Sandy Layman has used drumming and music to get through some difficult times in her life and now, as a drum circle instructor, she helps others use music in the same way.
“Music was something that was always my go-to,” said Layman, who has clinical depression. “Listening to music, singing, dancing. I did all of that as a little girl. I think music is a healthy way to express yourself and deal with your emotions.”
Layman started playing the drums in elementary school while growing up in Maine. She joined high school band and was briefly a member of a punk rock band before joining the United States Coast Guard.
“The Coast Guard was life-changing for me in a very positive way,” Layman said. “It was really good for me.”
Layman met her husband, Douglas, in the military. When their two children, Cole and Logan, were younger, Layman taught them the power of music.
Strumming a guitar and playing the drums gave Cole the confidence to overcome an orthopedic issue with his hands when he was five years old. At that time, she bought both her children percussion instruments.
“We would all just play at home all the time,” she said. “They were my first real band, and my favorite band that I’ve ever been in. I just loved sitting in our living room and playing with them.”
Eventually, Layman and her children formed the band In Layman’s Terms and began playing coffeehouse gigs. Layman’s husband turned a spare bedroom into a music studio with a sound system, and the band, which now features Cole and Logan Layman and other professional musicians, cut an album, Tangled, which is receiving international airplay.
Layman, meanwhile, decided to shift gears and returned to school to earn a degree in special education. She soon realized how drumming benefitted the special education students in her classroom.
“Music is like medicine for me,” she said. “I think there also has always been a teacher in me. I thrive on helping others. To me, there is also no better medicine than helping others.”
Layman taught special education students in South Carolina, Florida and Northern Virginia before joining the staff at J. Blaine Blayton Elementary School in Williamsburg when her family moved to the area seven years ago.
“There is something incredibly magical about using percussion instruments with my students, especially my nonverbal students,” Layman said. “It gave them confidence and a way to communicate. I’ve always felt that drums have a way of connecting people emotionally. The drum is so much more than a musical instrument. It can be a wellness and learning tool too.”
Layman underwent training in California, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania to become a drum circle instructor. During community recreational drum circles, participants play together to a beat, leaving any stress or worries at the door.
“Individuals are invited and empowered with the opportunity to create their own part or rhythm within the group song,” Layman said. “It is a safe space to let go while tuning in at the same time. Participants have fun expressing themselves and sharing their unique rhythms.”
Layman has led thousands of people in drum circles since she first started. She heads up a weekly meditative drum circle at Studio South where she also teaches yoga, and hosts drum circles for the clients at The Arc of Greater Williamsburg, where she now works as the organization’s development and marketing coordinator.
She also teaches rhythm classes for children and senior citizens at the James City County Recreation Center.
One of Layman’s most prized possessions is a ball of string, which is a compilation of single strands she hands out to each person who experiences one of her drum circles. The ball reminds her of everyone she’s connected with through music.
“There are just so many different ways drumming and music can enrich your life,” she said.