Article by Jeni Swerdlow. Photo by Yasuyo YamaguchiKarl Bruhn, considered the “Father of the Recreational Music Making movement,” lost his daughter, Debbie Rogers, earlier this year to a chronic and sometimes fatal genetic disease known as Alpha 1, which attacks the lungs and liver. To honor Debbie, Karl elicited the help of REMO Inc. and I to provide a hands-on presentation and drum circle focusing on the health benefits of drumming at the Alpha 1 Association’s National Conference in San Francisco earlier this month.

As nearly 450 attendees, the majority of whom have Alpha 1 and experience related physical challenges, sat around banquet tables after dinner and a long day of conference programs, I pondered how I was going to engage participants in drumming. How to make it meaningful for them, and facilitate in such a way that they can experience all the benefits without further stressing out their bodies?

Scientific studies are showing more and more the positive impact of group drumming and “recreational music making” (music made by non-musicians) on the immune system, brain functioning, mood and stress reduction. Much of the work that I do in my DRUMMM programs utilizes the HealthRHYTHMS protocol, which was applied in several of these groundbreaking studies.

After extensive research and conversations with Karl and Alpha 1 conference coordinator, Cathey Horsach, about the specific issues patients with Alpha 1 face, I came up with these intentions for the presentation:

1. Introduce the link between drumming and wellness,
2. Generate interest and curiosity in playing the drums (over 450 of them, graciously supplied by REMO Inc, were decoratively displayed around the room),
3. Create a safe and supportive atmosphere for people to try something new,
4. Honor Karl’s daughter and those who have died from Alpha 1 while celebrating life with everyone present,
5. Develop the music with a gentle touch, being mindful of physical challenges,
6. Help facilitate a connection to the breath, the body, the music and the Alpha 1 community,
7. Provide some fun hands-on entertainment.

This translated into starting with a brief overview of the benefits, some gentle upper body “drummer” stretches to recorded flute music, and a few members of the DRUMMM Team playing a soft drumbeat in the background. Eventually, volunteers brought the drums and world percussion instruments to the guests and away we went. After I did an initial demonstration on how to play each type of instrument, the group settled into a nice easy groove based on a simple heartbeat rhythm.

For nearly an hour people played, clapped, sang and cheered for themselves and each other. As their “Drum Circle Orchestra Conductor” I used my body language to sculpt the music, creating dynamics, inspiring cooperation, and keeping the energy and music flowing. One man began a call and response cheer to the group, shouting “Let’s Beat Alpha One,” to which everyone heartily echoed. When people got tired, I invited them to put their hands on their drum and let their bodies receive the vibration of the rhythm through their drum. I saw many closed eyes and smiling faces that night. 7 Evidence-Based Elements of HealthRHYTHMS Group Empowerment Drumming:

1. Stress-Reduction
2. Exercise
3. Self-Expression
4. Camaraderie/Support
5. Nurturing
6. Spirituality
7. Music-Making

To learn more about DRUMMM’s Wellness programs, visit
For more information on HealthRHYTHMS and the health benefits of drumming, visit
To learn about Alpha 1 disease, visit
To read and see photos from the conference, visit