by Phyllis Capanna © 2012 joyreport
I’m not going to say anything about drumming that hasn’t been said already. But it would be nearly tragic for me to write thirty essays about joy and not mention a single thing about drumming. Especially since I took time off from writing to go to a drumming convention and barely said anything about it when I came back.
My moment of clarity around drumming came while listening to a friend playing an African rhythm on the djembe and singing. Something hit me that there she was making music with her hands. And her voice, and her body. These were rhythms that I did not understand in my Western training at all, and I took one look at her and said to myself, “I want to learn how to do that!”
It was revolutionary, because in my upbringing some types of music were “real” music and “real” art — “serious” music — and some musical expressions and instruments were more valuable. Melody, voice, harmony, these were at the top. Wanting to play rhythms was akin to wanting to be a music stand: close to music, but not music.
I had my moment of clarity and left it at that until I was invited to go with a friend to Kripalu in Western Mass, to take a weekend class with Layne Redmond, frame drummer and author of When The Drummers Were Women. This was a weekend of learning to play the Middle Eastern style tambourine and learning what Layne’s work was all about.
The whole weekend I kept saying, “What am I doing here? I can’t do this. It’s hard. I’m not going to be able to do this.”
At the end of the workshop, Layne put tambourines out on the floor and offered them at a discount for sale. My eye caught a beautiful turquoise tambourine that had large, shiny, brass jingles. I picked it up and I loved the sound of it. Layne came over and played it and said, “It’s a good one.” It was sixty dollars, and I bought it.
I brought it home and I became obsessed with learning the rhythm she had taught us in the workshop. Once I got the hang of it, it did something to me, to my body, to my mind, to my energy, to my mood. It made me so happy.
During that weekend I learned that there is a frame drummer in the racial or cultural origins of every single person on the planet. And that frame drummer was a woman, a priestess, who used the the drum to create a rhythm to induce a trance state in which she could connect with the Divine. Later, I learned that the spiritual aspect of drumming is not limited to the frame drum and is known across every culture.
Drumming bridges the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual. There is smacking something with an open hand and feeling the vibrations in your heart. There is math. There is listening, and speaking. Drumming gets you in touch with your body, in touch with the ways your body is out of balance and disproportionate. Drumming strengthens the bridge between the two hemispheres of your brain, and the two sides of your body. Drumming brings involuntary smiles and unforeseen tears.
So what did I do in Vermont at the frame drumming convention? I bathed. I swam. I breathed. I absorbed: the lack of ego, the generosity of sharing, the excitement and camaraderie of our tiny little frame drum community, the innovations in how people make music, and the interdependence between the family-owned Cooperman Drum Company and a small Vermont town.
For me, the convention was about loving what everybody brings to the table while holding this little drum in their hands.
This sounds so insignificant in the face of drought, floods, shootings, war, and the perpetual problems of poverty and lack.
I don’t think I’m going to help anything by turning away from the things that make me happy. I drum to stay spiritually fit, to stay joyful.
Look, I want everybody in the world to drum. I think if people drummed together it would be a different world. I think if neighborhoods drummed together, if nursing homes drummed together, if my entire company took time off and drummed together, if they drummed together in Washington, D.C., it would be a different world.
See, when you put a drum in your hand and you sit in a circle — I know it sounds like a cliche, and I know I am a cliche to some people, but I live this way because I’ve seen miracles happen. I’ve seen tears streaming down people’s faces from drumming. I’ve seen old ladies get up out of their wheelchair with oxygen still attached to their nose and boogie. I’ve made friends through drumming. I’ve seen healings through drumming.
When you sit down together and make music together — and this is not a whole group of people playing the flute, or a classroom learning brass, or a woodwind quintet — You don’t need training to play the drum.
It’s a direct transmission from a mysterious place inside you that has rhythm, movement, pace, dynamics, texture and mood. It’s a direct transmission from that, which some people call Soul, to the body, through the hands, onto the head of a drum. And when you do that with other people, there’s a place where we come together, and there are places where we’re different, and we don’t have words for it, but it feels so good! You start as two, and what is created is something greater than adding one and one. After an hour of drumming in harmony with a person whom I think of as an enemy, I’d be hard pressed to do anything to harm that person.
Now you could argue that just the act of sitting down together would bridge whatever gaps and differences we have and that the decision to do that is really the healing factor.
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And I would say, Great! Let’s go for it.