The seniors are seated in a circle, hands poised on the drums between their knees, quietly waiting for their leader, Daniel Hirtz, to bang out the first beat of the drumming session. When the music starts, the energy inside the activity room instantly lifts. The players gain confidence and fall into step, empowered by the rhythm, and their drumming builds in intensity and volume. Staff members are drawn to the circle and join in, clapping hands, tapping feet, shaking their hips or a tambourine to the beat. Everyone is in perfect sync with the groove—and with one another.

“Since the beginning of time, music has been a social tool that connects people,” says Daniel, a passionate drummer, musician, and author who has been conducting drumming sessions at On Lok PACE centers throughout the Bay Area.

“In Indigenous communities, drumming is the universal heartbeat that brings people together. As we drum, we become one with the beat: life energy flows freely through our bodies, and we immediately feel its positive power. We saw the effect on our drumming circle today. Within ten minutes, people looked so happy. And all they did was play together.”

Daniel has led drum circles for over 35 years in many therapeutic and community settings. He believes our world needs drumming more than ever. “Drumming engages both sides of the brain, promoting a sense of wellness and contentment. It is accessible to all people, even those of us who have lost some of our physical or mental faculties due to aging, sickness, or accidents. It also connects us viscerally to each other, opening up the tremendous powers of community. For seniors living with dementia, it may even reopen doors in their memory.”

Drumming has been proven to help release stress and agitation in people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Daniel believes it is more effective than meditation. “Participants might come to the session feeling insecure. Once the drumming starts, they give themselves up to the beat. They connect with their bodies and get out of themselves, releasing tension. They are in unity with each other,” says Daniel.

To keep the players inspired and engaged in the session, Daniel and the Activity team weave performance and sound healing into the session with singing bowls, temple bells, shakers, gongs, and a bamboo didgeridoo over six feet long.

“One participant was very dismissive, until I gave a set of tempo bells to play. Soon his eyes were shining with excitement, and he was totally into the groove," says Daniel. "Another participant, who could not see, had not participated in any activities for months, until we put a round shaker in his hand. He immediately fell into step with the beat, moving his whole body to the music. The moment the rhythms touch seniors, you see them come alive, feel empowered, and you can tell they are amazed at how good they feel.”

In the photos, Daniel Hirtz leads a drumming circle session at On Lok PACE. To learn more about Daniel Hirtz and drumming, visit