GREENFIELD — Justin Grode reaches enthusiastically for the drumsticks. He cannot form the words to express what is welling up inside him, but the smile that spreads across his face speaks volumes.
It is time for the drum circle, and he is ready. His joy overflows.
Twice a month, a group of enthusiastic drummers gathers at Trinity Park United Methodist Church to make music.
From a musician’s perspective, it is an imperfect hour; errant drum-beats echo off the walls as carelessly as the laughter. The correct tempo is anyone’s guess, but it’s not the point, anyway.
The drum circle is a place without judgment. It is a place where people like Grode, who is developmentally disabled, can come together and express themselves.
Angel Yager of Greenfield has been leading the drum circle at Trinity Park since November.
The hour-long sessions are offered through The Arc of Hancock County, a nonprofit organization that advocates and supports programming for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Yager attended her first drum circle seven years ago on a whim. It was offered at a yoga studio as a therapeutic exercise, and she remembers being instantly hooked. The drumbeats calm the nerves and focus the senses.
“I’ve been drumming ever since,” she said.
At the time, Yager was serving as an assistant in Susan Geesa’s special education classroom.
Yager shared her experience with drumming with Geesa, who recognized that a drum circle could be tailored to those with disabilities.
“In the classroom, the students always love music,” said Geesa, who retired last year after more than 30 years in special education. “They love rhythm, they love rhythm instruments.”
Geesa reached out to Yager after attending a meeting of The Arc last fall because board members were discussing the need for more arts-based programming.
“I couldn’t wait to talk to her about it,” Geesa said. “It was a perfect match.”
Now, Geesa and Yager, along with Yager’s brother-in-law, Chris Wohl, lead the drum circle together.
One of them leads the drummers in a call-and-response exercise, for example, while the others help the amateur musicians keep the beat.
The drum circle allows participants to express themselves while creating a sense of connectedness with those around them.
The rhythmic beats relieve stress and lessen anxiety, Yager said.
And drumming doesn’t require a special skill set, making it perfectly suited for those with disabilities, she said.
“As far as focus, developing coordination, you don’t have to have rhythm,” Yager said. “The drum circle takes on a life of its own, and it will come to you. And it does.”
Of course, not everyone believes her when she first tries to explain the circle’s magic.
“One of the fellows (on The Arc board) asked, ‘What if they can’t play a drum?’” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Let them come experience it. If you provide the opportunity for them, they are able to participate.”
Each participant responds differently to the drum circle, but the reception is always positive, said Dennis Porter, executive director of The Arc.
“The music is a therapy,” Porter said. “It’s a lot of fun. It relaxes them.”
Ted Kukulka and his wife, Karen, travel from Shelbyville to participate in the drum circle.
During a recent session, Kukulka grabbed a bell to add to the myriad of sounds filling the room. His wife tapped on a drum beside him.
Kukulka said he considers the drum circle group therapy. His wife agreed.
“I like relaxing in it and beating to the drums and sticks and stuff like that and stepping our feet to the groove,” she said.
Each week, it gets a little easier to pick up the rhythms, Kukulka said.
“We’re getting good at it,” he said.
“That’s what I was thinking,” his wife echoed.
Some of the drum circle’s participants were apprehensive at first, perhaps unsure of being encouraged to make noise.
Today, they eagerly volunteer to pound out the rhythms and occasionally lead the group in an exercise.
“We’ve just seen so much improvement in their attention span and their rhythm,” Geesa said. “It’s so wonderful to find something they can actually do themselves.”