Listening For the Call--Putting Passion to Purpose

By Kip Hubbard

When I was in my thirties, I was called to a ministry that I didn't know existed. The seed of my awakening had germinated when, at the age of ten, I heard the distant thunder of ancient marching drums warming up for our local Memorial Day Parade. That seed sprouted nearly thirty years later, one chilly Friday night following a community dance in Port Townsend, Washington, and took root deep in my soul.

I was a fresh arrival to that remote then-hippy enclave on the Olympic Peninsula, having recently migrated from L.A. Dressed to the nines in a tweed sport coat, a fire engine red rayon shirt and vintage herringbone slacks, I stuck out like a pumpkin in a raspberry patch.

As the Afro-funk band packed up at night's end, hand drums of every shape and tone--djembes, daraboukas, congas, bongos, bougarabous, ashikos, dununs, frame drums--mingled with the smells of patchouli and incense in the center of the hall. This world was utterly foreign to me. A sailboat rigger named Brion rolled in a set of pregnant-looking drums on a stand, his fingertips wrapped in white athletic tape. Annie, a massage therapist, sported a hand carved drum with a scarf around the rim. This was obviously a pilgrimage to the rhythm gods, and within minutes the room was ablaze with extemporaneous rhythm.

I'd been a kit drummer in my teens but hadn't played in twenty years, yet I always longed to get back to drumming. College loan poor, I couldn't afford a kit and besides, my city neighbors wouldn't take kindly to smashing cymbals and a thumping base drum. I knew something fundamental was missing in my life, yet fantasized of being the drummer at every concert I’d ever attended. In fact, I still do.

In short order, the drum circle was in overdrive. As I hung back, Brion turned to me and, with a sweep of his hand, offered me a turn on his congas. I’d never encountered hand drums and didn’t know the first thing about how to play them. Or did I? As I joined the circle, my hands moved effortlessly across the cow skin heads. At one point I had to stop to be sure the sounds I was hearing were coming from the drums in front of me. Mesmerized by the complexity and cacophony that blended into a "beat soup" of ecstasy, I knew in that moment that I'd come home, baptized by the beat, born and initiated into a world I'd yearned for all my life. In the space of ten minutes, I suddenly felt "in rhythm." As I drove home that night, there was no question; I was feeling my true calling.

Over the next twelve years, I evolved from student to teacher to band leader and ultimately to institute director. At every turn, a door opened and another opportunity to spread the gospel of rhythm appeared. What started as a single enrichment class at the school where I taught blossomed into a flower so sweet that it tickled my nose. I brought on a partner and we went from one drumming ensemble to five, ever expanding into a marching junk band, a teen jazz funk band, an adult ensemble, a teachers' performance band and on and on. My work with the pre-teens was the richest experience of all, and they produced brilliant music. Many observers asked: "How do you get those kids to sound so...professional?" My answer: "Teach them and get out of their way. They've got the rhythm inside them."

Years into my rhythmic journey, the day came when I realized it was necessary to move to the next level. I started a summer rhythm institute for music educators that quickly grew to multiple locations. After twelve years, I'd taught thousands--kids, adults, music educators, cancer survivors, festival attendees, seniors. Our bands performed on main stages and recorded CDs, I lead drum circles of 500, we won accolades. The program had birthed professional drummers and grown exponentially by teaching hundreds of teachers who in turn taught thousands of students.

Looking back on the trajectory of that little drumming program that was sparked by a single, small town drum circle, I believe the dominant factor in my success was, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “listening for the call”--my ability to feel the connection to rhythm and act upon virtually every opportunity that came my way. I did it because I couldn't NOT do it. Learning rhythms was of course important, but that coupled with unbridled creativity to try new things and push the possibilities kept my passion alive. It was the listening for the call, then the acceptance of that invitation, that took me and so many others on that miraculous journey. As Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead, would say, it was the fire in my belly for rhythm that kept me "drumming at the edge of magic."