Seated in a circle among strangers, Glenn Hake stared at the djembe drum in front of him, reluctant to strike it.
Hake, who had never taken music lessons, was nervous.
He had no idea that he would be performing when his wife suggested they go to “Rhythm n’ Brews” at Settlement Music School on a recent Friday.
“I thought I would be sitting in an audience,” he said of his visit that evening to the school's Mary Louise Curtis Branch on Queen Street, near Fifth.
Yet, here he was, a retired engineer, one of 12 people at Settlement's monthly Queen Village Community Drum Circle who were learning to play traditional African instruments.
“We thought we were going to a concert; we didn’t know we were going to be the concert,” Sharon Hake added.
The adults-only drum circle, known as "Rhythm n' Brews," meets at 7:30 p.m. on the fourth Friday of each month from September to May. The cost is $10 per person -- snacks and beer included. The next circle is Friday.
Now in its third year, the drum circle came about after percussion instructor Bill Marconi and branch director Kris Rudzinski began brainstorming ideas to add more adult programming to the school, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
“We wanted to do something for adults that didn’t require anyone to have any prior musical experience or any drumming experience in a low-stress, nonthreatening sort of atmosphere,” Rudzinski said.
During a recent session, Marconi started with the basics: how to hold the drum in front of you. You lean it forward, he said, and if you’re tall enough, you wrap your feet around its base.
A bass, or deep, sound is made with the flat of your palm in the middle of the drum, while a lighter note is made with the fingers closer to the edge, Marconi said. Then it was time to make music.
Marconi, who is tall and rangy with a cowboy swagger, said he tries to make everyone feel at ease.
“I try to get everybody involved,” he said. “You know that veneer that you have when you’re out in public? You have to let that down.”
As they banged on the drums, even the shiest people were laughing.
At one point, Marconi stood in the middle of the circle pointing to drummers and asking each to come up with a unique drum pattern. Then the person had to team with someone on the opposite side of the circle. Each pair of drummers played one rhythm as other pairs played their rhythms at the same time.
“It’s called rhythm across the circle – you have to listen for that rhythm; you have to focus in,” Marconi said.
He added that most people say drumming relaxes them. “You feel better," he said, "you’re mind sort of drifts. ... It’s really spiritual.”
The drumming also provides a release from workweek stress, some students said.
“It’s always just a really fun evening," said Lisa DiMeo, a marketing specialist who lives in the neighborhood and has attended about six drum circle sessions.
"You meet some nice people," she said. "And it’s just a great release at the end of the week.”
Sharon and Glenn Hake, both 60, had recently moved to Queen Village from Chester County. They were glad they had come to the drum circle.
“It turned out to be fun,”Glenn said. “It was an extra bonus to meet a few people and to do something new.”