Drumming beats the blues away
IN TIME of stress, it can feel good to hit something. Hitting another person, of course, is socially unacceptable. But a drum?
"It is not that expensive to get a drum and it is scientifically shown to improve your mood," said Christine Stevens, who leads drumming sessions around the world. "It has no side effects ... it's better than Prozac."
MUSIC THERAPY WORKSHOPS
Lead by Dr. Arthur Harvey, for health-care professionals, musicians, educators and others; March 31 at Spalding Auditorium, University of Hawaii-Manoa.
» "The Healing Power of Music and Sound": Learn how music can be used as therapy, who benefits and the differences among music, medicine, music therapy and sound healing; 9:30 a.m. to noon.
» "Music for Health and Wellness": An overview of psychological and physiological effects of music through multimedia presentations and demonstrations; 2 to 4:30 p.m.
» Suggested donation: $10
» Call: Laura Crites, 941-8253
Featuring Korean drum performance, Okinawan and Japanese bon dance workshops, Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble performance and hands-on introduction to taiko
» When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 7
» Place: Hawaii's Plantation Village in Waipahu
» Admission: $7; $4 kamaaina; children free
» Call: 677-0110
Drumming in a group changes our relationships, improves communication and deepens bonds, Stevens said. And there's an added health bonus of physical exercise and recreation.
Stevens holds master's degrees in both social work and music therapy and travels abroad training facilitators in the HealthRhythms group drumming protocol.
She demonstrated the way a drum facilitator would guide a group in rhythmic activities that promote self-expression, during a workshop at last week's conference of the American Music Therapy Association's Western Region chapter.
Some of Stevens' sessions have taken place at the sites of tragedies -- including New York City's Ground Zero, Columbine High School and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
One situation in New Orleans stands out: "An 11-year-old boy dragged his parents to the drum circle. They didn't want to come, but they were the last to leave," Stevens said. "The dad explained that all year long, he had been having problems with his son -- he was having trouble in school, his grades had dropped. 'Today was the first day I saw the gifts of my son,' the dad said. Drumming was the one thing that consistently brought smiles to everyone."
Stevens is now interested in working with local military families. "There is lots of stress and long deployments. ... The families need a tool to reconnect -- to create bonds with family members that have been apart from each other for a long time," she said.
"Music is a language that everyone speaks. Rhythm has the potential to harmonize, unify and take us to a new world that could promote peace, harmony and human connection."
BARRY BITTMAN couldn't agree more. He has been working with a research team to demonstrate the psychological and biological effects of facilitated group drumming.
An hour of group drumming, following the series of steps taught during the workshops, enable people to feel relaxed, comfortable and secure within the group, according to Bittman. "Creative musical expression without an emphasis on performance or mastery boosts the activity of specialized blood cells (known as natural killer or NK cells)," he said. NK cells seek out and destroy virally infected cells and cancer cells.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
"I don't know a better tool than creative musical expression... playing, listening and sharing at a heart-felt level."
Dr. Barry Bitmann
"It's all about enabling people to take an active and meaningful role in their own life. I don't know a better tool than creative musical expression ... playing, listening and sharing at a heartfelt level," he said. "It helps a person move past their perceived obstacles. It changes the chemicals within our body that enable us to remain healthy."
As a neurologist, Bittman uses group drumming with his patients at the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Penn., where he is CEO and medical director.
His studies include research on burnout and mood states among long-term care providers and nursing students. When the subjects took up drumming, he said, the result was fewer people changing jobs, with a cost savings of about $400,000.
"We are giving them a non-verbal tool -- helping them express the inexpressible. We are helping people express some of the things that are resting heavily on their hearts," he said. "The things we keep inside and cannot express increases the sense of stress and can potentially lead to illness. By getting things off our chests, we can improve our health."
Bittman's focus is on engaging people in active strategies that help them control their own health care. "Empowerment is when a person realizes for the first time in their life that they are capable of doing something that they never imagined they could."
BONNIE CHAN, a local music therapist who works with patients at the Hawaii State Hospital, said drumming and music groups are among her patients' favorite classes. "It seems to give them greater confidence in themselves and improves the quality of their lives," said Chan. "Having something in their lives in which they can be successful is so important. It's important for everyone, and especially important for those who don't find much to celebrate when they're dealing with a disability."
Helen Dolas came to Hawaii from California looking for strategies to incorporate into the employee wellness program at her nonprofit agency, Arts & Services for the Disabled. Staff burnout is high and she hopes to alleviate some of the stress.
Dolas also hopes to create a sense of unity among her staff, which ranges from nurses aids to speech therapists, art and drama instructors, and volunteers from all walks of life.
"Our staff is diverse. We want to level the playing field in order to focus on the needs of the clients. Everyone has a special gift to bring to the table."
Dolas hopes drumming can provide a fun and safe way for employees to explore their thoughts and feelings. "We can celebrate who they are and find ways of supporting one another."
"PERCUSSION discussion" is how Bittman refers to the practice of using musical expression as a catalyst for verbal expression during difficult or challenging times. The formal term is "inspirational beats."
"We may ask a health-care provider, 'How did you feel the last time a patient died?' and ask them to express their feelings on the drum," Bittman said. "They bang away on their drum and get very expressive. After they are done, there is a huge sense of release ... it gives them permission to speak."
In our technological society, people are becoming more disconnected, he said. "We have e-mail, voice mail and all sorts of things that are supposed to bring us together, but really separate us. So many of us could benefit from listening, rather than speaking."