Should Your Company Have a Drum Circle?
Back in September of 2011, about a week after its first encampment had been set up at the now legendary Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, I got my first glimpse of Occupy Wall Street.
I showed up with a camera on a warm and overcast Tuesday afternoon, wanting to see what exactly was going on, and maybe take a few good shots along the way.
What I found was hard to describe. There were perhaps between 80 and 100 people there at the time and, quite frankly, there wasn’t much going on at all.
Sure, some people were drawing signs which they displayed along the north side of the park; a few others were tapping away at laptops in a "media" section; in the center of the park there appeared to be a makeshift kitchen; one youth sat beside a small flower garden gently thumping on a small drum.
But for the most part, the people at Zuccotti—who spanned a wide range of ages and types— just seemed to be milling about and chatting quietly, peacefully enjoying an early autumn afternoon.
I was expecting something harsher and louder. Chants. Protest songs. Fist-waving against the Power of the Corporate State.
But instead, I found something that I can only characterize as idyllic.
When I returned home later that afternoon, I recall mentioning to my wife that I didn’t quite know exactly what it was that I had just experienced, but it felt good, and I planned on going back the next day.
And so I did— this time armed with my tenor saxophone.
See, along with my work as a corporate filmmaker and storyteller, I am also a jazz musician.
I usually start my days with an hour or so of practice. So rather than do it at home, I figured I’d play down at Zuccotti. After all, I had just finished up a series of intense film projects and was planning to take a little time off.
When I arrived at the park at about mid-morning on Wednesday, it was a bit more crowded than the previous afternoon. There was also a new set of characters: the drummers.
By mid-day I was jamming with a small group of them on the south side of Zuccotti, in the shadow of Ground Zero. A much larger group of tourists, business people and Occupiers were standing before us and around us.
Many were clapping along. Some were dancing. All were smiling.
I was having the time of my life, and enjoying a musical experience like none other.
Not to say it didn’t have its frustrations. Some of the drummers with little or no musical experience had difficulty holding a steady beat, which made playing along with them quite uncomfortable. But I quickly learned to lock in to the one or two more seasoned players, whose time was strong and steady, and improvise over their solid groove.
As one of those superb musicians later explained: "David, don’t worry if it’s a little sloppy. This is not about performance. It’s about unity."
What a remarkably different approach to music making from what I was used to.
It was not about playing correctly, or inventively, or even beautifully. All that mattered here was communicating with other people and creating a sense of community.
And it worked. Throughout the weeks and months that followed, in which I played regularly in the early evening with the drum circle, we’d always be surrounded by a large and diverse group of people who spontaneously joined in our music making in whatever way they could.
And when we’d finish, all of us---who often just minutes earlier were complete strangers---would shake hands, give ourselves a round of applause and enjoy what I can only call a healthy and wholesome sense of fellowship.
Talk about team building.
I could only ask myself why more people don’t do this more often. And in particular, why companies don’t use drum circles to foster a sense of common purpose and good will.
After all, you don’t need much musical experience to participate. Just one or two drummers who have played in rock or marching bands would be enough to keep things on track. Moreover, the investment in drums, maracas and claves is rather small. And clapping along doesn’t cost a thing.
I admit that noise could be an issue, but if the drum circles were scheduled after hours, let’s say in your parking lot, or a factory floor, or in a nearby park, you could probably work around it or at least find an activity that is a quieter equivalent.
The key thing to remember is that the benefits are amazing and immediate.
I have never seen a simpler or more efficient way to bring people together.
As I write this, now many months after I first stepped into Zuccotti Park, I’m still not quite sure what Occupy Wall Street really is.
A political movement? A social movement? A fad?
But I’ve learned one thing for sure.
A lot of good can happen if you just make a little noise.