Musical Instruments as Medical Instruments
"It's a jingle drum," Dr. Barry Bittman explains to a group of eight
children. "You hang it around your neck so the drum falls onto your chest.
Now hold one hand on the drum and the other hand on your tummy. Can you see
what happens to the drum when you breathe with your diaphragm?" The kids
practice deep breathing. But soon, without any direction, they start playing
the drums, tapping out rhythms and laughing. Within seconds, the anxiety of
breathing is gone and the rhythm starts to come together. They don't need instruction
or permission. Kids are kids. Drums are irresistible. This is no ordinary music
class. In fact, learning rhythmic skills has nothing to do with the purpose
of this program. These kids are meeting at the Mind-Body Wellness Center in
Meadville, Pennsylvania for the Empower Asthma Manage-ment program. With a current
rise in incidence of 160% in young children, asthma is costly, scary, and life-threatening.
The Empower program offers kids a fun approach to learning to cope with their
asthma. Under the direction of Bittman, the program uses drums and recorders
to teach kids better breathing skills. "We wanted to offer a program that
tapped into the power of music to make learning more enjoyable and offer a means
Bittman explains. "Drumming is such a wonderful quick-start activity that everyone can do immediately."
Percussion's Contibution to the Wellness Movement
The drum plays a unique and key role in enabling people to experience the
health benefits of recreational music-making. There is a reason why drum-ming
has been an ancient tool of community health in cultures from Africa, Egypt,
Brazil, and Cuba. In the Native American culture of the United States, the drum
plays a significant role in spiritual practice, ceremony, and ritual. In modern-day
language, these key aspects of group drumming that serve both personal and community
health and wellness are as follows:
• Drumming is accessible - The drum is a user-friendly instrument that everyone can play.
• Drumming is immediate - It offers a unique learning curve with fast results.
• Drumming is inclusive - It creates a common ground for novices and experts, young and old, disabled and able-bodied.
• Drumming allows self-expression - It is a medium of non-verbal creativity.
• Drumming allows communication - across cultures, ages, and disabilities.
• Drumming releases stress - Its unique aesthetic enjoyment creates a palette for physical and emotional release.
• Drumming is a social elixir - It brings people together for an amazing experience in inspiration and connection.
Vitamin D - Vitamin Drum
Even as we understand the drum and its unique contribution to the cultural
need for quality of life and connection, it should not be mistaken as a cure.
Taking vitamins will not cure your cold. They will, however, help your system
build its defenses against its susceptibility to viruses. Drumming is not a
panacea. Even penicillin does not help every person. The drum is not like a
pill. You can't just take two and call someone in the morning. It is the process
of participation that creates change.
We are learning more about the form of group drumming and the skills of the facilitator that are most useful in the life-enhancement paradigm of music-making. The use of world percussion instruments seems to be a key.
A pharmacy exists in my mind where drums are shelved next to St. John's Wart as a homeopathic mood-enhancer. Where a directory of "rhythmic health fa-cilitators" sits on the counter at which you pick up your prescriptions. Where a pharmacist hands customers an information page listing local drum circles in the community.
The next five years will hold some amazing cultural changes as the rhythm of
percussion continues to provide a strong track for the dance of the growing
interest in health and wellness. With drumming and wellness receiving press
in such popular magazines as Discover (August 2001), First for Women Magazine
(August 27, 2001), Time (May 7, 2001), and Prevention (June 2001), it won't
be long until this movement is embraced globally.
Given the tenants of Eastern medicine, the drumming and wellness paradigm is already becoming popular in Asia. In a recent Remo tour of five Asian countries, John Fitzgerald and Ifacilitated an out-door community drum circle in the People's Republic of China. It was revolutionary. And behind the two hundred smiling faces there was a giant banner that read "Drum Circle and Music Health Workshop."
"Music health workshops" exist in every session of the Empower Asthma Management Program for those children who get to express their own rhythms while learning about their disease. They exist in the music therapy sessions where Alzheimer's patients play paddle drums and experience a quality of life that is difficult to reach from their state of illness. And they exist in the programs of rhythmical health facilitators who understand how drum circles contribute to the lives of many thirsty people looking to enhance their mind, body, and spirit through music.