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Chill on the beach, bang on the drum

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image Jurgen Wochnik, manager of the Sunset Grill at Little Harbor, will hold a weekly sunset drum circle beginning this Sunday on the beach at the resort. Photo Mitch Traphagen

A free beach sunset drum circle to begin on Sunday at Little Harbor

Perhaps a day should not end in silence; particularly a day that marks the end of a weekend. Imagine sitting on a white sand beach watching the sun sink into Tampa Bay and hearing a drum, beating slowly at first, followed by another and then another. And then you join in, matching the rhythm of friends and strangers alike in heralding the end of a beautiful Sunday in paradise. It could inspire a feeling of connectedness, to the day, to the others around you. It could also be much more than that. It could make a difference in your life.

Beginning on Sunday, April 6, just before sunset, Jurgen Wochnik, manager of the Sunset Grill at Little Harbor in Ruskin, will hold a weekly drum circle on the beach at the resort. The drum circle is free of charge and is open to everyone, regardless of whether you have a drum (or even something that could be used as a drum).   That means people of all ages, families and even dancers are welcome to attend. There is no skill level required to be a drum circle drummer; beginners are welcome.

Mickey Hart spent nearly 30 years as a drummer for the legendary rock band the Grateful Dead. To Hart, drumming and rhythm has long been more than a vocation or a paycheck. According to him, rhythm is life.

In 1991, Hart provided testimony before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, saying: “People gather to drum in drum ‘circles’ with others from the surrounding community. The drum circle offers equality because there is no head or tail. It includes people of all ages. The main objective is to share rhythm and get in tune with each other and themselves. To form a group consciousness. To entrain and resonate. By entrainment, I mean that a new voice, a collective voice, emerges from the group as they drum together.”

Hart is now 69 years old, and his belief in the physical and psychological value of drumming and rhythm appears to have only increased.

“It all comes down to vibration and rhythm,” Hart writes on his website. Hart has partnered with neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, to bring science to the art of drumming.

“This is about breaking the rhythm code,” Hart wrote of the collaboration with Dr. Gazzaley. “Once we know what rhythm truly does, then we’ll be able to control it, and use it medicinally for diagnostics, for health reasons. To be able to reconnect the synapses, the connections that are broken in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, that’s where we are heading.”

For Jurgen Wochnik at the Sunset Grill, the drum circle is about bringing people together in a beautiful place to have some fun, as individuals and as a community.

“The drum circle will take place just before sunset on Sunday,” Wochnik said. “Everyone is welcome to come out. People can bring their own drum, but if you don’t have a drum, come out anyway. This should be a fun thing.”

Drum circles have made their way into national parks, elementary schools, churches and even the South County senior centers. There appears to be something therapeutic, even soothing, in making music and rhythm with others, still holding the individuality of your own drum, your own sound, while joining the collective sounds of others, creating, as Mickey Hart told U.S. Senators 23 years ago, “a collective voice.”

And the experience of seeing the sun set into the bay on a white sand beach only adds to it. Perhaps such a vivid sight shouldn’t end in silence but rather in celebration, the sound merging with the artistry in the sky and on the horizon; each person their own drummer but also creating a common sound, sending off another day in paradise.

Wochnik is excited about the upcoming Sunday drum circles. He is excited to offer people something to enjoy, or perhaps an escape, in a beautiful setting. His own drum is ready; Wochnik is also a professional musician willing to help others learn.

“This will be cool, man,” he said with a warm smile. Former Grateful Dead drummer and Grammy-winning musician Mickey Hart couldn’t have said it better.

Information about Hart’s Rhythm and the Brain Project is available at www.gazzaleylab.ucsf.edu/gazzaley-hart-collaboration.html.

The Sunset Grill is available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SunsetGrillTikiBar.

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