Seniors revel in drum-circle class

Susan Corrigan and Essie Friedman keep the beat during a drum circle at The Palace in Coral Gables, Fla.

Rum-pum-pum. Rum-pum-pum-pum. Pum-pum-pum-pum-pum.

Bang those sticks. Hear those drums. Feel that beat.

At the Sunday afternoon drum and singalong class at The Palace at Coral Gables, music is the great healer. It eases niggling worries, soothes aching joints, mends grieving hearts, restores fickle memory.

“Music takes you to a good place,” says instructor Michael Cloyes, owner of Servant Response Entertainment. “It brings back happy memories, happy times. Who doesn’t like to sing?”

Apparently no one. The Lake Worth resident offers his one-hour drumming/singing/music trivia program at retirement communities around South Florida from Miami to Fort Pierce and west to Pahokee. But better than a chance to play drums or name that tune, Cloyes offers retirees something more valuable: a chance to stroll down memory lane without the eye-rolling impatience of those who don’t understand how a few notes can make the burdens of old age disappear.

Drum circles are usually held in public places – beaches, parks and festivals – and aren’t constrained by skill or talent or musical education. A similar concept has now hit the world of senior centers, retirement homes and assisted living facilities. And while the jam sessions are probably shorter and more informal when offered to seniors, the objectives are similar: to build community and foster feelings of well-being. The extra bonus for seniors is that drumming improves balance and coordination.

Plus, it’s fun.

“Everybody at one point or another in their life has wanted to play drums,” Cloyes says, “but had parents who said no. They didn’t want all the noise and the banging.”

At The Palace on a recent Sunday, Cloyes, 52, begins with a quick lesson on how to hold drumsticks and how to coax different sounds from the instrument. There’s only one rule, he tells the class: “Don’t hit anybody with your drumsticks.” Apparently even among the more mature crowd, a student or two can get frisky.

Cloyes supplies the drums and the drumsticks. He leads on keyboard. The class doesn’t sit in an actual circle, but in rows, with the more eager residents up front and the timid sticking to the back of the room.

Cloyes plays waltzes, cha-chas and nursery rhymes that invite dancing. He warms up the audience in the second-floor theater by playing a few notes of a country music favorite on his keyboard and asking them to guess the title.

“The Tennessee Waltz,” the class shouts in unison.

He segues to such all-time favorites as “Hello, Dolly” and “I’m Looking Over a Four-leaf Clover,” and then romances the crowd with Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” The more songs Cloyes sings, the rowdier the audience gets. The participants are here to have a good time – and by golly they’re going to have it.

Their enthusiasm is a welcome sight for Palace social director Pamela Parker. “We have residents who haven’t participated in anything because they feel that they can’t,” she says. “But then they come to this class with the music and the singing, and it changes them.”

This is Cloyes’ second class at The Palace, and there are more than two dozen residents in attendance, almost double the number in the first class. Word has gotten around.

The Palace residents have come with their walkers and canes and hearing aids. Some drift into the theater midway through the class, after hearing the music in the hallway. Elegantly coiffed, the women – who outnumber the men by more than three to one – wear lipstick and earrings. Their eye shadow matches their clothes.

“It’s a way for us to get together on a Sunday afternoon,” says Angela Pickett, 85, who shares a drum with husband Mic, 87. “And it’s fun. The songs he plays, we all know. They’re from when we were young.”

Indeed. Cloyes’ repertoire isn’t one you hear much anymore.

“Baby face,” he croons. “You’ve got the cutest little baby face. There ain’t nobody can ever take your place.”

Cloyes brings his drums and his keyboard to The Palace every other week, but Parker, the social director, is thinking of offering the class more often.

“I’ve witnessed what it does for my residents,” she says. “They come up to me and ask, ‘When are we doing this next?’ ”


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