Drum Circles at Children’s Hospital

Birmingham, AL

Written by John Scalici

I have been facilitating drumming and rhythm based programs at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama for nearly five years.  When I first became interested in facilitating these type of events, I was curious about how I would get permission to do so.  All the details of creating and placing a permanent program at a hospital is no small task.

With the vision and guidance of Sherri Van Pelt, Executive Director of VSA Arts of Alabama, I was able to form a strategic partnership with both VSA Arts and Children’s Hospital to make this idea a reality. (  VSA Arts is a non-profit organization which provides inclusive opportunities in the arts for people with varying physical and mental challenges. We had a plan to secure funding through several donors, including Children’s Hospital.  It is because of this dedication and vision that we are still there.  

My role at Children’s Hospital is two fold:

One role is to provide rhythm based programs twice a month on the Adolescent and Child Psychiatric units.

This program takes place in partnership with the PT/OT department (physical and occupational therapy).

My second role is to provide open drum circles in the lobby of the hospital during special VSA Arts events.  Everywhere you go in the hospital, walls are filled with the beautiful art created by the children both in and outside the hospital.  Several times a year, there are fundraisers and awards ceremonies for the artists and the on going drum circles provide the sonic backdrop for the event!  It is a beautiful sight and sound. 

Drum circles provide the soundtrack for the activities at Children’s Hospital

Winners of some of the arts awards came to drum with their friends and family.  All it took was one person to sit down and start playing with us and people started coming from everywhere!

Arts award winners and families drumming to celebrate

One of the biggest fans of drum circles at the hospital is Mr. Rodney, one of the hospital police.  Every time the drum circle would begin, Mr. Rodney made sure he came and played.  Seeing a police officer take time out of his day to participate really helped some of the kids with serious illnesses to relax and know that it was OK to have fun.

Even policemen love to drum!!

Since drum circles are an all inclusive and muti-generational activity, it is a great way for the families who have been at the hospital for hours and even days, to relieve some stress and enjoy the calming properties of a properly facilitated rhythm circle.  

Even the littlest ones were happy to sit a shake their shakers.

The drum circles at Children’s Hospital helped to calm and comfort when words are not easily found.  You see all kinds of situations and hear of the tragedies that are going on all around.  Sometimes the best thing is to give a family or individual a smile, a comfortable place to sit and invite them to participate when they are ready.

A skilled facilitator should know when to initiate offering someone an instrument or make sure the volume and rhythm is inviting and comfortable to participants.  This is the HEART part of facilitating.  Using your inner guide to serve the group.

Develop your intuition to effectively guide the group.

*My work at Children’s Hospital is always fulfilling and rewarding.  You see families and kids going through a difficult, stressful time and you are able to provide a brief sense of relief for them.  It makes you feel grateful  to offer such a simple but powerful means of expression. 

*Thank you to Children’s Hospital and VSA Arts of Alabama for teaming up to make this program successful.

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