Sandpoint drummer keeps the rhythms flowing

Michael Clark and Drumatic Innovation made front page news in the Bonner County Daily Bee, of Sandpoint Idaho!

(Link to Bonner County Daily Bee and article appear with permission of the feature correspondent, David Gunter.)

Michael Clark, workshop presenter for Drumatic Innovation Inc., makes the most of a break in last week’s weather to get outside and jam in the sun with fellow drum enthusiast Molly Smith. (Photo David Gunter)

DailyBee Drum Circle

Michael Clark, workshop presenter for Drumatic Innovation Inc., makes the most of a break in last week’s weather to get outside and jam in the sun with fellow drum enthusiast Molly Smith. (Photo David Gunter)

Posted: Sunday, April 24, 2011 10:00 am

SANDPOINT — The quiet of the woods was pierced by a steady beat that seemed to float along on the rhythm laid down by Rapid Lightning Creek. Michael Clark poked his head out of his cabin door, looked around in the night for the origin of the sound and found it coming from the tipi a visiting friend had pitched near the water.

It pulled him closer until, within minutes, he became part of a groove that has held him in its sway ever since.

“I heard this thumping sound that literally grabbed me by the heart strings and tugged me out there,” Clark said. “My friend handed me a Native American shaman drum and we sat there for what I thought was 15 or 20 minutes, but turned out to be two hours.

“My life changed from that point on.”

Clark recently moved back to his property east of Sandpoint, bringing with him an enterprise he calls Drumatic Innovation Inc. For the past nine years, he has traveled and taught drumming workshops from England to Olympia, Wash. In those sessions, he has worked with bereavement groups that need a way to communicate what words can’t say, corporations that have been frustrated in previous attempts at team building, senior living facilities seeking ways to rekindle memory and encourage low-impact exercise, and with at-risk youth to foster self-esteem and respect for others.

In schools both here and abroad, he has shocked educators with his ability to take a gym full of students and turn them into a cohesive musical unit in record time. Clark calls it going from “manic to magic in 60 seconds.” And he manages this feat without words, using the universal language of beat to get his message across.

“Give me a room full of 200-300 kids,” he said. “All I do is pick up a cowbell, play a rhythm and walk off. They’ll groove by themselves on drums and percussion instruments for 10 minutes.

“The kids are in heaven,” he added, “and I love the look on the teachers’ faces.”

Clark fell into the workshop presenter’s slot by coincidence, when the person leading a drum circle moved away and the members asked him to carry on in his place. Soon after, an African dance group pressed the drummers into service as its musical accompanists. All the while, Clark was taking every drumming master class he could find within a rational traveling distance and racking up a reputation as a drummer of note.

“The next thing I knew I was drumming in schools and learning about corporate drumming, where I take a bunch of very serious people in suits and turn them into drum maniacs,” he said.

In every workshop setting, Clark follows the “less is more” credo when teaching. With more than 100 drums and several times that many percussion instruments in his collection, he shows up with something for everyone to play. Getting right to the playing, he said, has been the stamp of his teaching style.

“For me, it’s ‘Don’t talk — drum,’” the presenter explained. “I put down a nice, simple beat and hold it steady. People entrain to that and start doing their own version.”

The benefits of drumming go beyond making music with others, as Clark has witnessed in his workshops with special needs organizations and when providing drum therapy programs for correctional facilities, hospitals and community groups.

“There’s so much magic that goes on in drums,” he said. “They speak in a language that everyone understands. When you drum, you don’t have time to think about your taxes or the price of gas — it brings you into the moment, into the now.”

In that place, he continued, people experience enhanced mental clarity and focus, as well as a newfound freedom to explore and experiment.

“People need to learn to relax, to breathe and to make mistakes,” said Clark. “Drumming allows them to do that. It gives them permission to try something new in their lives. My No. 1 rule in a drum circle is: Have fun and make lots of mistakes. How else do you learn?”

Since returning to Sandpoint late last year, the drum instructor has reconnected with many of the local residents who took part in his weekly drum circles at Sandpoint City Beach and other gatherings he organized. Now his objective is to get a whole, new crop of people interested in the joys of drumming and reinvigorate similar local events.

According to Clark, the process of communicating in this universal language — of sharing and shaping the beat as a group — has a power that ripples out beyond the ring of drummers.

“I have seen so much transformation, even from people who are just walking by the drum circle,” he said. “The essence is giving people something they can be here now with. And if you spend time in the now, even once a week, it’s going to change your life.

“I’m just honored that the drum called to me and said, ‘Hey, follow me,’” he went on. “What I’m shooting for now is reaching a new group of people and telling them, ‘Try it — you’ll like it.’”

Drumatic Innovation will present a six-week, introduction to drumming course on Tuesdays starting at 6:30 p.m. from May 3-June 7 at the Evan’s Bros. coffee roastery, located at 524 Church St. in Sandpoint. Cost for the course is $90, $75 in advance, and no prior experience is necessary. For information contact Michael Clark at (208) 627-8011 or visit:

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