By: Emily Creighton Contributing Writer
No, it’s not the sound of traffic bustling down Atlantic Avenue or the crashing of the waves on the sand. Rather, the soundtrack of Delray Beach can be found right in Old School Square every Wednesday night. As the Downtown Delray Beach Drum Circle beats away, there is a something much louder to be recognized than their unique rhythms. It’s the sound of community.
“Delray is a mixed bag of people, and right here it’s a portal for a whole bunch of energy and a whole bunch of people,” shared Raul Jimenez, a Delray resident of for over a decade who has been coming to the Circle for nearly three years. “It becomes a community, and it’s very much needed here.”
But, the drum circle you may see off the Ave. now wasn’t the beginning of the town’s subculture. For decades, drum circles have come in and out of popularity in the area, but always maintained a foothold throughout Palm Beach County. The ritualistic events involve community members and families joining in song played on traditional African drums called djembes, dance, yoga and more for a judgment-free time.
“The Delray Beach Drum Circle is the very definition of community engagement, and I smile like an opossum eating bumble bees every time I hear the thump of drums on the Green,” CEO and president of Old School Square Rob Steele said. “The Drum Circle is organic, spontaneous, diverse, dynamic, and always warm and welcoming to everyone whether they attend regularly or are just drawn to the rhythm while enjoying a night on the Avenue. Old School Square welcomes the Drum Circle with open arms, and we look forward to the next activity of this nature that lands in our historic park. You can’t stop the beat.”
However, the drum circles are no strangers to naysayers within the community, and at times have felt the need to take legal action.
Back in 2010, drummer and lawyer Eric Gruber sued the city of Delray Beach on a first amendment violation. After being told a small drum circle could not congregate on Old School Square grass, Gruber took action, claiming his freedoms of speech and assembly were limited.
Many were worried how speaking out would reflect on the reputation of drum circles. But, the case was later dismissed, and new drum circles have since prospered, even earning a rightful place in the eyes of local government. Michael Teller, who founded his own drum circle just over three years ago in another revival attempt, has taken the city-compliant approach with building his circle.
He said, “The drumming and the community-basis of drumming really brings people together, and they come from way beyond Delray Beach. It works very well with the Old School Square concept.”
On Wednesday nights, Teller and crew meet – with their permit – at Old School Square, starting at 7 p.m. With some meetings garnering upwards of 200 people at times, Teller is glad that his group has the support of the city and that he has been able to begin changing the stigma surrounding it.
“People are telling me that they had an idea of what drum circles were and now that they’ve come, they really enjoy it,” he said. “[The city commissioners] invited us in to do some drumming and the commissioners were shaking little shakers and drumming,” shared Teller. “That’s very special for Delray because I’ve gotten remarks from around the country asking how they can do that for [their city.]”
But, the reach of the Drum Circle extends past Old School Square – and Delray. In early 2016, Teller was asked to bring the circle to Veteran’s Park by the Delray Beach Parks and Rec Department. This scene is more family-oriented, offering drum lessons and games for children.
Additionally, just over a year ago, Teller wanted to give back to the community. He and a small group of drummers began performing at local senior centers, including Delray’s Alzheimer’s Center and Florida Atlantic University’s Green Memory and Wellness Center in Boca Raton.
Most recently though, the group was asked to visit the Broward Children’s Center. “We bring our drums and a couple of us, and we lead drum circles for the people that really need it,” explained Teller. “When you see the people in the room go from expressionless, motionless people to dancing, it just blows your mind. It makes you feel good.”
This falls in perfectly with Teller’s bigger vision. As the owner of the local Center for Long Term Care Planning and Education Chair for the Florida Association of Health Underwriters, Teller has a close connection to older residents in the area. He believes that the Drum Circle has the potential to grow into a music therapy of sorts, saying that “for many people it is a very healing experience.”
As for the near future, Teller hopes to expand the local presence of the group by doing what they do best: having a good time. And, he encourages those who have never experienced a drum circle to give it a try. He said, “More and more people are liking. People that never did before. So, come with an open mind and see for yourself.”