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Drumming up a connection

Last Modified: February 15, 2019

Heart Health, Generosity Heals

The song begins with a tap, then a tick-tock, then a thud, then a rattle and swish. The disjointed sounds somehow find each other and begin to dance. The volume swells until the noise coats the walls and pours down the hallways in both directions and all around.

The playful tones are the rich voices of Parkview healing artist Beth Fenstermacher’s personal percussion collection. She brought the assortment of instruments to the Parkview Heart Institute for an open drum circle.

Jill Zahm, MSN, RN, AHN-BC, program coordinator, Parkview Heart Institute (PHI), organized the event for community and staff, as an innovative wink to Valentine’s Day. As the participants took their seats and chose their drums, Jill shared “I wanted to celebrate and thank our hearts for beating every day.”

“I love that,” Beth added. “I think we’re so drawn to and soothed by the drum because it reminds us of the first sound we heard in the womb, the heartbeat.”

Beth has been with the Healing Arts program since it began at Parkview. She’s been drumming for more than 17 years. “I discovered this passion when my daughter Sadie was little. I was just so drawn to it, particularly in a community setting.” She regularly visits patients’ rooms and plays her instruments quietly in an effort to sooth and comfort them. “You wouldn’t believe the reactions I get, from patients young and old. The drum speaks to us,” Beth said.

For this special circle, Sadie, now 20, joined her mother, along with several Parkview Heart Institute coworkers, Karen, a patient who left PHI just six weeks ago, and the patient’s friend. The exercise began when Beth’s palms and wrists connected with the drum in front of her. After a short delay, moved by a rhythmic instinct, the others began to give their instruments life, tapping and pounding with a timid, childlike energy.

Beth’s only intent was for participants to explore and play, rather than focus on technique. “You’ll find it,” she said, “there will be a pulse.” And so there was. Each time the music stopped and then started again, the independent souls sitting in the circle, their whims, their disordered preferences would eventually meld into a harmonious arrangement, held together by a common melodic thread.

“We’ve never played together before, and yet we’ve made music,” Beth said. “I think that says something about us, about humanity.” She compares these sessions to a piece of art created with sidewalk chalk. Eventually the rain will come and wash it away, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful while it lasted.

People walked past. Some stepped closer with curiosity. Others quickened their steps, unsure what the gathering meant. But mostly people smiled. An Environmental Services coworker jumped in for a song and quickened the cadence. A patient on his way to an appointment sat down and immediately eased into his talents, punctuating the tentative pace. Eventually, he shared that he’s played the drums for years. “Thank you, people,” he said, as he checked his watch. No names were necessary to join this band, and off he went for his checkup.

With each thud, each clank, each subtle vibration between their hands and the sound, reservations melted away, replaced by unbridled joy and connectivity. Occasionally, Beth would guide the circle to pause, take a breath and check in with themselves. And when they did, it was there – that beat, that pulse. It was wild by nature but exact in its purpose, like a controlled fire, lighting up the room. The drum circle was a celebration, of life and humanity and following the rhythm of your heart.


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