My birthday was a crazy-fun day. I’m still giddy from it. Apparently, I should have hired myself long ago as Birthday Day Coordinator.
In any case, the highlight – if I had to choose one, because, really, the whole day was so good – was the evening Drum Circle. I hadn’t gone to one in exactly one and one-half years, which I remember because it was on Hallowe’en, and there was a baby in my belly.
Baby is now fifteen months old, and this was a spring day, not fall. It was a very spring-like spring day at that, with temperatures in the near-70s. We had the door propped open for most of the evening to let the fresh, green air come into the borrowed yoga studio. My friend and I got there just before 7, just as D & P were unpacking their drums and getting chairs laid out for everyone. A few other drummers were already there, and we snagged a couple of djembes and sat down next to them. One of the ladies remembered us from our 2005 appearance, which was a really nice feeling. We exchanged a few words, got comfortable, and then hit it.
Hitting the drum is such a liberating thing. The first notes for me were slightly hesitant. I mean, this wasn’t my drum, and I don’t get to do this kind of thing often. What if I made a bad note or something? But that’s the joy of drumming. You don’t need to have a proper embouchure or complicated finger positioning to make it work. You just play it. That’s not to say there isn’t skill involved with drumming. But it is a friendly instrument for the novice. And hitting it is, well, just plain fun. In no time, I was slapping that drum with confident – and sometimes even correct – strokes.
D talked us and the other two novices through a few simple rhythms. He’s such a gentle teacher, and never draws attention to the fact that hey, everybody, here are the newbies learning the songs over here… He just starts the rhythm, plays it himself while walking around the room so everyone has a chance to see his hands moving over the drumhead. If it’s complicated, he uses word-patterns to help you remember what you’re supposed to do:
what/ a/ pret/ ty/ pret/ ty/ girl,/ what/ a/ pret/ ty/ girl/
So he would start a rhythm, and everyone just sort of joined in when they were ready. There was no formal “A-one, and, a-two, and,” Lawrence-Welkian beginning to the songs. Just a conversation between friends and their drums. D stayed near the newbies until he saw they were into the song, and then walked around to pull everyone else into the circle. We drummed. We were drumming!
And then, something rather interesting happened. Or at least, I imagine it happened, since I was in a delirious drum-induced daze. As our drums beat together, I no longer heard the voice of my drum, or D’s drum, or any of the individual instruments. I just heard beat. And then I no longer felt the smooth, cool drumhead under my hands. I had to look down to be sure I was still touching the drum. My hands felt nothing, but I could feel the beat. It was almost tangible in the room. Other people must have felt it, too. Looking around, people started closing their eyes, drum drum drum, and a few got restless feet and stood up, letting the drum, drum drum move them however it moved them. One lady started dancing, making very tribal gestures: arms waving, head lolling around, bare feet shuffling all over the coarse carpet. Then we opened the circle wider, so the first woman could dance inside of our drums. Another woman joined her. A young man, who looked a lot more like a banker than a drummer, darted in and out of the circle with odd percussion instruments. He moved in and around the dancers as they writhed, creeping and slinking between them, periodically shaking enormous dried pea-pods and strange clusters of angular nuts at the dancers and drummers. Someone hit a strip of chimes. Someone sang. Someone ohmmm-ed.
And then everyone ohmmmed. The beat decrescendoed and deccelerated into a trance-like heartbeat. Some people stopped drumming altogether. Those who played the heart rhythm were soft, gentle, almost reverent with their tones. The ohm-sound rose and fell, like breathing. Our racing heartbeats slowed to match the pulse of the drums. Chimes sounded. The spell hovered, like a soap bubble, and then dissipated. The silence was comfortable, but it also held a sense of longing, of wanting more.
We were all back to our normal selves at this point: bankers, mothers, students, teachers. For a little while, though, we were all nothing. And everything. And anything.
I need to drum more often. Or to have fewer birthdays in between drum circles, perhaps.