A circle of rhythm for these Peoria drummers

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

The Peoria Drum Circle started out small several years ago but now averages about 30 people at its monthly meet-ups. Natasha Greene, who started the group, insists anyone can drum if they try. “I tell people if you can walk without falling down, then you have rhythm,” she said. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Greene)

Natasha Greene was classically trained in voice and piano long before she encountered her first drum circle but she quickly became hooked and is now beating the drum, so to speak, to get others to try it.

The Wisconsin native started the Peoria Drum Circle several years ago. It began small but now averages about 30 participants at its meet-ups on the last Friday of each month at Forest Park Nature Center.

“Everyone should try it,” Greene said. “And plan to give it more than one try because it sometimes takes a while to get comfortable.”

The owner of Grand Prairie Music Studio and a former teacher at the Peoria Montessori School, Greene was first introduced to world drumming at a teacher’s convention at the Peoria Civic Center.

“I just kind of fell in love with it immediately, both personally and for the classroom,” she said. “So, I started out just working with the kids at school and slowly collecting instruments.”

Before long Greene realized that while there are community bands and community choirs, there wasn’t a community drum circle kids could join. “What’s the point of learning this skill if they have no community group or anything to join?” she said. “It’s open to all ages.”

Greene encourages newbies to check out the group, recalling how it was all new to her in the beginning. “Four years ago, I didn’t even know what the djembe drum was. I didn’t even know how to spell it,” she said with a laugh.

Now Greene brings 25 djembes and other West African or Latin-influence drums to each of the drum circle gatherings, and she’s noticed that people are starting to buy and bring their own hand drums, shakers or tambourines, as well.

In addition to the monthly drum circle at Forest Park Nature Center, which takes place outside when the weather permits, Greene tries to schedule a mid-month pop-up circle at various area businesses.

“I’m always looking for places we can bring people in and expose them to a new place and maybe get them to buy a meal or something to support the business. We’ve gone to the Rhythm Kitchen, the Peoria Art Guild and the Universalist Unitarian Church,” she said.

Peoria Drum Circle founder Natasha Greene brings 25 djembes and other West African or Latin-inspired drums to monthly events for participants to play. People are welcome to bring their own hand drums, shakers or tambourines, as well. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Greene)

No musical experience is necessary to join the drum circle. Some might claim they have no rhythm, but Greene said anyone can drum if they try.

“I tell people if you can walk without falling down, then you have rhythm. You just have to bring your own creativity and willingness to put yourself out there,” she noted.

“With that being said, when I saw that first drum circle at the Civic Center with all music teachers, I thought it was amazing but even being a musician my whole life, I was too scared to step in. I kind of hovered around the back with a little egg shaker. There are a lot of people like me who are just shy, but it does have a welcoming vibe so usually by the end of the hour people are jamming,” she added.

Greene starts a drum circle by telling the others she’s not in charge.

“We’re all in charge together,” she said. “I start a rhythm, and everyone joins in. It’s morphing and growing and becoming its own thing, so now we see people dance in the middle or start chants in the middle or do free form or strum a guitar in the background. Anything sort of goes for the community to be self-expressive, as long as you don’t sort of crash the party and wreck it.”

Unwritten etiquette rules for drum circles include remembering you’re part of a community and not there to perform a solo, not taking someone else’s drum and removing your jewelry so you don’t damage the drums.

Local artists Doug and Eileen Leunig go to the Peoria Drum Circle as often as their schedule allows, calling Greene “a breath of fresh air for self-expression.”

“Eileen and I have always enjoyed and appreciated how much drumming draws people together,” Doug said, noting that they had a drum circle at their wedding instead of a dance. “Drumming is part of our human DNA that resonates with our need to engage with others in collaborative communication.”

Eileen added, “The Peoria Drum Circle is totally non-judgmental and accepting of any and all people who want to come and experience what it is like.”

Participants can make a small donation that goes toward the cost of renting the space at Forest Park Nature Center. The drum circle can also be hired for a $200 fee for an interactive activity at fundraisers or special events. That fee goes toward supporting the monthly community jams.

Greene also will be leading a women’s drum circle at the SoulSide Healing Arts Center after the holidays and is working on starting a world drumming class at her studio for a small group of underprivileged kids.

“That’s one of the goals I have is to get the kids going on something they can be proud of and then to eventually pass the torch to them when I’m too old to lug these drums around,” she said.

Greene also facilitates a ukulele group open to the public from 12 to 1 p.m. the last Saturday of each month at the Rhythm Kitchen Café at 305 Southwest Water St. in Peoria.

The next Rhythm in the Forest event will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, inside the Nature Center at 5809 N. Forest Park Drive in Peoria Heights.

For more information about the drum circle and upcoming events, visit the Peoria Drum Circle Facebook page at www.facebook.com/loveforpeoria.