Def Leppard's Rick Allen issue: ABILITY Jobs ad

The drum. Whether being used in ceremony or sacred ritual, in warfare or military exercise, or for communication or celebration, the drum has influenced nearly every culture in the world. The instrument’s 8,000 year heritage also includes drum circles which transport participants to meditative states that harken to our ancient tribal roots and facilitate bonding and sharing in true community. Tapping into the rhythm of the drum as a form of release and healing are Rick Allen and Lauren Monroe, founders of the Raven Drum Foundation. Chet Cooper, publisher of ABILITY Magazine, recently sat down with Rick, who’s best known as the drummer for Def Leppard, and his wife Lauren. Gary Unmarried’s Max Gail rounded out the group. Together they discuss the power of the drum, how it’s helping today’s wounded veterans and what it means to find inspiration as the best one-handed drummer.

Chet Cooper to Rick Allen: I didn’t think you’d mind that I invited Max Gail to join us. He and I go back many, many years, and when I saw your website, RavenDrumFoundation.org, I had to send it to him as it seemed right up his alley.

Max Gail: I shared with Chet that we were both involved with Camp Kirkpatrick.

Rick Allen: That’s great! This is what a drum circle is all about; it’s a metaphor for community.

Cooper: Rick, how did you and Lauren come to be involved with the camp?

Allen: Hmm... good question… I’m trying to remember how we got involved.

Lauren Monroe: One of the volunteers came to a drum circle we had done and thought it would be a tremendous thing to bring to the boys at Camp Kilpatrick, which has a large gang-related population. There was a lot of conflict because the boys were on opposite sides of the fence in terms of how they felt about things. We went up there and started doing some drum circles for empowerment. The circles really resonated with them and helped them bring about a sense of community.

Gail: When we were at the camp, I had kids that were in my songwriters’ workshop who were also in your drum circle. During my workshop they all wanted to write rap songs and most of it was: “I got the bitches and the ho’s.” It took a while to get them to pull out how they feel about their mom or a brother who may be dead or in prison.

Allen: Rhythm is such a big part of their culture and their own way of communicating, so we were able to go in there and design a program around them. It developed into drum council, which is an ongoing program that we provided for the camp. We had tremendous success.

Cooper: Are you still active with the camp?

Monroe: Our funding shifted, and we weren’t able to continue with the program directly, but we left one of our teachers to stay on and continue. We’re now focusing on veterans and their families.

Cooper: Are the veteran programs national or local?

Monroe: Both, actually. Locally, we’re working with the VA and the Vets’ Center here in Los Angeles. We’ve also worked with the Vet Center and VA in San Antonio. Walter Reed Medical Center has been receptive to talking to us about what we’re doing.

Cooper: Have you done any volunteer work with the veterans?

Allen: Of course. We have visited the amputee ward on a number of occasions, and we’re developing relationships with them. That’s a long-term thing.

Monroe: We’re excited; we’re going to be starting work with Point Mugu Naval Air Station in California with teenagers of active duty military who are missing a parent. I think it’s really important to include the children. We just did a session with veteran’s wives who are dealing with a lot of issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Secondary trauma [which can affect those who are closely associated to veterans with PTSD] is such a huge thing that I wasn’t even aware of until I started working closely with the population of veterans. And psychotherapists receive secondary trauma too—just by hearing the stories—and that’s a huge piece of the healing puzzle. There are many different types of circles.

Allen: Obviously we can’t stay for many ongoing sessions, so psychotherapists are included in the group and able to continue the work when we leave.

Cooper: Do the therapists literally do drum circles when you’re not there, or is that part and parcel of what you bring to the table?

Allen: I think everybody can do drum circles; it’s not exclusive at all.

Monroe: Drums are such an ancient thing. For us to say: “This is our thing and you can’t do it—”

Allen: It would be like putting a trademark on it. The beautiful thing about drumming is everybody feels supported. No matter what you’re going through, it’s a fantastic way for people to voice their emotions.

Gail: A drum circle is a leveler. You can have a CEO and some guy that was sleeping on the beach, and all of a sudden everyone is together. Isolation is what causes problems, and that just disappears when you’re doing the drum circle.

Cooper: Can you explain exactly how you facilitate the drum circles? Is there dialogue between the participants within the circle?

Allen: No, no, I’m a rock star! (laughter)

Cooper: What was I thinking?(laughter)

Monroe: We do, we do, but we don’t process. First of all, we do community circles that are bigger. Usually we get about 200 people, and that’s when we don’t advertise.

Cooper: What happens if it gets too large?

Monroe: Everything gets done and everybody participates. We assess how much we need to lead people and do some talking and guidance depending on who’s there. If people are comfortable, we’ll ask them to say something they want to release. We tell people that whoever volunteers information is volunteering it not only for himself but also for the person across from him and the person who can’t speak. This is not just one person having an experience. So many times I hear: “I really wanted to say loneliness, but I just couldn’t say it. Then the person across from me said it, and I cried.” We’re all connected.

We usually do things for about an hour-and-a-half whether there are 200 people or 10. Sometimes there’s more discussion than other times, but we find that this model is really beautiful, because it just validates that we’re all connected.

Gail: It does. You’re allowing the openness to be there, but it’s more organic.

Monroe: Often we work with populations that are dealing with very traumatic events. We don’t want to trigger any processing to the point where we can’t contain it, especially in the big community circles where you don’t know who’s coming. The drumming is there, and that lifts and heals with its own beautiful force.

Allen: We put a circle inside a circle inside a circle inside a circle.

Monroe: We don’t want them to get too big.

Allen: If it gets too big, it gets impersonal.

Monroe: And we invite people into the center; we do things in the center of the circle.

Allen: Like a gathering drum.

Monroe: There’s dancing going on. I grew up in Queens, in an Italian Catholic family, and I had mystical experiences and things I couldn’t explain from a very early age. When I started to experience them, automatically I thought: “Hippie-dippie crap. Granola.” That wasn’t OK with me. I need to be respected as an intelligent human being, so it started me on the path of looking at the science behind it.... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Def Leppard’s Rick Allen issue include Senator Harkin — The Community Choice Act; Humor — Blame Bin Laden; Ashley’s Column — International Language of Pizza; Adventure Skills — More Than a Workshop; Lise Cox — The Blind Leading the Blind; H’Sien Hayward — Volunteering, Travel and Bulls; Katrina — Stormy Stories; George Covington — A Brush with Andy; Perfect Circles — One-of-Kind John Michael Stuart; Hawaii — Wheels To Water; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

June/July 2009

More excerpts from the Def Leppard’s Rick Allen issue:

Def Leppard’s — Rick Allen Tapping Drum Therapy

Driven — Beyond an Accessible RV

Obama Signs — Kennedy’s Act Expanding Community Service

Manic's - Terri Cheney

Ashley’s Column — International Language of Pizza

Lise Cox — The Blind Leading the Blind

Hawaii — Wheels to Water

George Covington — A Brush with Andy

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