Tina Visits The Meridian Hill Park Drum Circle


I remember being a little kid and spending nearly every weekend in Manhattan with my grandpa. The city was always full of excitement and there was always something to do. But, my favorite activity of all was an afternoon spent in Central Park, and my favorite thing to see was the roller skaters. There was loud music, dancing, people dressed in crazy outfits, and just an overall vibe of fun and excitement. On a recent trip to New York, I stopped by “Skaters’ Road” and was happy to see that they were still there – just as I remembered.

So, what does this have to do with DC? Well, on hot summer days I sometimes find myself lamenting that I chose to live in a city that doesn’t have a “Central Park,” but I do have a pretty nice alternative pretty much in my backyard – Meridian Hill Park. And lucky for me, Meridian Hill Park also has the closest thing I’ve been able to find to the roller skaters in our fair city – The Meridian Hill Park Drum Circle.

Around 3pm every Sunday in the warmer months drummers begin gathering at the southern edge of the parks upper level. Slowly they trickle in, and by 6:00 the circle has usually grown to include about 30 drummers, dancers, and as many as a hundred onlookers. At its height you can hear the beat throughout the entire park. And it’s been like this for more than 40 years, with beginnings tracing back to Malcolm X’s death – when drummers began to play together in celebration of his life.

The crowd changes weekly, but there are some drummers who have missed only a few weeks here and there over the course of 10, even 20 years. It’s a pretty fluid event, but there is clearly someone in charge – barking orders to quicken the tempo or slow things down. Through the years it’s become so much more than just a circle of drummers and dancers. These days you’re likely to find impromptu dance classes, hula hoopers, a yoga session, and even tight rope walkers. Story continues after the jump with pictures and a video. Make sure you watch the video!

I remember the first time I took a trip over to the drum circle, feeling sort of struck by what I saw. Maybe I don’t get out enough, or at least to the right places, but I think this is one of the few places I have felt a real sense of community in DC – total strangers coming together for no other reason than to bang their drums, dance around (some like fools) and just have a good time. Anyone is welcome, and you don’t even have to bring your own drum. I saw plenty of people sharing, even offering up their own instruments to curious onlookers. Same goes for the dancing; I even got solicited to join the fun – an offer which I politely refused!


I don’t go every weekend, and I’ve never actually participated in the drumming, or dancing, but when I do have some free time on a Sunday evening it’s often where I head. There’s something very refreshing about the carefree attitude of this event in such a buttoned-up city. The drummers and the audience come from all walks of life, and everyone is just thrilled to be there. Yes, there are a few who make me snicker, like the dorky looking middle aged woman with a fanny pack who couldn’t hold a beat if her life depended on it. But the Drum Circle doesn’t care who you are, where you come from, or why you’re there. As long as you want to have a good time – they will welcome you with open arms.





19 Comment

  • Arrggghh.. bunch “I am in touch with the universe” hippies! 😀 😉

  • Its Malcom X Park, WHUT WHUT!!

  • Yay for hippies!

    Very cool. I didn’t know about this and it sounds like a fun thing to check out with my daughter.

  • reminds me of ‘the interpreter’ — a must-see movie….

  • I totally agree with you Tina. It is something everyone must do once while living in DC… next time I will be in the middle dancing with the shirtless man!

  • It’s a shame this has been diminished to “hippie status.”

    The practice of drumming and dancing has been deeply ingrained in various cultures for centuries. For schooled drummers, they understand the intricacies and differences amongst the rhythms. The music was never just for entertainment purposes…it goes deeper than that. When the practice began, I believe there were firm intentions attached to the gathering. Now inexperienced individuals who just want to beat on a drum for the hell of it have joined in.

    Over time it has become this “cool place to hang out” and some of the integrity has been lost simply because people are unaware. It’s great on one hand that there’s intermingling of various groups…it’s just unfortunate that the meaning has been lost upon many of the participants.

    Truth be known, there are some members who are resentful of people not making an effort to understand the origins of their weekly practice. Unfortunately, many of the people who come through don’t know there is anything to be understood.

  • E-Girl, you’ve just proved the point with your exclusionary diatribe. “inexperienced individuals” “integrity has been lost” … you are taking yourself and your drum circle a little too seriously. I personally love the idea, but what’s wrong with people having fun with it and joining in?

  • E-girl – Would you please elaborate on the deeper meaning of the various rhythms? I am one of those “inexperienced individuals” who goes simply to enjoy the music and cultural scene. If it truly bothers members of the circle that people don’t understand the nuances of their performance (which I question), they should either drum in a private space or make an effort to explain the meaning.

  • I used to live in the Envoy (16th St) and my apt faced the park right across from this circle. It was nice for a few weeks, but in the end it was one of the reasons I left the building. It was just a little too much to hear all day every Sunday.

  • I’ve never checked out the drum circle, but my favorite community-building, music-and-dance event in DC is definitely the awesome brass band that plays in Dupont and Adams Morgan during the summer. Of course, it’s totally impromptu, depending on when the band feels like coming out, but that just makes it more exciting, I think. And you get to see the buttoned-up crowd let loose, quite literally.

  • Before I elaborate, let’s just remember that open communication can only benefit us all in the long run.

    SG…you are making a couple of assumptions. First let me say that I’m not taking myself too seriously seeing as how I am not a drummer and I am not frequently at the drum circle. I have been there possibly three times.

    Second, in speaking to an individual who goes regularly, I am expressing the sentiment of a few people. As far as I could see and as far as what I’ve been told, the drum circle is open to ALL.

    Third, the “integrity” is not challenged by newcomers being there. I’m just saying that for some of the elders, they are saddened (I don’t know if that’s the correct word choice) by the loss of the “sacredness” of their practice.

    I’m not an expert on drumming, by no means, but I have become aware that it is an intricate language of sorts. By the varying tones and patterns, different emotions and even “words” can be conveyed. Certain rhythms may be used on different occasions, etc…that’s not to say these rules are in play all the time, but I think some of the most serious of musicians wish that part of the activity was acknowledged. And in this regard I agree with John in that perhaps there ideally should be more communication from the individuals who do care about those nuances.

    My only intention was to inform people who write this off as a “hippie” practice that drumming actually has cultural roots for many people.

  • ooops…didn’t mean to italicize the whole thing…

  • I can smell the patchouli from here…….

  • Here’s an article from two years ago. E-girl isn’t exaggerating. It’s just a matter or respecting the tradition that you choose to join.


  • wow what a divisive stupid comment e-girl.

    i am a drummer and that’s ridiculous.

    from that article

    “”One of the main reasons I go out there is because I enjoy the tremendous mixture of classes of human beings,” said Doc Powell, founder of the Malcolm X Drummers and Dancers, who was one of the first people to play in the circle in the ’60s. In 1975, Powell founded Malcolm X Drummers and Dancers, a group of performing artists that grew out of the cultural activities at the park.”

  • I am not trying to be divisive… I stated that drumming was cultural and the circle had initial intentions. The words I relay are from some others in the circle – not ME. All I;’m saying is there is a tradition there that should be recognized and respected.

    If you want to refer to that article, it article also says:

    “Though the music appears to rise and fall spontaneously, master drummers like Powell are actually carefully directing the Cuban and West African rhythms. Some newcomers follow attentively, while others bang wildly, oblivious to the tradition…

    “This is [a] new phenomenon, people just wanting to release energy,” says Baba Aziz, a professional musician and drumming instructor who lives in Mount Pleasant. When Aziz started playing in the circle 20 years ago while studying at Howard University, no one dared to bang, he says…

    Sitting at its helm, year after year was Barnett Williams. As the neighborhoods around the park changed and newcomers flowed into the circle, Williams emphasized that anyone who respected the rhythms could join in. He taught newcomers, challenged old-timers, maintained order and provided inspiration, veterans say. When Williams died in March, some feared that the tradition would go with him.”

  • Oh,… and in re-reading my first statement it should have read “SOME of the inexperienced individuals” not to imply all novices are oblivous.

  • Tina- once again you have managed to create quite a stir with your highlights of this local hidden jem. Next up I would like to see a post on the Amish farmer’s market near King Farm, MD.

  • I’m there every sunday I can be there helping keep the the drummer on beat and maybe even learn a few things about each other and drumming.

    We just started the season again last sunday.

    Check My website for info.


Comments are closed.