Bringing life to locals

Drum circle facilitator Nathan Noble works with a group ranging from young to old as part of his workshop through the Southern Ohio Museum.

Nathan Noble, OAC drum circle facilitator, displays one of the most simplistic yet fun percussion instruments, a small wooden frog.

Local musician has found that music can be used to bring life to people, bring people together and improve health. Nathan Noble, of South Webster, is a drum circle facilitator that uses his craft to help everyone from children living in poverty to Alzheimer’s patients who are losing touch with loved ones.

Growing up, Noble was always exposed to music. His mother played guitar and piano, so he is not even sure when he first learned to play either. By the time he was 13, he had taken a real interest in music and says that is when he started to really apply himself. Noble went on to get his first job at 16 and started collecting instruments, buying a different type with each paycheck.

“I joke that by the time I was 19 I had actually learned to play 19 different instruments, some better than others,” Noble stated.

Now, he says that his home looks like a music store with instruments from all over the world from the Middle East to Russia to Appalachia.

In a life-changing turn of events, a year and a half ago Noble got laid off from his job working for the State of Ohio. He had been working a lot of hours and thought his finances were covered, so he rather looked forward to having some time off. Noble had a little money he had saved and what he had saved in retirement. Total that was close to a year’s salary, giving the young musician plenty of time to find another job. Unfortunately, he did not spend as planned, and was soon running low on cash. He was finding it hard to justify keeping all his instruments.

“Every instrument I have I use in some way,” Noble explained.

The only way he could justify keeping them all was to use them. His plans were far from the plan life had for him, however.

“I thought it was going to be in the realm of all acoustic techno music,” he joked as he explained that he was playing for such a band at the time.

He was already involved in a drum circle and doing some music related side jobs. Noble was doing tradition Appalachian music workshops for community centers and the Southern Ohio Museum in Portsmouth. While working at a community center, he was asked if he could change the workshop to offer something that would be more hands-on for participants. Drumming seemed perfect. The next week, he showed up with 15 djembes or “hippie drums,” sat everyone in a circle and put a drum in their hands. Within five minutes of showing them the basics, Noble says the participants were coming up with their own things and playing off each other. At this moment, he realized there was something special about drumming. He already had facilitating music therapy training and saw a real potential to something to help others.

Though he calls himself a drum circle facilitator, his title is much broader. He chooses to work within the realm of drumming because it is so inclusive to all people.

“I’m a community music event facilitator specifically, but I prefer the term drum circle because really that’s what I do,” Noble explained. “What we do is you choose an instrument of preference, and we facilitate and conduct events with people who may or may not have prior experience, and we do so in such a way that’s it’s a fully immersive, fully interactive experience.

Noble facilitates drum circles in parks, in community centers, in schools, in people’s homes, at the Adult Daycare Center, in the streets, at festivals and in various other places throughout the community. Some of the people he works with are disabled and lack of a full range of motion and others are very young with no prior music training.

“A drum circle is a true democracy. Whether you are just coming to it and never played drums before or whether you’re a jazz soloist extraordinaire, you can still play the basic beat and play off what other people are doing. So, that puts everyone on the same level. It’s a very low learning curve, but there’s no ceiling to the amount of talent,” Noble explained.

Drumming also requires low dexterity, so even those with physical handicaps can participate.

“It’s the great leveler,” Noble eloquently stated.

Coming to this realization, Noble started focusing his efforts on drum circle facilitation. He was facilitating a drum circle for the Southern Ohio Museum and through some other programs but still needed a more regular income. He thought about offering guitar lessons or dulcimer making but found that there was not profitable market doing so in this area.

Four weekly drum circle sessions into his program with the museum, the unexpected happened. The president of the board for the Ohio Arts Council came in on a tour. Members of the museum led the tour into Noble’s drum circle session. They watched what he did and how it impacted other people and also saw all the potential. He was hired on the spot in between sets as a music instructor with the flexibility within his title to continue doing what he loves on a regular basis.

“I have the greatest job in the world because everyone who starts playing drums gets told, ‘Why don’t you quit playing drums and making noise and get a real job?’ Well guess what, Mom, my job is just to make noise all day long with anyone from second graders to I think my oldest is 98-years-old,” Noble rejoiced.

In the year plus that he has been working for the Ohio Arts Council, he has really seen reality of how much what he doing helps others. He explained that when he was first starting working with a woman who was 96 at the time. She was showing early symptoms of Alzheimer’s when he first met her. The woman’s daughter brought her as an activity just to get her out of the house. The first session, the woman only watched. The second session, she decided to try a little.

“Over the next two months, from meeting that hour and a half a week, I got to watch her really go back to how she used to be,” Noble stated. “I also got to see it through her daughter’s eyes, watching her daughter see her mom come back.”

Noble added that studies have shown that 30 minutes of drumming a week has shown to improve symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients by almost 50 percent.

“The beauty of this is when you’re combining all the tactile feedback, action/reaction, carrying on a rhythmic conversation with whoever’s drumming with you or next to you or across from you, it doesn’t leave space for ‘Oh, my mortgage.. Oh, my bills… Oh, my vet bills…’ It becomes literally a form of meditation. It let’s you shut off that part of your brain for however long you’re drumming while still engaging in something that’s creative, that’s producing good neurological flow,” Noble explained.

He added that this is not strictly a phenomenon that occurs with drumming. It occurs through music. The same thing could be accomplished using a guitar, but other instruments require more dexterity, skill or training. They can not bring everyone together in the way drums can.

This lover of percussion added that when people are meshed in a drum circle with others from varied ages, abilities and beliefs, “you’re mixing verbal, audio, visual and mental cues even with what you’re doing keeping time, and you’re putting them into a very tactile, physical sensation. So by engaging all of you’re senses at once, you’re working together to build a very cohesive whole, and it lets you do one thing, which is rare in modern society – be present in this moment with another group of people all working towards the same goal.”

Because of this, Noble has seen people who were socially awkward and sat in the corner blossom into a person who wants to sit in the center of the circle and play a solo. He has seen elderly women put their sickness and worry aside and laugh with their children. And, he has seen children living in low income housing with real struggles at home brighten up and have fun being a kid.

In addition to his work for the Ohio Arts Council, Noble is currently part of two drum circles – the Portsmouth Community Drum Circle (PCDC) and the performance group The Spirit of the Drum Ensemble. Local drum circle information can be found by visiting the Portsmouth Community Drum Circle Facebook, which posts for three drum circle groups in the area. Noble’s events can be found through the Noble Rhythms and Sound Facebook page.

Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.