I’ve always wondered what that drumming was that comes from the house up the hill from my home. Someone told me it was a group of drummers, and I assumed that it might be a jazz get-together. Well, now I know. Stephanie Buffington, for the last 22 years, has been holding a drum circle at her Greene and Greene home on the corner of Buena Vista Street and Meridian Avenue. Drum circle devotees have known about it for years, and for them, Buffington’s home has become a mecca for their passion.
The drum circle was, until last month, silenced for two years by the pandemic, but before that between 25-40 people attended each month. Some have been coming for many years and they range in age up to 90. The group is now being reduced again as a health precaution, and all people attending must be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
She calls her drum circle a “sacred rhythm lodge” because “it is like a masonic group that focuses on people coming together.”
“A true ceremony can only happen in the moment,” Buffington explained. “Each evening is unique unto itself.”
And you don’t have to know how to play the drums to enjoy yourself. Buffington considers herself a facilitator who wants her guests to get into the spirit of the evening.
“People are really transformed,” she said. “My job as a facilitator is to help people have a good time. I want to get people to go beyond the ideas that they might bring. I want them to leave their bags behind and to have a good time.
“I want them to let go of all the things that they have been worrying about all day. It’s a tall order to let it go,” Buffington added. “We tell them to listen. The idea of listening is to find the beat. Something within you hears ‘the one’ response. When you connect, your face lights up.”
Buffington wants people to enjoy themselves. Some people get up and dance. Others merely tap their feet. Whatever they do, she wants her guests to take a feeling home with them.
“Drumming in community brings you from your head into your heart where joy lives and transformation begins,” she said.
Buffington’s life has been a series of journeys. She was a teen actress when she got a call for a television show called “The Dating Game.” She became a chaperone for the winning couples, escorting them all over the world. Some of those winning dates proved to be so interesting that she turned them into a book called “The Love Company.”
She left the show at age 24 to join her sister in Amsterdam. It was the beginning of a life-changing experience which culminated when she and a group that she describes as “gypsies” ended up visiting a then-13-year-old guru in the foothills of the Himalayas.
She already had been a practitioner of transcendental meditation with a deep connection to India when she made the trip, which her neighbor, longtime friend and fellow traveler Lothar Delgado still recalls.
“We went by bus, train, camel and we hitchhiked a lot,” Delgado said. “I don’t know how many thousands of miles we went to get there.”
Delgado, who lives down the hill from her friend, remembers those days when she and her friends performed in the streets of Europe and met this “beautiful woman” who joined the journey to India.
“It changed us all,” Delgado said. She calls Buffington a very positive person who holds no grudges and who has continued her search for spirituality.
Buffington came back to the United States and worked on a popular TV show — the “Newlywed Game” — before becoming a fashion and textile designer for 20 years. She’s an upbeat person when you speak with her as stories flow easily and joyfully. She’s now working on a master’s degree in metaphysical studies.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed her wanderlust, but she has taken groups around the world, helping them to enjoy the journey. Many of those trips involve festivals which include drum circles.
Drum circles are quite popular in southern California — there is a big one in Venice — though she said that a difference is that hers is more “ceremonial.”
“Steffi keeps the group together,” said a longtime participant, Christine Stevens, who called her friend of 25 years a “mystical world traveler.”
“She makes a sacred space,” added Stevens, a former director of music therapy and wellness for REMO Inc. “If everyone had a place like this, there would be no problems. She is so valuable.”
You might already have guessed that once Buffington makes a friend, they tend to stay in touch.
Steve Hirsh is another longtime participant in the group. He’s in graphic design and printing for a living, but in the drum circle he often plays a drum set or hand drums. He admits to being hooked on these drum circles. Before the pandemic, he’d sometimes do two a week and says he has done “hundreds of them.”
Hirsh likes the spiritual connection that Buffington brings to each session.
“She never drags anyone into it unwillingly, but within minutes, it is easy for most people to participate,” he said.
Hirsh has missed Buffington — almost as much as she has missed seeing all of her old and new friends gathered within that wonderful arts and crafts home surrounded by trees.
“For the last two years, there has been a big hole in my life,” he said.
And so for the last two years, I have awaited the return of the drums while listening to Buffington serenade the morning. She said she now tries to commune with a different kind of peaceful tone to charm the mourning doves that fly around her home.
I hope they enjoy listening to her play as much as I do.
Editor’s Note: The Sacred Rhythm Lodge community drum circle is usually held on the fourth Thursday of the month at 8 p.m. at 1005 Buena Vista St. in South Pasadena. All participants must be fully vaccinated. By invitation with RSVP. For further information, call (626) 799-4795. No texts.