A Story of Engagement.

I have played in an 8 person musical group called the Evergreen Club Gamelan Ensemble for about 26 years. We play these beautiful bronze pots and gongs from Java, Indonesia and perform music in a variety of styles ranging from traditional Indonesian repertoire to some very avant-garde stuff.  We’re definitely not famous by pop music standards and I am sure you haven’t heard of us, but I know you have heard us as we’ve been lucky enough to be on some Hollywood movie soundtracks.   
26 years is a long time to be with the same organization. And although there have been a few changes in personnel over the years, there is a core of us that has been with Evergreen for at least 2 decades.

Even after all these years, when I perform with this group I love it as much as the day I started. Don’t get me wrong. It has not always been easy; there have been many changes over the years, lots of challenges, disagreements, highs and lows, disputes, resolutions,  and most often acceptance. With time we have learned to work with each others pluses and not worry about our minuses. We have come to terms with who we are along with all that entails.

I know what has kept us together is simply that what we achieve together as a group can’t be found anywhere else, and that what we do for each other helps us each  be better at our craft. We are not all best friends, but we have had lots of conversations, lots of meals on the road, lots of shared experiences. It is safe to say that we all have the deepest respect for each other, combined with the confidence that we will each perform at our highest level when need be. That just can’t be beat

All these factors contribute to what I call being engaged. It’s a big word for me. It encompasses how I act with this group no matter what we are doing.  It’s how we all act. Whether it is in a meeting about business issues, in a rehearsal or on stage. This attitude of being engaged  doesn’t go away for the others or me.  It is always there because we have the end in mind – to put on great concert performances. I know that when this bunch of disparate individuals is on stage doing what they do best, it’s going sound and feel fantastic. Selfishly, it truly satisfies my “what’s in it for me” to play music at the highest level with others. A key factor in being engaged.

I realize not everyone gets to experience engagement  the way I have. I have been very fortunate to experience this, maybe you have been this fortunate as well. But good fortune aside there has been a lot of learning along the way, a lot of personal growth, a lot of realizing my  abilities and coming to terms with my limitations. My biggest realization going back many years now is that if I support others (musically and otherwise) in this group I can always satisfy my “what’s in it for me”.

When companies ask me to address this idea of engagement with their teams, this experience is what I draw from. Words can’t fully explain what engagement really is. It is hard to sum up all the steps one needs to take, what one needs to go through to be engaged. I like to let people feel it, to live it. When their they’re done playing, they cheer, they pat each other on the back, talk about what worked, and perhaps joke about the things didn’t go as planned (much like Evergreen does each time we come off-stage after a concert). But no matter what they have now all felt what it is like to be truly engaged.

Yes, engagement is a feeling, a powerful feeling, perhaps even a state of being, yet one that is under the surface. It is usually not proud or showy. It comes in varying intensities although it can always be seen if you look for it. It shows up in simple ways and often through simple actions but can tackle the most complex tasks. Perhaps if you look around your office now you can see it in action. Once you’ve got it, it propels all your actions in all the tasks you need to do to get the job done.

Some people for whatever reason get that right away. Others need to get to know it over time. But the best way to understand it is to experience it with your team and think about what it did for your team and what it did for you. You need to take a moment and think about how it all came together. Once you’ve got that figured out, you can bring that with you when and wherever you need to.

Let’s get drumming!


The EGC in rehearsal with Violist Douglas Perry at Koerner Hall Toronto 2013

The EGC in rehearsal with Violist Douglas Perry at Koerner Hall Toronto 2013


Drum circles – a model for surviving change.

Drum circles are filled with enthusiastic people who want to connect and play together. These players seek the rhythmic unity that can only be found through good listening, cooperation and respectful negotiation. Once the players have all those things, bliss happens… a pulsating groove so strong you can’t help but be pulled into it. A groove that reaches down into your soul and massages it.

Thing is no matter how good that groove sounds and feels no group will play the same groove forever. Change is inevitable.

The change maybe started by one person who innocently stops or alters their pattern. This is often followed in turn by others doing the same. This results in an organic shift of the pulse. Alternatively, change may occur because of a player deliberately wanting to mix things up by forcing a new speed or feel on the group. Never-the-less, the result is the same. There is a period of uncertainty in progress. The pulse is in flux, things don’t sound or feel quite right. Confusion reigns, at least for a little while.

When this happens it can be hard for some players to know what to do. They can be scared because they don’t know what’s coming. What they were holding onto is now gone. They can’t find the pulse anymore. It’s is now a moving target and no one really knows where its going to end up. This is change in action.

What can you do to survive this? One approach is to stop playing. This is risky because if everyone did that the piece would die. Another is to simplify what your doing and drop down in the mix. You cut down on the confusion so you can hear what you can grab onto but you’re still hanging on. Changes like this are also a wonderful opportunity for others to step up and take the lead, maybe even you.

This common drum circle occurrence reminds me a lot of life in general. We all love to be in the groove, be it at home, at work or play. But change is inevitable and yes, it can confuse us and challenge us. However, if we have a positive attitude, listen and pay attention, we can come out on the other side even better and stronger than we were before, right into the next groove. Let’s get drumming!



Drum circles help teams unify and transform!

Have a look as this team of managers from a Pharma company go from learning to play a drum to being able to improvise freely. This group of players came to each session with an open mind and a willingness to put themselves out there. You can almost see them becoming more unified with each note. The drumming sessions were cleverly positioned to close out and summarize each half day business session at a 2 1/2 day retreat. It also helps when the CEO takes things to a whole new level.   Let’s get drumming!

Everybody play!

One of my favourite team moments is when I leave the middle of a drum circle I am leading. I do this when I am sure each player has found their own inner rhythm. My leaving heightens their senses, causes their ears to work even better and opens the doors to infinite possibilities. Because believing that YOU CAN is the biggest part of the battle. Let’s get drumming!


Fun and productive


There are very few things that are as intimate as making music with someone. Interestingly, the most difficult thing about it is the listening part, not the playing part.

The listening part

Go on, take a break! It’s good for you!

During an intensive business seminar you need to make it a priority to refresh your mind and your body. Nothing does that better than taking a few minutes to be creative. Look here to see what you can do with your colleagues with a few pens, glasses and water bottles. Also look at the smiles. Let’s Get Drumming!

It’s good to be humbled!

I was recently reminded of a humbling experience I had a few years ago. My colleague Ray Dillard and I had the honour of working with a group of people from the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network. They are an amazing group of individuals who face incredible challenges on a daily basis.

I wanted to assure them that I had a deep respect for Aboriginal culture and that I had a great affinity for the power of group drumming. I began my program by saying ” I want you to know that we have been playing drums for a very long time”, to which one of the participants immediately chimed in, “Good, so have we.” After a good laugh we shared one of the most memorable and deeply moving sessions I have ever experienced. It is so great when you learn while your working. Let’s get drumming!

Humbling Drumming

Playing a drum will make you smile!

Drum: an instrument you hit to make sound which results in broad smiles, feel good sensations and a more relaxed you.

Playing a drum gets your right brain going and relaxes you. It lowers your blood pressure and increases your feel good brain chemical “dopamine” . BTW – these benefits are magnified when drumming with others.

Let’s get drumming!

Personalities shine through drum circles!

A passer-by seeing and hearing a drumming circle may not give it much thought other than that it is simply music being made by drums…loud, repetitive & groovy. But if they take the time to look more closely, they will see how people think and have gain some insight into who those people are. Let’s get drumming!

Drum Persoanlities

Last week someone stole my intelligence!

Let me explain – years ago I developed a “kick-ass” Audit document that I shared with clients who were deciding on the focus of their drumming circle event. My Audit had been painstakingly prepared and was [he says with a smug smile] an exhaustive list of how a company could benefit from a drumming circle.

Well this woman, person, emailed me masquerading as someone, as an HR person from a company I know… I sent the document in good faith and POOF – she vanishes, turns out she has never worked for the organization she mentioned and I can only guess that she can’t wait to use my audit for her own purposes.
So I’ve decided to share my Audit with you, right here, right now.
If you are interested in knowing how I can focus your drumming circle – download my PDF below.

Let’s get drumming!

Click link to view PDF – What Do You Need to Help Your Team Move to Different Beat?


Playing in a drum circle demonstrates your personality and how you will work with your colleagues back at the office.

For years people have been interested in learning about personality types and how they interact.

One way to learn about each other is to improvise music together in a drumming circle. In an improvised piece, the group creates a sustained piece of music together where every person plays whatever patterns (rhythms) they like and can change patterns whenever they wish.

This might sound like a recipe for certain chaos however with the right preliminary exercises, any group can achieve this. The constant is that peoples’ personalities will always dictate what and how they play.

An improvised piece will go through cycles. This cycle consists of sections of rhythmic stability (groove) and transition points. The lengths of these sections are unpredictable and subject to many variables.  Some transitions can be subtle while others not so much.  This is wonderful to experience and great to learn from.

I have spent some time thinking about how Myers-Briggs personality profiles could translate to how people will drum in an improvised piece and have come up with the following results shown below.

While I have not formally tested and chronicled my observation, based on 25 years drumming with literally thousands of people – I can say with great certainty – that personality types emerge and intertwine in ways that follow Myers-Briggs profiles. Finding your place and achieving synchronicity in a group is a powerful proposition.

Let’s get drumming!

How your personlity makes you drum - Overview

How your personality makes you drum - detail

Drum circles welcome risk takers.

Drum circles are a place for risk takers, a place for those willing to try something different.

Are you someone who likes to try things you haven’t done before? Who are those people? It seems they also manage to smile no matter what is asked of them? Are you lucky enough to know someone like that? I met one such person not so long ago. She had never played a drum before in her life yet while playing she taught me many things.

Great Attitude

If you are having fun then keep playing, no matter what!

This week I am enjoying the pleasure of introducing drumming to some Gr. 7 & 8’s. It’s so interesting. So revitalizing!

There is absolutely no resistance. They only have the constant desire to play. I cannot fault them as they sit impatiently on the edge of their chairs waiting for me to give permission for them to get a drum. I cannot fault them as they explode out of their chair like door-crashing Black Friday shoppers to grab the one they’ve been eying. I cannot fault them for having trouble stopping their drumming when I need to speak. They embrace the drums. They love every little tap they create.

They don’t really notice ( or perhaps care) that they are also involved in cooperation, respect, leadership, negotiation, and creativity. They are just having fun. Meanwhile their brains soak up how physics, history, geography and mathematics and life are all a part of drumming. They do notice that everyone in the class needs to be totally engaged for our creations to be their best. They don’t let anyone off the hook.

Yesterday I had to thank them, for they reminded me of things that I have taken for granted about playing a drum. They reminded me about what it is to play without inhibition. They reminded me about how great drumming is when you play with people who really love to play even though they don’t know how.

They reminded me of the pure joy we all had for making music before someone cast an opinion on our level of talent, and neutralized our desire.

My advice to these students: if you are having fun then keep playing, no matter what!

Let’s get drumming!

A great place to work together

Imagine a place where people come together to produce a great outcome.

These people are a diverse group from different backgrounds. They are a mix of personality profiles. They have a range of skills and talents. They each have different tasks to accomplish. To produce their outcome, their roles must be intertwined seamlessly, efficiently and flawlessly. They must constantly assess how they are doing. They must keep watch on the outcome. They must be able to make changes on the fly. Their success, or failure, will be immediately obvious to themselves and observers. The beauty is, that when it all comes together, everyone knows it. When it’s all clicking, everyone is smiling and having fun. It feels magical and euphoric. These people can’t help but feel an incredible sense of joy and accomplishment. They wish this feeling, this outcome, could last forever.


Welcome to the Drum Circle: a great place to work together.

Let’s get drumming!

BOOMDrumming teamwork in progress

Inside Corporate Drum Circles – respect through listening!

Respect is inherent when you drum with another person. Your ears must be open. Without words you are saying, “let’s build something together”.

Drum Circles showcase diversity and inclusion!

With a little bit of coordination, and some listening, and some appreciation of the sounds around you, you can make music. and that is very similar to when you create a culture of inclusion, where you really leverage the diversity of people.

Drum Circle group with a “CAN DO” attitude!

At first glance you might think this is just an ordinary group of people, but they are very inspiring to me. They are all people who run their own businesses, accompanied here by the spouses, who undoubtedly act in a supporting or partnership role. They are open minded and fully engaged. They show an incredible “can do” attitude. Watch as they listen, let the rhythm inside them and then make something magical happen. Just incredible! Let’s get drumming!

Drum circles blend traditions together!

Like people, drums come from all over the world. It is no surprise that when you travel, it is so common to see or hear one. It is also no surprise that when we hear one, we want to move to its beat. The less inhibited around us simply can’t help it. Everyone (even those who claim to have “no rhythm”) have a close relationship to a beat.

Also like all of us, every drum has a tradition, a deep history that links them with their culture, their ancestors and their ways of doing things. Most drums have a traditional repertoire that was created for specific purposes, be it to prepare for battle, celebrate the harvest or tell an epic tale. Drumming was originally about telling a story.

It is beautiful to see someone playing a drum for the first time. They smile as they revel in its excitement, they get pulled in by its voice and feel its incredible power to push negativity from the soul. The feeling is much like meeting someone new: you know you like them, but you don’t really know why. It just feels good to be with them. Later you learn you like them because of who they are, their traditions, their way of doing things and how they make YOU feel.

The drum circle has evolved naturally, as has our society. It is a medium where rich and deep traditions are blended together to create something new, something that represents us in our present cultural melange. The drum circle allows us to create new stories and new traditions.

This is wonderful, but we must never forget to take the time to learn about and honour the traditions that made each of us who we are. That knowledge will make what we play and do together even stronger. Let’s get drumming!

Drum Circles create joy and blend traditions

One note or many, they all matter!

These people have discovered the essence of team work. Each person is listening and using their unique ability to contribute a key part of the overall piece. One note or many, they all matter!

Are you a loud foundational drum?

Which of these drum ‘qualities’ best represents YOUR personality?

Surdo lg Strong, steady and unwavering.

Surdo - A large Brazilian drum played with a soft mallet. It plays simple bass parts that are extremely important to the group foundation.

Djembe Loud, aggressive, and busy. Loves the spotlight.

Djembe – a goblet drum played with bare hands, originally from West Africa. It often plays very fast impressive solos that light up a room.


Leader, complex, malleable, uses a soft confident approach.

Darbuka -is a single head drum  with a goblet shaped body used mostly in the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe.

Bodhran A great supporter and improviser within given frameworks.

The Bodhran – an ancient Irish drum played mostly with a stick ( tipper).

Tambourim Loud, repetitive and motivating.

The Tambourim – a small, round Brazilian frame drum of Portuguese and African origin. It is played with a stick and is very high pitched.


What kinds of drum [personalities] do you have on your team?

If you give an introvert a big drum you’ll hear them better and if you give an extravert a more subtle drum – the tone of their delivery could be more effective.

The best way, I know, to assorting communications styles for optimum outcomes in a group is through a drumming circle.

Let’s get drumming!

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