I had played the trombone in the school band and carried the bass beat in more than one song. Om pa pa…… Playing music had ended with my decision to quit band in the eleventh grade. The absence was minor in the scheme of things as life moved on in different directions. My children had taken up saxophone and violin in elementary school for a while, but set them aside as the tune of other things in their lives struck stronger chords. Music was relegated to the listening mode, in the privacy of our individual spaces or headphones. Then a friend invited me to an African drumming class. The timing fit into my efforts to find escape routes away from home.
The initial ease of learning just three basic striking methods – base, tone, slap – was appealing. But it was the way the vibrations and rhythms shook my body that hooked my heart! Each strike traveled through my hands, up my arms, to my core – shaking loose knotted threads of tension. Simple combination were taught, then combined into increasing complex patterns. There was no sense of familiar melody to help me organize the patterns for memory. I closed my eyes. My ears searched for the rhythm until they caught it – then relayed it directly to my hands. After repetition after repetition my body began to pulse, not just to the beat, but as part of the beat. Two hours passed in what felt like less than one. Worry and woes flew out the window on the wings of the notes. My breath flowed in and out like a deep soft whisper. My palms were tender, and so was my heart, as if anger and resentment had been beaten out of it. The rhythms coursed through my head for days as I discreetly tapped on any solid surface that came into reach. This was serious. The teacher had a good source for purchasing traditionally made wooden drums with goatskin heads and I couldn’t resist the pull to have my own, to feel the vibration seep into the depths of my body and soul.
I went to more classes and drum circles and the feeling never changed – but I did. My tense shoulders released as the beat spread like a virus through my body, elevating the heat in places frozen in resistance, and burning through the heavy doors that blocked the way to feeling joy. I attended classes whenever I could, but sporadically at best. I never went to one without the friend that had introduced me, but did not attend all that she did. She was enthralled with the drumming and the connections she made – and with the dancing. I watched the liquid flow of bodies in response to the music. I tried to join in once, but soon retreated to the sidelines as the instructor urged us to move in ways my robotic body couldn’t even believe was possible– no matter how much I consciously tried to relax. I wanted to dance, I needed to dance, but dance was absent from my current vocabulary.
Despite the delight drumming drove into the deep corners of my being, I always felt like an outsider. I never felt ‘cool’ enough or at ease enough, and reverted back to that silly smile I had used for so long as a limited tool for connection. We ended up moving to a different location, putting my friend and classes further away. I let the drift grow. Not because I wanted to, but because added distance made it easier to avoid the discomfort interlaced with the desire. And because I was still attached to the turmoil at home, could not leave it behind, could not allow myself the release and pleasure of this distraction regularly. My drum waited in the corner, silent for months at a time. Habit, fear, and constraint tried to smother the notes that had temporarily left them behind. But the rhythm of the music had been brought to life and refused to be erased. Drumming was more than a convenient escape. It was a discovery of the place inside where ease pulsed to a primal beat.