I went to my first drum lesson last night. I showed up at the Black Repertory Theatre with my djembe and ten bucks, feeling very shy. The teacher was friendly though. He is a young man from Mali, I think. There were three other students, all men. They seemed like they had been taking the class for awhile and were pretty good at following the rhythms.
As I knew I would. Not only do I not have natural rhythm, but it turns out that the physical act of drumming requires a kind of coordination that I apparently don't have. It's not even hand/eye. It's just hand. But you have to make your muscles do things that they simply do NOT want to. Like hit a bass note and then a slap all in one movement. I just want to pound the middle of the drum in 4/4 time and call it a day.
It turns out that in western Africa, the songs ARE the rhythms. There are rhythms for weddings and for funerals. Rhythms for celebrations and circumcisions. Rhythms for conjuring and for giving thanks. And people know them like we would know the wedding march or Pomp and Circumstance. It is the musical accompaniment of their lives.
In class we were learning 5 wedding rhythms. They seemed very complicated to me, especially when the teacher started playing the melody lines on the dun dun. I instantly lost track of what I was doing and started banging in all the wrong moments. Dear Teacher would then smile and stop the melody and get me back on track, patiently repeating the rhythm over and over until I could feebly follow along.
The other guys were generous about not rolling their eyes.
I regret to inform them that I am going to be back next week.