How and where do you feel the beat of drums? Ask people to give a word to describe their experience and the most common one is ‘visceral’. The response starts in the head, the heart, the hips, the toes…a different place for each person. Many will say the rhythm touches their souls and wakes their spirit. Watch those who have let themselves go with the drumbeat. They can seem to be in a dream, on drugs or disconnected from the world beyond the rhythm. The music of band leader Benny Goodman was banned for some time because the drum playing of Gene Krupa was thought to be encouraging sexual responses.
There are few people who can remain still when they hear drums. A very few reject it, maybe because they recognise that it is reaching inside to a part which they do not want exposed.
In The Beat of Our Drums Kevin Richards, who has been running djembe drumming sessions throughout Kent for twenty years, took a roomful of adults and children through the basics of playing the djembe, a chalice-shaped drum from West Africa.
Rather than just giving out instructions, Kevin used images and analogies to teach us, making the learning easier and more interesting. Instead of 'Hit the drum', he would say 'Lift the sound out of the drum' Instead of 'get quieter', 'fade as if you are walking out of the door'.
Kevin explained that the drums were often used to send messages so we played to simple phrases using just the bass (B) and the tom tom (T) tones:
‘To the pulse, to the pulse. Won’t you take me to the pulse.’ (TTB TTB TTBT TTB)
We practised these phrases for several minutes before Kevin told us to listen to his playing and add our own rhythms. Initially there was a cacophony but gradually we synchronised and varied volume and pace along with him. We could feel that our quieter playing was soothing, while our louder playing created urgency. We became confident and everybody seemed to be lost in the rhythms. This combined drumming continued for many minutes and, as many of us closed our eyes to let the rhythm take over, it was mesmerising.
Each participant responded differently…some moved nothing except for their hands; some moved their heads; others almost bounced. It was interesting to see some of the passers-by adapting their pace to the sound of our drums; some even started dancing.
Eventually Kevin led us deliberately faster and louder until we finished with a liberating ‘boom’.
Learning a new musical instrument can be frustrating when you are unable to make the sounds, the notes, the tune. But with the djembe, we were clearly playing it to a level with which even a beginner can be satisfied.
One participant came out and said she had found it satisfying, inclusive, democratic and a session which had created a sense of community. Not bad for just 60 minutes!
- Joy Pascoe
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
Rich Rhythms - Drum Workshops in Kent and the South East