Drumming circle invites others to join the rhythm

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A summer drumming circle, organized through The Left Bank Shop and Gallery, has been meeting in McGregor’s Triangle Park on Saturday evenings since July 9. Sessions will continue on Saturdays, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., through Aug. 27. Everyone is welcome to bring a chair and an instrument and join the rhythm. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


 A McGregor visitor stands at the edge of Triangle Park, watching intently and nodding along as a group—gathered in a circle—taps out rhythms on their African djembe drums. Another participant shakes a rattle, while one flips a rain stick up, then down, adding a new layer to the natural sounds resonating downtown.


“You don’t see something like this every day,” said the individual.


For organizer Sally Marshall, that’s the point.


“My goal in life is opening people’s eyes. When you’re an artist, you’re always doing that,” she said. “I love it.”


Marshall and the summer drumming circle have been in Triangle Park every Saturday evening since July 9, and they’ll continue to hold sessions through Aug. 27. The event, now in its second year, is sponsored by McGregor’s Left Bank Shop Gallery, in an effort to showcase a variety of art forms.


“We’re looking for all different art forms. Not just visual, but things like poetry. And drumming becomes part of that,” Marshall said.


Marshall has exhibited her paintings at the gallery for the past five years and currently serves on the art center board. When the board expressed a desire for new summertime activities, she presented the idea. In addition to being an artist, Marshall had been drumming with a group of women for around five years.


She met two of her fellow drummers while teaching a tai chi class in Prairie du Chien.


“They were talking about drumming, and my ears perked up,” Marshall recalled. “I had two djembe drums.”


They were able to connect with an instructor who shared different hand movements for “African drumming for the western world” and taught them how to coordinate in a circle.


It wasn’t as intimidating as some might think, said Marshall.


“There are all kinds of rhythms you can do with just three basic positions,” she explained. Instructions “are arranged like a music score would be, but it has the positions.”


Over time, the group continued to grow. Marshall said five members now meet regularly, even during the winter. 


They’re called the Village Women Drummers, which she said is fitting. Traditionally, African village women gather and drum together.


“We’re very casual. We don’t conduct it like a class,” Marshall shared. “We’re to the point where we do a little improv, but most of the time we play the rhythms we’ve learned.”


She said the group has been especially meaningful during the pandemic.


“It keep you mentally sharp and it’s good for mental wellbeing. It’s also a wonderful workout for your hands and arms, and is good for coordination,” Marshall remarked. “We drum and we drum and we drum. It’s a wonderful connection.”


Marshall invites others to join the djembe drummers in Triangle Park for an evening of playing rhythms together. Participants can bring any suitable instruments such as native drums, wooden flutes, rattles, brass bells, tambourines, rain sticks or anything that makes a natural sound. 


“There are all kinds of different instruments you can use. Just not electronic, so we can all hear each other play,” she said.


For those who don’t have their own instruments, some small drums are available and Marshall has a tambourine and rain stick. 


It won’t be too difficult to mesh with the group, she assured.


“Once you hear the rhythm, you naturally fall into place,” Marshall said. “A lot of people have drums, but don’t know how to play, so we invite you to come and join and get in on the rhythm.”


She said drumming in McGregor’s Triangle Park makes for a fun setting. Kids are welcome to attend, and often love dancing along to the rhythms.


“I love being at the gallery and I love McGregor. There’s a lot of positive energy there,” Marshall said.


The summer drumming circle will continue on Saturday evenings, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., through Aug. 27. Marshall said she’s also planning a drumming workshop at The Left Bank this winter.

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