Why

Leave a comment

November 12, 2010

The light shining in their eyes after we drum together is the reason I do my job. The laughter, the giggles, the grins, the easily identifiable signs of joy; the transformation from our individual hang-ups and concerns into a cohesive, harmonious state of happiness.

I schlepped piles of instruments to a couple of different elementary schools today, and drummed with dozens of sixth graders this morning, and dozens of first graders this afternoon. Drums and assorted hand percussion in the morning, Boomwhackers, the Hang, and a personal djembe in the afternoon, one hundred and eleven students, plus seven teachers, totaling one hundred and eighteen participants today.

Today wasn’t a “job” it was a “gift” because I was providing music for the classes my niece and nephew are in. I didn’t asked to be paid, I just tried to be a good uncle by contributing musical enrichment to a couple of elementary schools. But as I sit here in the slanting rays of fading, chilly November sunlight, beside the creek in the back yard of my mom’s property, among the pines of Plumas county, watching the steam rising from the flanks of the horses playing in the field next door and the leaves dropping from the trees like weightless flecks of gold and crimson and reflect on today’s music-making, I feel no less rewarded than if I had been paid top wages by the most prestigious private school.

Twenty-one years deep into this career of drum circle facilitation, I look back, consider the four hundred thousand-plus participants I have hosted, mentally peruse the spectrum of school cafeterias, concert halls, corporate ballrooms, castles, pubs, fields, beaches, backyards, living rooms, trains, buses, restaurants, spotlights, bonfires and sunsets in which I have held events, and realize nothing has changed. I still do it for the same reasons I got hooked on it in the first place.

Drumming together creates a uniquely beautiful state of love.

Advertisements

Two Months Deep

Leave a comment

11/4/13

As the second month of my CalArts graduate education concludes, I am venturing into vast new worlds of melody and rhythm. Latin salsa arrangements, frame drumming fingertip techniques, Ghanian Ewe stick drumming and dancing, Indian talas, arrangements in 7, and in 9, an arrangement in 63 (!!!) and a mountain load of music theory are expanding my horizons faster than a nuclear shock wave.

I’m enrolled in fifteen units and have no schoolbooks. I record my classes, lessons and rehearsals onto my phone and spend twenty to thirty hours a week listening to it all and practicing. I’m enrolled in weekly piano lessons to (hopefully) survive music theory, and hour-long private lessons with the indescribably talented Randy Gloss to (hopefully) survive my two-year-long World Percussion MFA curriculum.

Every day I feel like I’m drowning. At the end of every week I wonder if I’ll ever make it to the other side. For all the hours of concentration and sweat, I cannot perceive growth on a daily basis.  But now, after two months, I realize how fast and far this train may carry me, wonder how much personal growth may be possible, ponder how deep these new knowledge pools may really be, and imagine the possibilities to come.

I am indeed living the dream.

May I find the strength to persevere and the diligence to waste not a single day in the pursuit of these goals.

~ Amen

Miraculous Enjoyment

Leave a comment

April 29, 2013

Another day, another miracle. Today my job consisted of teaching drumming to groups of fifth and sixth graders at a local public school, and today, like so many times before, I went to work injured, and left work healthy.

For several previous days I had significant pain on my left side, as if all the muscles were sprained. It hurt every time I moved. When I got home last night, my left hip and knee were in so much pain it was difficult to walk, impossible to climb stairs. I soaked in a hot bath, and then used cold packs for several hours. When I awoke this morning, the pain had lessened, but was still constant. Any movement triggered muscle spasms up and down my left side. I went to work, and slowly set up all the instruments and chairs, trying to not put any pressure on my left leg. The first group of students arrived, and we began to play… Seventy minutes later, there was a text from my girlfriend, asking if my hip was all right. It surprised me to realize I wasn’t feeling the slightest pain at all. It was completely gone. I had drummed, bounced around, stomped, and even jumped a few times, and had not been in any discomfort at all. An hour of drumming had miraculously cured the pain I had been feeling for a week.

Many times I have gone to work feeling sick, fatigued, or hurting, and had my symptoms cured by the end of the day. Sometimes I almost overlook the daily miracles drumming brings into my life because they happen so frequently. On a yearly average, I only get sick once, typically for only two or three days, and otherwise, stay physically healthy, all the time.

As the decades go by, and my doctors become increasingly surprised by my ongoing state of remarkable physical health, I credit the majority of my health to drumming. Playing drums is my health maintenance program. Every time I play, I get moderate exercise and a heightened heart rate for an extended period of time, I exercise both sides of my body and both hemispheres of my brain, it alleviates all my physical and emotional stress, I get cooperative musical interaction with groups of friends and neighbors, and I have an art/sport/philosophy that brings me health and happiness. The price for a professional caliber djembe and lessons for a year is far less than any medical insurance I’ve ever heard of, and the tests and check-ups are far more pleasant. And sometimes, like today, it even heals my physical injuries.

Play drums. Enjoy your life. And enjoy all the miraculous benefits along the way.

Chap Stick Cap Stop

Leave a comment

January 12, 2012

This morning I was working with a group of seventy 6th graders, and giving student volunteers a chance to go into the middle and signal the stop cut for the entire group. We were experimenting with various ways to signal the rumble to stop non-verbally, and there were some very stylish and inventive signals taking place. The students were lovin’ it.

One of the students volunteered… so everyone else rumbled, and he went out to the center of the circle (“orchestration spot”). Then he held up a stick of Chapstick lip balm. All seventy of us stared at his hands. He lifted the cap off the Chapstick, looked around at everyone, and then brought the lid back down onto the Chapstick… and the rumble stopped in perfect unison!

Howls of laughter erupted all around the room.

Please show me, I’m blind

Leave a comment

August 6, 2012

Saturday I taught my Fundamental Djembe SOLOS class, and began the class by demonstrating the three essential hand drum sounds (bass, tone, and slap). Most of the participants had less than one year of drumming experience, so we spent significant time practicing. After about ten minutes, one of the people in the circle said, “Can you please show me how to do this?”

I paused. We had been practicing technique for quite a while, and I thought I had shown and described the content several different ways. I wondered if I had heard his question accurately. Then he said, “I’m blind. I cannot see your hands. Can you show me how to do this?” So I went over and asked how to help.

He asked me to put his hand in the shape and place it was supposed to go. I slowly placed his hand and fingers on the drum, slowly moved his hand up and down, on and off the drum, and talked to him about the areas of the hand that make contact, and where the sound comes from. His question brought everyone’s focus to the precise details of micro muscle placement. He was calm as we proceeded. Several people got out of their chairs and came over and sat on the carpet so they could watch what we were doing. Everyone copied the slow motion demonstration on their drums. It became the best demonstration of technique I have ever been able to provide. When he succeeded in making tones and slaps, everyone cheered.Note to Self: Because I slowed down and patiently helped him with his question, everyone benefited. We all paid more attention to the micro muscles involved in the techniques, and we all connected in the teaching moment and learning process. I never would have planned to spend fifteen minutes teaching three notes, but it ended up being the most valuable section of the class. I feel like I am the one who learned the most. I learned from his calm, strong, patient request, the way he accepted the help, and the reminder, “The slower you go, the faster you learn.”

The lessons continue…