Drumming!

The drumming room is bright but softer, less of a rectangle, more of a square. Metal chairs with blue or yellow hard plastic seats are arranged in a circle. Most of the seats are taken.

Each seat has a tall drum in front of it. The djembes have a carved wooden base and a goatskin drum head. Those I recognize. The other drums are taller and thinner, with a brightly painted base.

There is an open seat on the far side of the circle. I go there, and find a stick wrapped with clear plastic tape on the seat. I look around. Every drum has a stick. I have taken an African drumming class before, but it was djembes only, no sticks.

If the Bi-Okoto dance teacher was a nurturing mother, the drum teacher is a drill sergeant. The young man who had drummed for the dance class, slung in his seat, sits up straight.

Celeste is here, opposite me. I smile at her and she smiles back. Or maybe she smiled first. I’m glad she’s here.

The lesson begins. The teacher tells us the name of the song and the country of origin. Ghana. He makes us say it, then repeat it. He tells us he will ask us next week and he expects us to know the answer.

We start to drum, and I am in trouble. I’m hitting the drum the wrong way, yielding the wrong sound, and sometimes hitting it at the wrong time. It’s obvious to not only the teacher but all that I am lost.

The problem is that I can’t reverse images in my mind. Lots (most?) people can. Trent could. I can’t. When the instructor, facing me, strikes his drum with his left hand, I want to strike mine with my right.

At a break in the song, I stand and pull a chair up next to Celeste, then pull in a drum. She hands me a stick.

Having Celeste to follow makes the drumming easier. My sounds are fitting in with the others. But I’m still periodically getting lost and have to stop to find my way back into the beat.

After struggling through two songs, there is one that comes easier for me. I relax into it, enjoying the sound of my drum blending with the sounds of the others.

At the end of the song, the instructor turns to me. “That one was easier for you because you danced to it. You are remembering the dance with your drum.”

He explains that in African drumming, there is a drum that keeps the beat. There is a drum that sings, but the singing drummer follows the drum that keeps the beat.

He explains that the gourd with seeds is the most important of all and I miss the reason because I’m shocked. I always thought the shaking gourd didn’t matter, that the shaker was given to the person who couldn’t drum.

In African drumming dance, there is no separation between the dancers and the drummers. The drummer keeping the beat keeps his eyes on the dancers, and the dancers keep their eyes on the drummers.

It is a non-Western view of the world. Every part matters, even the smallest. All are part of the whole. The whole cannot be separated without loss.


Chewing the Cud of Good

the side of a brightly painted drum
Thankful for ears that hear.

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