What Was It Like To Be A Student of Baba Olatunji?
(17 minute audio interview)
TaKeTiNa is a new approach to learning, using rhythm as the vehicle. Many forms of learning are based on a sequential mastery style, in other words one piece of information is connected to or built upon previous pieces of information.
In the experience of the physical, kinesthetic world, this is not always the case. For instance learning to walk requires a number of very important and fundamental orientations to balance, weight shifting, eye adjustment, etc. Although parts of the skills can be mastered individually, in order to walk, these functions must occur simultaneously.
In the same way, TaKeTiNa uses simultaneity to re-trigger a body-based orientation to time and space in rhythm. Participants stand together in a circle and speak syllables, which connect to simple stepping patterns. By “speaking what you step,” the footsteps can begin to fade into the background of our awareness and then-- the next layer of information is introduced.
Clapping or using a rattle is introduced. Hands present the possibility of clapping in a different rhythm than the footsteps, but cannot be achieved with the use of the voluntary mind. This can be very frustrating as it is different than the way we have been taught to learn. However, by staying in a rhythmic container for a period of time, the knowledge, which is already in us, can become more present in our awareness.
As the circle develops and the feet are stepping in one pattern while the hands clapping in another, the leader begins to sing in a call-and-response fashion. Some calls serve to stabilize these two different patterns in the body. Increasingly difficult songs will challenge the group to stay in their steps. This gives participants an opportunity to repeatedly experience “safe” chaos of falling out of rhythm and then returning to known territory.
Here are two things that can begin to happen: One relates to a personal “journey” and the other points to the group or collective experience. The group can, as a whole, fall out of rhythm and come back to balance again. Group members become more and more comfortable with this planned chaos, knowing that if they become confused, they will find their way back “home.”
The individual begins to trust that they don't always have to “get things right”—that the group as a whole can support them in finding their way back to familiar ground in rhythm… they have all the time they need.
TaKeTiNa is effective for everyone, whether musically trained or not. But what does this work with rhythm have to do with our world today? Learning in rhythm is a good training for life, complete with its unpredictability and chaos. The TaKeTiNa rhythm circle reflects our life. We encounter the same difficulties: trying too hard, needing to be perfect, fear of making mistakes. As we find our own way in rhythm we can relax some of these habits of mind and open to our joy in music. Growth in personal, musical, and social and spiritual dimensions grows deeper as the work progresses.
“Drumming is a language. It involves learning to listen and developing a cooperative style of playing. Drumming has been removed from our “sophisticated” culture for a long time, but we’ve all had that rhythmic experience and information at one time, so it’s in every one of us at the cellular level.” – Zorina Wolf
This is the 36-year anniversary of the release of Babatunde Olatunji’s ground breaking album Drums Of Passion. With over fifty million copies purchased so far, it still sells well in music stores around the world. This album signifies the powerful influence this man of the Nigerian Yoruba tribe has had on three different elements of American society today.
As a musician, Olatunji introduced African musical elements to the west, which had an immediate and lasting affect on American jazz. He created world beat music, generations before the term had even been conceived. Olatunji is also included in the Grateful Dead’s musical family, having contributed generously to the 1992 Grammy-award winning Planet Drum album, produced by Mickey Hart.
As a teacher he has brought to us through his workshops a deeper understanding of African culture in both dance music and song. Olatunji has also helped other great African drummers and dancers come to the U.S., including Titos Sompa from the Congo and Lagie Camara from Senegal. He guided them in New York in his Drums Of Passion dance and drum troupe, before they established themselves as elders in the national ethnic arts community.
As a community builder, Olatunji is a man on a mission, and has become the great grandfather of the ever-growing personal percussion movement. With his inspiration this group has developed into a national community drumming network.
The following interview was pieced together from a number of long conversations that took place while I drove Olatunji to various Drums Of Passion gigs during his 1995 West Coast summer tour. I quickly discovered that the car was the only dependable place where we could talk without being interrupted - even though I’m a member of the West Coast version of his band. This was due to the fact that the moment we reached our destination, Olatunji would be surrounded by many people, each with different needs. He would happily jump into the fray, multitasking as stage manager, band leader and community elder as he facilitated each event into a magical experience for everyone involved.
Hull: Let’s talk about when you first came to America.
Olatunji: I was playing the hand drum when I was on the boat, coming here in 1950. I remember the engineer on the boat, the M.V. Eluru of the West African Boat Line that brings all the cargoes from West Africa to the United States through New Orleans. It wasn’t a passenger boat. It had a few cabins that they would sell to passengers, but it was actually a cargo boat. The engineer said, “A strange man in a strange land shouldn’t sing a strange song” because every morning I would play my hand drum just to amuse myself. It was a sakara - it’s a small hand drum which has the form of a tambourine. I came over to become a Rhodes Scholar, studying to become a diplomat. I was hoping to be able to one day represent Nigeria in the U.N., or as a diplomat or an ambassador to some country.
Hull: Instead you became an ambassador of African culture in the U.S. How did you make that transition?
Olatunji: Because of circumstances that led me to doing what I’m doing now. When I arrived on the campus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, I saw a lot of African Americans, brothers, who looked like people I know very well at home. I saw people who looked like my cousins, or my uncle. I saw women who looked like women I liked very much. And I said, “You look like friends of mine.” And they’d say, “Oh no, I’m not from Africa. Don’t you ever tell me that. I’m a Negro and I’m from the United States.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I said, “Your ancestors are from Africa.” They were very sincere, but I could not fully understand why they said that. They asked me questions about whether we had lions running the streets. I was not discouraged, though, because I had discovered the sincerity in their voices, in the way they asked the questions, they wanted to learn. Then I discovered Hollywood’s unholy war on Africa - the betrayer of Africa. Movies I saw in the ’50s portrayed Africa with Tarzan and Jane swinging from tree to tree, people sleeping in trees, head-hunters, as if nothing good could come from Africa. So I really wanted to identify myself with Africa, and say, “Let me educate you about Africa.” And that is how the first program was put together. The first dance company, the first production, that’s how I started. Then after graduating, I moved to New York. I decided to move there on my first visit to New York in my freshman year. I saw Harlem and said, “Oh, this is where my people are. This is the place to come to continue the program.”
Hull: How long did it take before the public began to take notice of your work?
Olatunji: That started just after the release of the Drums Of Passion album in 1959. It was right there on Billboard’s Top Ten for weeks and weeks. That started getting us national attention. Then also, it was during the ’60s, a period when social change was happening in this country, which also gave me an opportunity to participate in this change.
Hull: Young people were looking for and discovering a new way of living and recreating their culture.
Olatunji: That’s right. So I was credited with the cultural awareness that was going on, of the African Americans and all young people both black and white. How many black radio stations did you know then? Very few if any. There was one in the New York area, WLWU, with a very wonderful man Murray The K, who would always open his shows with “Akiwowo.” And he would play it and say, “Well the chief is here today. The change is coming. Look out you guys.” The young people on college campuses both black and white would listen to Drums of Passion.
Hull: That’s basically where I first heard Drums Of Passion, in college. It paved the way for the workshops you did throughout the country. And that began the birthing process of the drumming communities that we see today.
Olatunji: We first introduced African dancing and drumming on college campuses throughout the United States. We traveled the length and breadth of the United States and visited over 1,000 colleges and universities over the last 20 years. Probably any college in the East to the Midwest, Minneapolis to California. In the ’80s we opened with a jazz band at the same time we were running the dance company. The jazz band consisted of people like Yousef Lateef and Charles Lloyd, and the manager of Birdland would always give me 13 weeks to open all the big bands that came there. And then we opened the Troubadour in Los Angeles and another club in San Francisco in 1963 before the march on Washington. When we would go to places to perform, I’d also take the opportunity to say, “Do you have a center where people go? Let me go and give a lecture there.” That was very important because it became more than just people coming and doing a concert for the students. I’d give them a workshop in drumming and dance. It was an opportunity to sell the act, but also an opportunity for people to have an understanding of what we are doing. It’s important to let people get a little closer. So that they can see and experience and feel what you are doing and what you are a part of. It’s also okay for someone to perform and for people to clap their hands at the end, then leave. But to really be a part of it, to know that they can be a part of it, is more.
Hull: Why do you think people from all walks of life are picking up a hand drum and getting involved in this hand drumming phenomena that is sweeping the United States today?
Olatunji: Well, they are going back to their roots. We’re people who started with body percussion, with clapping of the hands, stamping of the feet. I guess it’s the way we started to amuse ourselves. That’s how we learned to imitate sounds of birds and all kinds of things we hear around us, because of man’s capacity to imitate. That’s how we figured out how to make different instruments. So we started way back, and now we are going back to just ourselves. Rediscovering ourselves. And from there on we can move forward. We are trying to put together the great things of the past with the present for the future. You know the sky is not the limit anymore, it is space now. We are discovering that we need to come back down to earth, from where we started. It’s as if we are trying to balance things up, in essence.
Hull: We are trying to balance the technological society that has taken us away from...
Olatunji: That has taken us away from the reality of the earth that supports us.
Hull: ...the reality of our connection with the earth and our connection with each other as people...
Olatunji: It gave birth to us in the first place. We need to recognize that it will always be there. It’s there for us to use, replenish and leave for forthcoming generations, so we cannot afford to destroy it. We are learning to do that now. We are also finding the simple things that people can do together. All people from all walks of life, all colors, have various things that they can do together, and it’s the simplest thing to make music and sing together.
Hull: Let’s talk about your workshops. They do more than just educate people about African Culture. They are basically a place for a community to come together. You address a tremendous amount of your work to building and feeding a healthy community though the dances, songs and rhythms that you teach. Do you always try to convey such a message through your workshops?
Olatunji: Well, I must confess that I deliberately make sure my presentation is geared towards the message that emphasizes togetherness, the one that promotes love and the one that makes everyone feel important. I know I must think about what I’m going to say, and I know also that my actions speak louder than my words. So I also try to practice what I preach.
Hull: Such as “getting even”?
Olatunji: As the old Chinese proverb says, the only people that we should really get even with are those who have done us a good turn. So I don’t let go of anybody who has done something good for me. Those are the people that I spend my time and energy with. I have no time or spare energy for anything or anyone who is being detrimental to my spirit, or keeping me from my goal. When you think about it, it’s true. The energy that you put together trying to get even with people who do unpleasant things to you can kill you. But the energy that you put together to get even with people who are nice to you gives you more power, gives you joy, and that accelerates you.
Hull: You often hear people talk about the spirit of the drum. This phrase is used a lot, but hasn’t been well defined. We as a group feel that something happens when we gather to drum together, and people say “Oh, that’s the spirit of the drum.” But what is it?
Olatunji: [laughs] A great teacher of mine once said, “There are some questions that can never be answered, and would be useless if known.”
Hull: [laughs] And this is one of them!
Olatunji: Not totally. It is answerable. The spirit of the drum is something that you feel but cannot put your hands on it. You feel when people come together to play. It does something to you from the inside out, but you can’t really put your hands on it. You feel it while you’re playing and after you play for a while, sometimes for 24 hours, sometimes for two or three days. It hits people in so many different ways, that to try to define it would just be a matter of semantics, the use of words. But the feeling is one that is satisfying and joyful. It is a feeling that makes you say to yourself, “Yes, I’m glad to be alive today. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m a part of this world.” It stays with you until other things come and take your attention away from it, but you will always remember it.
Hull: Another part of your mission is to be the focal point for orchestration. As a facilitator, you bring people together to express their rhythmical spirit in a community drum circle. As our drumming community grows so does our need for more facilitators. And as new facilitators crop up, the question is, what priorities should they have? I think as long as they are promoting the community rather than themselves, they are learning a basic and very important aspect about the mission.
Olatunji: First of all, whoever is given the opportunity to be a facilitator must have realized that it’s an opportunity to develop our own talents. It’s true, drum teachers might have certain knowledge that probably will prepare them to facilitate a drum community. But you cannot allow self interest to supersede the goal. I’m not playing a double role. I have to play the role of the facilitator, not the teacher, to bring out the common ground to all of the people in the community - that is the goal.
Hull: So, a drum teacher can have good facilitation tools, which you can use in a drum circle. But if you put them on top of the hierarchy of priorities then all of a sudden you’re teaching a drum class rather than facilitating spirit in a drum circle.
Olatunji: That’s right.
Hull: But, if you don’t use the tools that you’ve generated as a drum teacher then of course...
Olatunji: You fail.
Hull: I’ve seen some people who aren’t good drummers become good drum circle facilitators.
Hull: Because they understand the importance of the mission.
Olatunji: Because you are not there to teach or to show people how well you can play. You’re there because you know how to bring music out of them. You have to say, “Look, you’ve got something that you probably don’t know you’ve got. I will prove it to you that you can do it by just doing it.” That’s what we’re talking about.
Hull: You taught me a great lesson. A few years ago while I was being pushed out into the national drum community circuit, you took me aside and said, “You come into town and get them all excited and leave. What are you leaving? You have given them inspiration, but have you introduced them to teachers in the area?”
Olatunji: Where can they go after you’re gone? What are they going to do tomorrow or next week?
Hull: Now wherever I go, I contact all the drum teachers and facilitators in the area that I can, and have them come to the drum circle so they can be introduced and acknowledged.
Olatunji: So that the community will know “Oh yeah, we’ve got these people in our community.”
Hull: What would you like to say to the growing number of facilitators who are coming forward and fulfilling this need in the community?
Olatunji: The great teacher said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, that they shall inherit the earth.” Facilitators have to rejoice in the fact that they are messengers. They are given an opportunity to be the one who is called upon to help build the bond that exists between people. He’s the one who goes around telling it to the world, “Don’t you forget. We all have a job to do. We need to heal our community and heal the planet.” He becomes the servant of all. Because of that assignment he will be provided for automatically. Because it has been ordained that the flock will always take care of the shepherd. So the shepherd has to be there for the community to remind you that you are just as important as everybody else.
Hull: No one is any more or less important in a community drum circle. Everyone has something to give to bring the community song alive and to make the magic.
Olatunji: That’s what makes it become an irresistible force that can evolve and become an immovable object.
Hull: The media is calling this grass roots movement “the hand drumming phenomena.” It’s really the beginning of something that is going to affect the culture of the United States in some B ways. I’d like to put you in a time machine and send you 10 years into the future. Based upon what you have seen happening within the U. S. since 1950, where do you think hand drumming will be ten years from now?
Olatunji: Well, it depends on how we promote it. I think we will have to teach it to our school children as part of their education, like football or basketball. That way it will not be a fad. We don’t want all of them to be musicians, but they will know it because they have touched it.
Hull: It will be a part of our culture.
Olatunji: Yes. It needs to be a part of the culture for the simple reason that the world is here in America. And because the world is here, the world has brought its culture here. The world culture then must be preserved here as well. There will be people who know how to play sakara in Berkeley even if its not being played in Lagos, so at least it’s being preserved.
Hull: That’s why it has to be integrated into our cultural expression.
Olatunji: It’s happening now. This is a mosaic. It’s what makes this country great. There is no other place in the world like America, right? People come from all parts of the world to make America what it is. Cultures must be preserved for that reason. Let me tell you what’s going to happen. We are so lucky that some of the people who are now in our drumming and dance classes and our workshops can become executives. So they’re going to use it. It’s a good thing. They are young now, and are interested in what’s happening, and they are going to make sure that this thing survives. They are going to be different than the CEOs that we have now because of their exposure to multi-cultural situations. It is a quiet cultural revolution that will unite all people. It will solve many of the problems that seem so impossible. I have a great hope for this happening in the future. That will be a wonderful thing to see.
Copyrighted material reproduced with permission from DRUM! Magazine.
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COMPOSITE EFFECTS OF GROUP DRUMMING MUSIC THERAPY ON MODULATION OF NEUROENDOCRINE-IMMUE PARAMETERS IN NORMAL SUBJECTS - 2001
Barry B. Bittman, MD; Lee S. Berk, DrPH, MPH; David L. Felten, MD, PhD; James Westengard, BS; O. Carl Simonton, MD; James Pappas, MD and Melissa Ninehouser, BS
The study’s principal investigator, Barry Bittman, MD, Neurologist, was interviewed by Remo Belli, founder of Remo Inc., the company that funded the project.
Mr. Belli – Dr. Bittman, would you begin by summarizing the principal findings of your study?
Dr. Bittman – Our project entitled, Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neuroendocrine-Immune Parameters in Normal Subjects presents, for the very first time, important scientific evidence documenting potential health benefits associated with a single group drumming session. Statistically significant increases in the activity of cellular immune components responsible for seeking out and destroying cancer cells and viruses were noted in normal subjects who drummed.
Mr. Belli – Would you discuss the relevance of your findings?
Dr. Bittman – Over the last few decades, leading medical scientists throughout the world have discovered many of the biological underpinnings of what has been termed the “mind-body connection.” Extensive medical research in animals and humans has revealed that what goes on in the mind clearly affects the body and visa versa. This inseparable connection is being studied by leading medical scientists exploring the mechanisms by which the immune system responds to and can be conditioned by what the individual is experiencing. In essence, an important aspect of health is reflected by a delicate balance that is constantly tweaked within us according to what we are experiencing. This contention is supported by a number of leading scientific investigations which have disclosed that the perception of stress negatively impacts the immune system, and in some instances, survival. Chronic stressors such as care giving for a loved-one with Alzheimer’s disease, marital separation and divorce, and examination stress in medical students appear to have a suppressive influence on many measures of immunologic reactivity. In a similar manner, heightened sense of control, nurturing, mirthful laughter and moderate exercise have been shown to boost key immune system components. Essentially, we set forth to determine whether or not group drumming could alter stress-related hormones and neural mediators, which would, in turn, produce a subsequent positive impact on cellular immunologic function. We asked ourselves whether or not group drumming had the potential to reverse specific negative biological effects associated with the classic stress response.
Mr. Belli – Dr. Bittman, would you explain what you’re referring to as the “classic stress response?”
Dr. Bittman – Certainly. The classic stress response refers to a series of predictable changes that occur within us when we are stressed. Simply stated, our perception of stress sets off key events that ultimately affect practically every organ system in our bodies. Brain centers responding to the perception of stress relay information to different organ systems that trigger specific responses by releasing a number of chemicals that affect us in many ways. Scientists sometimes refer to this as the “fight or flight response.” In one sense, it has a protective effect that enables us to fight or flee when the need arises. Yet this same response, even in the absence of threat, can lead to serious health consequences.
Mr. Belli – You mean like increased blood pressure?
Dr. Bittman – Precisely. Stress produces many negative physiological effects such as increased heart rate, muscle tension and gastric acid secretion. Yet biologically, there are other consequences that are often overlooked. A key to understanding the impact of the mind-body connection is the realization that stress also impairs immune function. While most people visualize immunity as the front-line defense against germs such as bacteria or viruses, medical scientists recognize another key role of our immune system_ seeking out and destroying cancer cells.
Mr. Belli – Dr. Bittman, are you saying that there’s scientific evidence linking stress to cancer?
Dr. Bittman – Yes, there’s a growing body of scientific research showing that our perception of stress can substantially diminish the activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells, specialized white blood cells that seek out and destroy certain cancer cells and viruses. A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by Dr. Barbara Andersen at Ohio State University demonstrated a precise correlation between perception of stress and NK cell activity in women who had recently undergone mastectomies. The women who were most anxious demonstrated the least NK cell activity and visa versa. Consistent outcomes have been observed in numerous highly regarded studies performed in animals and humans. Furthermore, reversal of chemotherapy effects have been demonstrated in animals stressed in laboratory environments.
Mr. Belli – How do such findings relate to your research?
Dr. Bittman – With these issues in mind, we specifically looked at NK cells. In addition, we measured the response of these cells to well-known substances that literally orchestrate immune function … if you don’t mind the pun. They are called “cytokines” or “lymphokines.” The ones we measured were Interleukin II or IL-2 and Interferon Gamma, two of the strongest known promoters of NK cell activity. We also measured cortisol, DHEA and DHEA/cortisol ratios. These substances, released by the adrenal glands, are also known to affect immune function.
Mr. Belli – Based upon what you’re telling me, I suppose you knew which substances had to go up or down in order for drumming to be considered healthy. Were there any surprises?
Dr. Bittman – Frankly, yes. While we understood a basic framework for what would have to occur in order for drumming to move biology in a positive direction, we were surprised by the fact our preliminary studies didn’t turn out the way we expected. Cortisol, which predictably increases under stressful circumstances, went down in all of our trials as expected. Yet NK cell activity did not necessarily rise as initially expected when cortisol levels dropped.
Mr. Belli – Can you explain further?
Dr. Bittman – During our preliminary trials, we discovered there’s a considerable difference in the way people respond biologically to music. Essentially, it’s based on the fact that listening is quite different than performing. Research performed by our team in the past showed that listening to relaxing music while watching nature imagery clearly reversed the classical stress response. Yet when volunteers performed “basic” drumming, their immune systems didn’t automatically respond as expected. By “basic” drumming, we’re referring to a drum circle faciliated by an experienced individual who began each session with a short introduction describing what was about to occur during the session. After a series of trials and modifications of our initial protocol, we added specific techniques and drumming components aimed at relaxing subjects, enhancing camaraderie and promoting support within the group. Thereafter our findings began to reflect positive immune system changes.
Mr. Belli – Why did you perform preliminary studies, and how many subjects did you finally test?
Dr. Bittman – We performed an extensive series of preliminary investigations based upon the need to explore a variety of drumming approaches prior to the actual experiment. Our initial trials included 61 volunteers (9-11 subjects in each of 6 groups). These studies were used to identify the drumming strategy that demonstrated the best immunological promise for the actual experiment. Our final study included the results from the best response group and 50 additional subjects recruited for the actual study. The actual investigation therefore included data on 111 age and sex matched subjects, each of whom precisely met the criteria for inclusion into our study.
Mr. Belli – How do you know your findings did not come about simply from listening to drumming music or just the physical activity itself?
Dr. Bittman – This issue concerned our team from the start. We recognized the difficulty separating components that could ultimately produce positive immune system changes. In a preliminary study group using precisely the same investigative protocol, normal subjects were given the opportunity to listen to drumming music generated by another experimental group. Other groups drummed without introductory warm-up activities or drumming guided imagery that was ultimately incorporated into our final research protocol. One cohort performed intense drumming without these associated activities. No significant positive immunological changes were found in subjects from any of these groups.
Mr. Belli – Once you decided on your final drumming approach, how did things turn out?
Dr. Bittman – We essentially discovered statistically significant increases in NK cell activity, unstimulated and stimulated with cytokines for subjects who drummed compared to our control groups. It was also shown that cortisol was not a predictor of positive changes in NK cell activity. Increased DHEA/cortisol ratios, a measurement consistent with a positive effect approached statistical significance. Most importantly, we were able to successfully control for other biological changes that could have affected our results.
Mr. Belli – Dr. Bittman, how do you know that your findings did not occur by chance?
Dr. Bittman – While the findings I just described were highly significant from a statistical perspective, we also realized the need to control the actual experiment as tightly as possible to eliminate other factors that could come into play. Therefore, substantial efforts were expended to select our subject population and generate reproducible, reliable results. Participants were actually screened on two separate occasions. Individuals were excluded who reported active medical illnesses, or treatment for a medical problem. A history of heart or lung disease, hearing loss, pregnancy, or having missed the last menstrual period also precluded participation. Additionally, volunteers were eliminated who used prescription medications other than aspirin or birth control pills. Illicit drug use, cigarette or cigar smoking, tobacco chewing, and routine consumption of more than 2 alcoholic drinks/day within the last month served as criteria for exclusion. Subjects were asked (and signed a statement) not to consume alcoholic beverages, or to participate in sexual activity or aerobic exercise within a period of 24 hours prior to the experiment. All subjects refrained from eating for a minimum of 2 hours prior to the study. We also eliminated people if they drummed in the past, listened to drumming music on a regular basis, or participated in drumming within the past 3 months. All groups (experimental and control) were studied precisely at the same time of day, same day of the week and in the same setting. Samples were carefully handled by a team of experienced medical and laboratory personnel, and were analyzed at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, the University of Iowa, and our hospital, Meadville Medical Center.
Mr. Belli – If I may ask, why did you become interested in group drumming?
Dr. Bittman – Frankly, there are a number of reasons. An historical review disclosed that drumming as a healing ritual has been used for thousands of years by many civilizations throughout the world. Recently, there’s been a strong resurgence of interest in drumming and drum circles, and how such activities can be used therapeutically in the medical setting. The Mind-Body Wellness Center, where we develop and offer whole person disease-based strategies, integrates musical approaches with traditional medical strategies. Drumming at our Center has evolved into an effective group intervention that is enjoyed on many levels. We’re delighted to have scientific evidence suggesting it is truly beneficial from a biological perspective.
Mr. Belli – Have your impressions about drumming changed since performing the research?
Dr. Bittman – While I’m extremely pleased with our research findings, there’s a part of me that’s always known certain types of music move us in favorable directions biologically. From a physician’s perspective, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to watch group drumming rapidly evolve into a favorite activity for patients and healthcare professionals within our integrative programs. It seems we’ve merely added scientific credibility to what our patients have known all along. From a global perspective, our findings simply serve to validate the wisdom of the ancients.
Mr. Belli – Dr. Bittman, do you believe there’s a lasting effect?
Dr. Bittman – Personally yes, but scientifically that’s a great question. We deliberately performed a single intervention (one session per person) specifically to establish the greatest control possible. Testing humans is more complex than one might imagine-- especially over time. A lot can happen to a person in just 24 hours. Subjects in our study remained with us during the entire experiment. Therefore, we were able to eliminate many of the variables that might have occurred otherwise. While we realize it’s impossible to control all potential variables in the long run, research by other investigators has shown that biology can be conditioned. We’re looking forward to extending our hypothesis in order to investigate long-term effects.
Mr. Belli – How do you proceed from here? What are your next steps?
Dr. Bittman – Initially, I’m hoping our research provides the impetus for hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, senior centers, nursing homes and insurers to integrate group drumming as a valuable intervention within traditional medicine. These organizations have an exceptional opportunity to incorporate a unique activity that combines proven health-promoting strategies including self-expression, group support, nurturing, exercise, stress reduction and of course, music making. We’re also anticipating our study will encourage others to replicate these findings and build upon this knowledge base. Our plan to start at the bottom with normal subjects was chosen to establish a firm foundation for future studies. Recognizing the limitations of a single trial design, our next step is to extend our approach to individuals with cancer and other illnesses through the use of a similar protocol used repeatedly. A long-term strategy is also being considered.
Mr. Belli – One final question. Can you summarize what your team has learned that can benefit mankind?
Dr. Bittman – Group drumming in normal subjects enhances the activity of specific cellular immune components that are responsible for seeking out and destroying cancer cells and viruses. The degree to which such changes must occur in the context of disease control or prevention is yet unknown. While world-wide scientific attempts by leading investigators are in progress to develop effective approaches for boosting our innate immune system, many questions remain unanswered. Ultimately, such strategies may serve to favorably modulate the basic critical determinants of our health.
The following graphs demonstrate changes in Natural Killer cell activity (NKCA) unstimulated and stimulated with Interleukin-2 and Gamma Interferon. The treatment group is represented by the yellow bars and the control group by the blue bars. All data shown is statistically significant, see p values below:
p<0.02; p<0.01; p<0.0000; p<0.002
Bittman B, Berk L, Felten D, Westengard J, Simonton O, Pappas J, Ninehouser M. Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neuroendocrine-Immune Parameters in Normal Subjects, Alternative Therapies, Jan 2001
Article reproduced here courtesy of Barry Bittman.