Monday, August 11, 2008

Dreaming of Drumming

For 16 years I have wanted a Mother Drum. That is, one of the big drums such as I have seen Native American people playing during the dances at Pow Wow gatherings.

I first played a Mother Drum during the summer of 1992, when I went to Montana and attended a 2-week program led by Native teacher Brooke Medicine Eagle. After dinner on the first night of the program, Brooke suggested we get warm clothes and flashlights, and come to the yurt for drumming. I still remember going up to her and asking, "What's drumming?" She answered my question by saying that I should come and find out. So I did.

In the middle of the yurt there was a large drum, 3 feet in diameter, supported on a stand. Several women were sitting around the drum, and each held a drum beater in her hand. One of the women began playing a regular beat, with gentle effort, and the others joined in with great accuracy and in unison, so that the reverberating sound was magnified. I watched and listened, and as soon as there was an opening I, too, joined with those who were playing the drum.

It turns out to take quite a bit of skill, as well as a good sense of rhythm, to play a drum for a long time and maintain the beat without speeding up or slowing down. Also, it takes a great deal of attention, listening, and coordination to be able to play in unison with others. And so, for the 2 weeks that I was in Montana, I played the Mother Drum often, and purchased a small hand-held drum for myself. I was drawn to drumming from my first exposure to it. And it was a dream of mine to get a Mother Drum someday. But we don't really have space for a large drum at home, so I never acted on that dream...

I have returned to Montana for various programs on 8 occasions over the past 16 years, and I always looked forward to having the opportunity to play the Mother Drum. Of course, I play my small drum during the dry months in Massachusetts -- generally October through April. And I take this drum with me when I travel out West.

So it came as a wonderful surprise this spring, when I was searching the internet for information on bone health and reading about bone building, when I came across references to the beneficial effects of vibration on bone building. Drumming is good for my health!!

It was in this context -- and also realizing that if I wanted a Mother Drum I needed to get one and not just dream about it -- that I decided to get a Mother Drum. Toward the end of the spring I contacted my dear friend Paula, woodworker and drum maker in Seattle, and asked her to make me a 3' diameter Mother Drum. It arrived last week!

The wood is cherry, the drum body is 15" high and 3' across, with an elk hide on one side and a cow hide on the other. A beautiful instrument with a gorgeous sound. With a simple tap, a penetrating sound reverberates deep inside the drum, and I feel it throughout my body and throughout the whole house. I can feel the vibration with my hand an inch away from the drum surface. And not only am I having fun playing it, but I am helping my bones regenerate in the process. Still, we really don't have room for a large drum, so for now it sits in the center of the living room.

No longer am I just dreaming of drumming, but I am also dreaming of strong bones. Built through fun, through vibration, through joy, and through a dream come true. Now I just have to figure out where we are going to keep it!

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