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Participants Wanda Ashbrook, of Fair Lawn, and Tommy “Purple” Hayes, of Saddle Brook, dance with a drum and shakers during Richard Reiter’s Spiritual Drum Circle Workshop on Sunday, March 25, in First Congregational Church in Montclair. DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF

By DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI
tripoldi@montclairlocal.news

Both women and men lugged giant drums behind them and headed up the ramp into a church on a Sunday afternoon. Richard Reiter, who is an Emmy-award winning composer, a jazz musician and a certified music teacher, leads spiritual drum circle workshops in the sanctuary of First Congregational Church in Montclair, part of the Outpost in the Burbs series. Over a dozen people from all over New Jersey attended the March 25 drum circle. Dana McCurdy of Weehawken said he’s driven an hour and half to a drum circle.

“Things are going to happen,” says Reiter. “Honor the pulse, you honor each other.”

Spiritual drumming isn’t necessarily religious in a sense, according to Reiter.

“Something about the steady pulse – it’s a gift of the deepest thing you believe in – religious belief or nature,” he says.

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Dana McCurdy of Weehawken, left, tries out Richard Reiter’s, center, Dunun drums. DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF

He said spiritualism is different for everyone, “You could be atheist, it could be love or luck. It’s not religious, you can relate it to your religion or your other belief. The way the steady pulse can work on us is it can bring this amazing spiritual feeling of peace connective to the world and each other,” says Reiter.

Relax into the pulse, he advises. It’s not quite like dancing or tapping your feet. Drumming together is alien to most.

“The pulse is a very deep thing when we do it together. Its really something as you can get into the steady pulse it can really work on you and it could get very deep because we are doing it together, that’s the big element we do it together,” he says.

Two participants, Tommy “Purple” Hayes, of Saddle Brook, and Wanda Ashbrook, of Fair Lawn, get up and dance with a drum and shakers.

Drumming can be meditative in a way. “The joy of this experience is we are going on a little journey,” he says.

The biggest challenge is not to worry if you are any good at drumming. “It can take most people awhile to relax into just being able to drum – it’s not heavy technique. To me its a very spiritual thing it’s not about chops and techniques,” he says. “This is a drum circle and drum circles are into having fun literally, not into following some tradition. It’s just have fun with the rhythm. Do whatever you want to do, its’ a drum circle…just have a great time.”

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Reiter’s drums and other percussion instruments such as rattles, tambourines and shakers for all to use during workshops. DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Reiter brings a tub full of percussion instruments such as rattles, tambourines and shakers and an assortment of drums including kids

djembe drums and a few Meinl aluminum Darbuka drums to all his workshops for those who don’t have a drum and those wanting to try something different.

Before the group begins drumming, Reiter shows how to hit the drum for those who are new to it.

“Don’t get fooled by the size of the drum,” he says, showing the power behind a small drum.

The workshops are not just for beginners. Many in attendance have their own drums and are experienced. If something doesn’t work well, go for it anyway or try a different one, he says.

“This tends to be pulse oriented,” he says as he shows the participants how to lay down a quiet pulse and alternate hands. The drumming gets louder as he begins to move his hands around the drum. “It becomes great when you get into the pulse. When we are cooking and we are in the pulse and into this together, 45 minutes goes by and you don’t know what happened,” Reiter says. “We are just trying to keep the pulse going.“

Reiter, at times, speeds up his beat while everyone is engaged in the pulse. “One of the fun things with speeding up is it makes you deal with what’s happening,” he says.

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Richard Reiter instructs the participants in a spiritual drum circle workshop. DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF

Reiter emphasizes the drum call when he is about to end a drum session. “If you ain’t bamming [sic], you ain’t slamming,” he said.

The drum call, he explains, is a rhythm where everybody plays the same rhythm. Traditionally it is used to start drumming or change something like the tempo or beat, and to end the drumming with one great slam. “They are all playing three or four different parts, at the call they all play the same thing,” he says.

Anyone can participate in Reiter’s drum circles. They are for every age group. “The idea of age doesn’t exist in this. Just have a great time,” says Reiter.

The annual Drums From Heaven fundraiser in Saddle Brook facilitated by Haze is taking place on April 22. There will be live movement belly dancers and prizes. More information at Drums From Heaven on Facebook.

Spiritual Drumming Workshops
Sundays from 3 to 5 p.m.
Upcoming dates: April 8, May 20, June 24
Workshops are eight months a year: September-December and March-June.
Visit richardreiter.com or outpostintheburbs.org