Local women drum for healing, peace, community

It's the first sound humans hear. Thump, thump. A heartbeat. So whenever Shannon Klein begins to drum, she starts with that beat. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. A Reiki master from Fargo, Klein uses drumming in her healing practice, to relieve stres...

Paulette Orth
Paulette Orth beats her handmade drum in the drum circle in Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum

It's the first sound humans hear. Thump, thump. A heartbeat.

So whenever Shannon Klein begins to drum, she starts with that beat.

Thump, thump.

Thump, thump.

A Reiki master from Fargo, Klein uses drumming in her healing practice, to relieve stress and pain. She drums weekly with a few friends at Trollwood Park or their houses. And about once a month, she attends a local women's drum circle.


The women, usually a dozen or more of all ages and many faiths, gather at Presentation Ministries in south Fargo. For many, it has become a spiritual practice. Some find healing in the drum beats.

"You could just be all tied up in knots from the busy day and everything that's going on and you go to a drum circle and you just start to unwind," Klein says, "and you just feel everything coming off your shoulders and you just feel wonderful."

The circle begins by smudging, a cleansing ritual. The women waft smoke from burning sage toward themselves while a soprano's voice lilts from the CD player.

JoEllen Smith, a Fargo woman who helped organize the circle, reads a blessing, then beats her drum lightly, an invitation.

The women respond. Each finds her own rhythm, forming a chorus of drums. Their eyes are closed. Shoes are kicked off.

Soon, their tempo quickens. The vibrations get louder. Intensity fills the room. A rattling instrument joins in. A woman dances in her chair, her head and torso bobbing.

Then, for no obvious reason, the beat slows. The pounding quiets.

Without prompting, after about 10 minutes, they end, as though it were synchronized.


It's quiet.

The women talk for a while, often about healing, peace, change. They close out the evening with another round of drumming.

Thump, thump.

No right or wrong

The women have been gathering at Presentation Ministries, located at the Catholic Presentation Sisters convent, for nearly a year and a half.

It's a casual group, described in their brochure like this: "There is no audience. There is no rehearsal. There is no right or wrong. There is no teacher."

"Just to be in community with women who are drumming, the spirit they bring, it's just a nice place to be," says Sonja Kosler, who lives near Dent, Minn.

Some say it's a calming experience that centers them. For others, it's energizing.


The women drummed at a holistic expo this spring and on the Main Avenue Bridge during a vigil for imprisoned journalist Roxana Saberi. They encouraged runners in the Fargo Marathon with their rhythms.

During the fall and winter, some regularly drum at HeartSprings, a healing ministry based at Fargo's Messiah Lutheran Church.

On Sept. 18, they will take part in "10 Billion Beats," a worldwide drumming event to encourage world peace.

While many have hand-crafted animal hide drums, one woman shakes a box of rocks. They've beaten on oatmeal containers with wooden spoons or used drums made from water bottles.

"There is no right or wrong way," says Cindy Schwab of West Fargo. "What you come with and give to the circle is what's supposed to be at the circle."

Smith describes drumming as an equalizer, a practice that encourages togetherness. She often drums with the intention of peace.

"It has become part of my spiritual practice," says Smith, a Catholic. "It's very meditative and it's a lot of fun."

Deep spiritual roots


Drumming, prominent in Native American and African traditions, has deep roots as a spiritual practice, predating Christianity, says Michelle Lelwica, an associate professor of religion at Concordia College in Moorhead.

In shamanistic cultures, drumming is a way for shamans to enter the spirit world, or an altered state of consciousness, she says.

Lelwica describes drumming as an "embodied spiritual practice," which she says may be off-putting to white Western Protestants, for whom religion is more cerebral.

"It's an ancient spiritual practice we don't need to be afraid of just because it's different than what we're familiar with," she says. "It's important not to dismiss this as some flaky New Age trend."

Lelwica also points out that drumming could be particularly empowering to women, who may be "looking for ways to address spiritual needs that are maybe being underfed by their traditional religions."

Jeanne Troge of Park Rapids, Minn., discovered the healing benefits of shamanistic work, including drumming, after her son died.

She says drumming physically affects brainwaves, bringing people into the relaxed "alpha" state or the deeper "theta" state. She also says drumming as a group also creates "hemispheric synchronization," connecting the participants. "We're united in a oneness of energy," she says.

Troge started a drum circle in 1993. It now meets the third Saturday of the month at Brigid's House, a wellness center in Park Rapids she co-owns.


"It's a safe place for inner exploration, spiritual growth, personal growth," Troge says of her co-ed drum circle. "We bring our issues to the circle and ask for guidance."

Troge also leads drum-making sessions. Many of the women who drum in the Fargo circle made their own drums, some at one of Troge's workshops and others with Doris Issendorf of Henning, Minn., who runs Red Eagle Drums.

All about the heartbeat

Ten years ago, Issendorf went to a drum circle in Fergus Falls, Minn. She enjoyed it, and wanted to make her own drum.

"It was a connection between the women. We supported each other. We encourage each other, we lift each other up, we joke around, we have fun," she said. "It all has to do with the heartbeat."

When her husband Izzy died from cancer in 2002, she did a lot of drumming. She would sit on her deck and drum, meditating, thinking about him and praying.

"It took me about two years, but I eventually moved into his shop and turned his shop into mine, and that's where I make the drums," Issendorf said.

His old woodworking shop is now filled with decaying hides. "I just kind of laugh when I think what he would think of me doing this."


To make a drum, sopping wet elk or deer hide is stretched across a round or octagonal frame and laced tightly, a laborious process.

Troge describes it like childbirth. "It becomes an extension of you. It's like giving birth to a new voice. It's part of you and your energy."

When Issendorf makes drums, whether for an individual or to sell, she holds an intention for their use. Often, it's an intention of healing.

Issendorf has been in contact with administrators from a Minneapolis long-term nursing facility that wants to do drumming with its residents.

HeartSprings, the healing center in north Fargo, will host a music therapist on Oct. 17 who will discuss therapeutic drumming.

Troge says drumming is finding its niche in today's culture because people have lost the healing connection with the world.

"The Earth heals us. It's a healing energy," she says. "Drumming is seen as the heartbeat of Mother Earth. It's putting the heart of the drum and our personal hearts and the heart of the Earth all in unison together and creating a feeling of wholeness, completeness and balance."

If you go

  • What: 10 Billion Beats drumming event
  • When: 7 to 8 p.m. Sept. 18
  • Where: Main shelter, Gooseberry Park, Moorhead
  • For more information: E-mail or for information about 10 Billion Beats or the Women’s Drum Circle at Presentation Ministries.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556

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