Awaken Your Rhythm with Christine Stevens

Interview with Christine Stevens by Phil Bolsta


Welcome, Christine. Thank you for joining us, although we're really joining you because we're in your home.

Welcome, yes.

Allow me to introduce you. Christine Stevens, a Musical Ambassador of Peace, is the founder of Upbeat Drum Circles, the author of  Music Medicine, the audio The Healing Drum Learning Program, and the poetry collection, The Nature Sutras.

Yes, coming soon. I'm excited.

Christine's Shift Network course, Awaken Your Rhythm, attracted more than 600 participants from 32 countries. Christine, I understand you'd like to start with a demonstration.

So take it away.

Thank you. Here we go.

This is the bass drum. It anchors the pulse. It sets the pulse. It's like the mother beat. It's also lots of vibration. I can put it over my body for a drum massage. That feels good.

And now let me play another drum, the body drum or the shell drums, the djembe, darabukas, African and Egyptian and Middle Eastern drums, so enjoy a little groove on the metal drum. So that gives us the groove… and it’s a lot of fun to play these.

Then the last drum that I want to talk about is a frame drum. This drum is believed to be invented by women from the grain sieve. It's one of the oldest drums, and often being used for meditation now.

And I want to play for you on a larger frame drum so you can really hear the resonance of this incredible ancient drum.

So what happens when you hear a drum? It engages our bodies. It's a driver of the motor system actually, scientifically speaking. It creates entrainment. We move to a beat. We walk and talk... and everything in our bodies, our physiology is about entrainment. We sleep and wake to the entrainment of light. So the drum is a call.

I think it shows up in people's lives when they're transforming. It sure did in my life. I mean, I didn't even think I could play the drums. I almost failed percussion in college, which is so ironic because I just couldn't play the sticking and read the music, but when I put my hands on a drum, wow. I discovered that I had this rhythm that couldn't wait to come out, and it gets you out of the head. I mean, when you were listening to me play, how much did you think? Didn't you feel captivated?

One thing about drumming is it is a form of active meditation, and the idea of drumming for healing, for spirituality, personal growth... I really believe that drumming is an evolutionary driver, and the reason so many people are interested in drumming, and we saw this in our Awaken Your Rhythm class, is that we are transforming as a species, and the drum brings us together beyond language. It really is a tool to create joy, connection. It's a bridge to the spirit realm, and it can also be a grounding force in your life and a tool of meditation.

I remember one time when I was teaching in a bookstore, an older woman came up to me at the end of the class and she said, "Listen, I always wanted to play the drum, but when I was a kid, they made me play the flute,\." It used to be that way — the girls played the flutes or the clarinets. She said, "My whole life I wanted to play a drum, and today at 80 years old, I'm starting." It's never too late. It's never too late. So I hope you'll enjoy picking up a drum and engage in using it in your life and your spiritual practice, in a practice, a tool for groups...

There are drum circles all over the place, all over the world. I just got back from teaching in Scotland. I had people from seven countries come together to work on facilitating drum circles, and I can tell you it's a real global movement. Probably the West is a little behind. We don't live in a rhythmic culture, but a lot of the world is singing and dancing and drumming, and it's just part of an ongoing practice of wellness.

So I invite you to connect to your heartbeat, connect to that inner drum that we all have. And maybe I'll just close with a little meditation for you. If you just take a breath, always begin with a breath, and put your hand on your heart. And just know that inside is really the beginning of this rhythm connection we all have. It's the heart. It's the common heartbeat. There's a lot of different ways to play the heartbeat in different cultures, but I like to play it kind of biologically... lub dub, lub dub... so we feel into that heartbeat.

Just take a breath, relax, reconnect with the heart. You are an instrument. You are alive. You are awake. You are moved by music. Listen to what your heart is saying, is feeling. Notice how irresistible it is to move. When the beat starts, we start swaying, bobbing our heads. It's a good thing. It's a full-body rhythmic experience. And as the music fades, know that that inner drumbeat, that place of home in your heart, it's always beating, supporting you, connecting you to love and light always. Thank you. Happy drumming.

Christine, that was a great demonstration. I haven't played the drums before, and I immediately thought, wow, the term “resonate” is an understatement, because I felt it throughout my whole body, and like you said, it was hard not to move. You just give in to it. It was great. I do have a few questions for you. One is, what does drumming do for personal awakening and transformation? You touched on that a bit, but can you speak to that more?

Absolutely. I loved your comment. I do feel like the drum is a magnetic energy and it pulls you in. It affects you, and it happened for me as well. The reason I got into drumming is I heard a group drum circle. I wasn't even scheduled to be in it. I was just walking down a hall and I heard it, and I went in and I stayed for five hours. It was just meant to be... how you get called into a path you didn't expect?

So I think there's a few things that have to do with our journey in personal growth and spirituality. One thing is the drum gets us out of our head. Rhythm is defined as the element of music pertaining to forward motion, and I find that sometimes we get comfortable, we get stuck, and we want to transform. Transform really means like the butterfly out of the cocoon. It's really how do we shift, like the big bang. I mean, how do we shift?

The drum historically has such deep spiritual roots. I mean, it's multicultural... it's very rooted in spiritual practice, shamans or ceremonies or the temples of nature, the rhythms of nature... It's a tool for us to reconnect to something that's our birthright. It's in our DNA. It's our humanity remembering how to use this for our spiritual path... to be more playful, I think, for one thing. I mean, sometimes we take ourselves way too seriously.

The thing about the drum is it also connects us. So a lot of times we have inner practice, like meditation. I drum for my meditation practice. I drum a bit, I use the frame drum, and then I sit in silence, and so I love the polarity of rhythm and silence, or movement and stillness. It also helps the connection to others. It also helps that sense of playfulness... creativity... I think we're just starving for creativity.

When I learned piano, there was 88 keys, and that meant 87 possible mistakes, and the drum is this one note. I mean, there's a few different notes you can play, but it's much easier to acquire skills on the drum immediately compared to learning piano or violin. So I think as an accessible tool to musical expression, it's powerful.

The last thing I want to say about that is, I love to talk about it as a spiritual practice, but there's also science. You talk about how much we've seen scientifically that listening to music does not change biology — it changes when we play an instrument. Most of us have instrumentophobia; we're afraid to touch an instrument. All those survivors of piano lessons out there, you know what I mean. So the drum becomes this tool for remembering how good it feels to be part of the music, and that's a beautiful thing.

Do you have any other tips or guidance for how people can use drumming for personal practice?

Yes. I think it's a great tool for greeting the day, for drumming your power song, a song or a chant that you love. It's a great tool to take with you into nature and to bring with you into gatherings. A lot of us who are part of this movement are leading others or leading gatherings or ceremonies, and you may haven't thought of yourself as a drummer, but I think bringing a drumbeat into any ceremony or any gathering really shifts the energy... involves that participation. Even if people close their eyes and enjoy that drum, they just land into the experience more immediately. It's a real quickening.

What are the keys to drumming for healing and peacemaking?

Good question. So, when I worked in northern Iraq for this peace project that I did, bringing together Kurds and Arabs and different warring tribes that spoke three different languages, you can imagine… What I found was that the reason the drum worked is because when we play songs and we have language barriers, we have different kinds of music, the drum was a common denominator, shockingly. No matter whether you spoke Kurdish or Arabic, or you were Sunni or Shia, the rhythms were the same. Amazing. Everybody said [drum sounds]... and they just look at each other like, wow. The language of the drum all across the Middle East is the same.

I'm going to get a chance to work with Palestinian and Israeli kids here in Carlsbad in July, next month, and it's the same experience. They're like, "Wow, the rhythms are the same. Even though we're in a situation of being at war, that beat is the same." So I think it's a real transformation for peace.

In my own life, I've definitely experienced it as peacemaking in my family. We've had a lot of conflict, and every time we get together for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, they say, "Aunt Tina's here. We're going to have the drum circle." And I get out the drums and we have three generations drumming together. It's beautiful. And now the children, the third generation, they're the leaders. They get in the middle and they tell us... they conduct us.

I think that the key though for healing has to do with this vibration of the drum that you feel on your body when you play, and it's also the feeling that you can shift your energy. If I need to release anger, I can put it on the drum. The drum can take it. If I want to be more uplifted, I play faster. If I want to be more grounded and centered, I slow down, I mean, that rhythmical tempo-changing of life that we're so familiar with... Maybe our culture is really fast, I want to practice drumming a little slower. It's just a modulation of emotion and rhythms... that the healing qualities are so massive.

I mean, there's so many aspects of drumming that create healing to me. The grounding, the creativity, the bridge to the sacred, the relationship building, but probably for me in a personal practice, it's the meditation. When I drum, I don't think. I'm just inside this creative expression and it hooks me in a good way. It's a mantra. It's a rhythm mantra.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us today, Christine. That was wonderful, and sharing your drumming, of course too. I really enjoyed that.

Thank you. My pleasure.

Christine Stevens is an internationally acclaimed speaker, author, and music therapist. Holding master’s degrees in both social work and music therapy, Christine inspires people all over the world with her message that music promotes holistic health, spirituality, and wellness. Christine taught her Awaken Your Rhythm course to over 600 students from 30 countries previously this year with the Shift Network.

Christine is the author of Music Medicine: The Science and Spirit of Healing Yourself with Sound... The Healing Drum Kit... and The Art and Heart of Drum Circles book and DVD. She’s recorded two play-along CDs, Reviving Rhythms and Drumming Up Diva.

Christine is the founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, offering diversity training, team building, and wellness presentations worldwide. She’s trained facilitators and led workshops in more than 20 countries, including Iraq, Hong Kong, Brazil, South Africa, Japan, and Western Europe. Christine trains HealthRHYTHMS facilitators throughout the United States, England, and Japan through Remo, the world’s largest drum company. A leader in the music and wellness movement, Christine also serves on the editorial board of Explore: A Journal of Science and Healing.

Christine’s work in Iraq was featured in the book and DVD Discover the Gift. Televised media credits include PBS, NBC, KABC-Los Angeles, KTLA–Los Angeles, Tournament of Roses Parade, London Tonight, Living Better TV, Discovery Health, and Hong Kong News. As a contributing writer, Christine’s work has been featured in Fitness magazine, Spirituality & Health, Body & Soul, Fast Company, First for Women Magazine, The Oriental News, The Christian Science Monitor, US News & World Report, Yogi Times, and Natural Beauty and Health.

Click here to visit Christine’s website.

Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.

This article appears in: 2019 Catalyst, Issue 16: Kindness