Making it Easy at Adult Daycare Drumming
As a former teacher, I was often cast in the role of "facilitator," which is usually defined as "one who makes a task easy for the participants." The role of a HealthRHYTHMS drumming facilitator embodies so much of that description in that we bring the drums, form the circle, follow the protocol, make a sort of plan for the session, and then begin. The interesting thing is that every group is different. So "making it easy" for a group of independent, lively seniors who gather regularly for social purposes might involve inviting them to start a rhythm that turns into an expressive groove (with dancing!) While an adult daycare session might stretch the facilitator's notion of protocol since the participants are limited by so many physical and mental restrictions. How does one make drumming easy when attention spans are short, medications might hamper the ability to participate, and occasionally someone sets off the door alarm? I'm starting to re-format my notions about the HealthRHYTHMS protocol to fit the adult daycare experiences I've had so far. Here's hoping this helps anyone in a similar circumstance.
1. Insist on a circle. Many adult daycare centers include a large central room that can accommodate 50 or more clients per session. While arranging these folks into one large drum circle--given the amount of wheelchairs and walkers present--might seem difficult for the caregivers, I've found that if all participants are arranged in concentric circles, the level of participation increases. When we tried this approach last week at an adult daycare--after an especially chaotic week before--most of the 50 clients present were able to take part in the drumming. Before, there was a small circle for those who wanted to participate while the rest of the clientele observed, some of them loudly disengaged.
2. The wellness step is essential for this group. While I certainly wouldn't include full-body yoga stretches with adult daycare, these drummers need the full relaxation cycle for their overall well-being. I start with some simple deep breathing and work up to some range of motion exercises for the head, neck, arms and hands. I search for energizing music for this step with a little underlying beat to prepare the group for our eventual drumming.
3. Ice breakers are tough. HealthRHYTHMS protocol calls for some kind of ice breaker involving hand-held shakers. Just getting something in the hands of 50 participants in a few minutes is really challenging. Luckily, the adult day caregivers are very helpful in accomplishing this if you let them know your expectations. So far, I've only been able to use the "Shaker Share," where participants show their personal style of playing the shakers. This is one area where I really need to get more creative for the needs of the group. Maybe inviting the caregivers to model some shaker styles would empower the participants to try their own.
4. The ABCs of drumming need to happen each session. While it might seem repetitive to the facilitators, not everyone remembers which end of the beater to use on which drum or what part of the drum yields the deeper sound. I remind every group I facilitate about this, never assuming that they know. Sometimes in the rush to "get to the drums" we forget that some of the drummers may be unsure of their own power to make sound. I'm learning that it's also important to switch drums at least once per session so that each drummer gets a wider experience.
5. Rhythmic naming is a staple. While pounding out the rhythm to several participants' name is always a good way to welcome new drummers to the circle, the regulars require a little variation. One young man at my sessions likes to introduce the guests he meets by drumming their names. Before the holidays, we drummed the first lines of favorite carols and then sang a verse.
6. Entrainment--or what do we do now? One of my most humbling experiences while conducting a music residency for an elementary school was working with the pre-schoolers. Although I only saw them one half hour per school day, they completely wore me out. Why? Well, if you've never worked with a group of 3 and 4 year olds, they require frequent shifts in focus and lots of movement. Invariably, the pre-school teacher and I would end up leading some kind of musical conga line for one of the songs for the day. While I am not equating adult daycare clients with pre-school, they do share some characteristics. One of the most prominent ones I've noticed is the need for a shift in focus. Because there are so many variations in physical and mental capacity, there exists no common pace. So far, the only way I've found to address the diversity is to try some groove, some sing along, more groove, more sing along.
It's important, according to Christine Stevens, HealthRHYTHMS co-founder and trainer, to wait for the group to respond. Sometimes my frustration at changing the focus is caused by my inability to wait for that awkward silence to end. Too often facilitators jump in with their own idea before the participants have a chance to show their power. How empowering is the drumming when we "control" its every aspect?
7. Inspirational beats. Assuming that adult daycare folks have nothing to discuss in the sharing portion of the protocol would be a big mistake. I can see each session that several of them are upset by the prospect of being "warehoused" among strangers. Even with the caring work of the caregivers to make them feel at home, newcomers to adult daycare are often frightened or angry at their loss of independence. Some clients are completely lucid but limited in their physical participation while others are physically strong but struggle with dementia. There are plenty of stray feelings that can be pounded out on a drum and talked about. Last week one participant started a gospel song called "Already Done" that expressed both her acceptance of her circumstances and her joy at relinquishing her cares to a higher power. The beat and response were infectious.
8. Guided Imagery. To bring each drumming session to a calm, peaceful conclusion that enhances the health of the participants, HealthRHYTHMS protocol prescribes a guided imagery experience. This is meant to be a session with soft drumming and background music, guiding the drummers through an exotic scenario that results in shared experience and relaxation. This step has been my greatest challenge at adult daycare because of all the differences I have described thus far. In some sessions, loud talking from caregivers trying to resolve an issue, door alarms sounding, or even members of the circle getting up and moving around have reduced the effectiveness of the experience. Since I did guided imagery with high school students with behavior issues, I know that the key is to build a habit and a culture for the activity. Once the group feels the pattern of the protocol, they usually accept it and reap some benefit. After four sessions, I finally had what I consider to be a successful guided imagery this past week. A great deal of the success can probably be attributed to the fact that I insisted on a circle which gave everyone a similar focus and seemed to increase concentration on the guided imagery.
Sometimes "making it easy" is a little more complicated than we think. But certainly worth it. If you have any facilitating experiences with drum groups, I'd love to read some comments.