/20/07, she asked that her friends come and drum in her room. Cindy Winder said, "We
were only there for half an hour, but she seemed to take such pleasure from it, lying with her eyes closed and a peaceful
expression on her face." Cindy was kind enough to keep me up to date on her progress. Later that week, Cynthia was taken off
chemotherapy. Her doctor indicated that she was on her last days. She asked that her friends drum for her when her body was
taken from her house. I told Cindy that I could have many more drummers there when that time came and she passed the word
to Cynthia's son who said that Cynthia's also wished to have "a big drumming celebration when she died."
We decided to give Cynthia another bedside drum circle on Saturday, 8/25/07. Her son said that Cynthia was "...ecstatic at
the thought of DDDC coming to her." I was ecstatic at the chance to give this one small gift to this incredible soul.
Her son estimated that 20 people could fit into her room. I asked for volunteers from our DDDC drumming community to come
and bring the spirit and the heart that made Cynthia fall in love with drumming. I got more than enough responses within the
day to fill Cynthia's bedroom.
Cynthia looked very frail lying in her bed. She smiled and thanked us for coming. Since she had a particular love of Judy's
flute playing, we had Judy begin the first piece. Each time we played a piece, Cynthia would close her eyes and bask in it.
She looked so content as we played. Each time we finished she would open her eyes and smile and make a clapping gesture. Our
next piece was very upbeat and joyful without being too loud. Briana sang. Judy played a brief solo piece on her very special
Micmac Prayer Flute (a drone flute built by David Sanipas which most of you have never heard.) Lu Jump played a wonderful
piece on her flute. We drummed for about 45 minutes.
At one point, someone asked about a sound heard faintly in the background. Cynthia explained that it was a CD of the sound
"Om" being chanted. We all listened to the subtle sound. Cynthia went on to explain how Om was the sound of God. She had been
playing the CD continuously. One by one the drummers began chanting Om in harmony until a huge chord filled the room. Quite
a moving moment.
Cynthia's DDDC bedside drummers were Margaret, Cindy, Deana, Briana, Jim, Cathy, Mary, Pat, Lu, Carol, Sukie, Kris, Bob,
Bea, Mildred, Judy and I. We left room for some of Cynthia's friends, some of whom drummed from an adjacent patio.
Deana had a wonderful idea before our visit. She emailed me that a room would seem very empty after so many drummers had gone.
She took a small djembe and drew a heart on the head with Cynthia's name in it. Then she made lines radiating from the heart
and asked us to each add artwork to one of the spaces with markers she provided. This became our gift to Cynthia before we
left. I'll never forget the sight of her hugging it.
The experience was sad and intense but it also felt very 'right'. There was an energy exchange... a wordless communication...
the room was filled with such love and compassion. I'm not sure who got more out of it... Cynthia or us. I guess we all left
the experience 'filled'.
That night I stayed up until about 3:30am making Cynthia a CD of "The Best of the Different Drummers Joyful Hearts Club Band"
from my collection of our previously taped performances. I brought it to Cynthia's house the next day and left it with her
daughter so that Cynthia could listen to us anytime she wanted to.
Many of our drummers wrote me explaining that you had plans and previous commitments and would have loved to join us. You
were there. I think that every DDDC drummer who has ever drummed with Cynthia was there in that room. Any of you who were
touched by her story... your love and compassion was there, too.
That visit was a gift of this drumming community to one of our dearest drummers. Those of us who brought Different Drummers'
music to Cynthia's bedside were the messengers who had the privilege of delivering the gift.
Cindy Winder has kindly kept me informed of Cynthia's health on a regular basis. Her children have been with her at her home.
As of recently, Cynthia could no longer ingest food.
Cynthia died last night.
If you pray, say a prayer. If you drum, drum a rhythm in your heart for the Different Drummer who couldn't believe it took
her 80 years to find out she loved drumming. Drum a rhythm in your heart for the wise and beautiful soul who used that love
of drumming to ease her own passing. May we all find such grace.
Different Drummers Drum Circle
"There will come a season when I cannot lift my hands to drum. A time when my legs will no longer be able to dance.
A night when my eyes are too dim for the fire and my ears grown deaf to chanting. On that night children, lay me down at the
edge of the circle and let me feel the loving rhythm through the very ground. Play joyfully. Play for the gods to hear, and
carry my soul out of this world on the beating of the drums."
Drumfish Drum Circle
3/18/08 UPDATE: The "big drumming celebration" that Cynthia wanted happened on 3/15/08 at her former home in Topsham, Maine.
Her family called the event a "Celebration of Life." Members of the Highlands' circle as well as many of the Different Drummers
who played at Cynthia's bedside were there making music to celebrate our friend.