Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Boomwhacker to the Side of My Head

Back in 1990, a guy named Roger van Oech wrote a book called A Whack to the Side of the Head, about unleashing one's creativity.

My whack came at PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Convention) last weekend, when I sat in on a whole series of drumming workshops to prepare for an upcoming  Symphony project with the Court.

Warren and I both attend PASIC whenever possible, and this year it was possible. That meant I spent three days in the heart of the Percussion Universe amid the shiny cymbals, amid the tapping and the tinging and the playing of almost every percussion instrument known to mankind.

And there, in the midst of all those shiny cymbals and all the tapping and the tinging and the playing of almost every percussion instrument known to mankind, I got a Boomwhacker to the side of the head. (Figuratively, not literally.)

At the first drumming workshop, I was the only person in the room who raised a hand when the facilitator asked if there was anyone who didn't know what a Boomwhacker was. In response to the shocked gasps when my hand went up, I blurted out that I wasn't a percussionist. They didn't throw me out of the room, but very nicely allowed me to stay and join them in playing. Afterwards, a real live percussionist came up to and said I could never claim not to be a percussionist again in my life. "You've been initiated."

The next day, I went to another drumming workshop. The room had been rearranged so that the chairs were in concentric circles, each chair with a percussion instrument of some sort - drums, shakers, tambourines, cowbells - on or beside each seat. I slipped into a chair with a large floor drum in front of it, looked and listened around the rapidly filling circle, and soon found a rhythm to add to the group.

The guy from the day before was five seats away. He looked over and nodded at me. "I knew you'd be back," his satisfied smile said.

We drummed for a long time. The first circle of chairs (15 of us? 20?) filled and the second started filling (another 30?). Each player wove his or her beat into the other ones filling the room. Sometimes a player would listen and start a new pattern to fit in a different way with the others.

There is a concept in physics known as entrainment. Entrainment is the tendency for two oscillating bodies to lock into phase so that they vibrate in harmony. It was first noted back in the 1660s by a Dutch scientist, Christian Huygens, who noticed that when he placed two pendulum clocks on a wall near each other and swung the pendulums at different rates, they would eventually end up swinging at the same rate due to their mutual influence on one another.

In Percussion Universe, entrainment means that 60 people all playing their own free-form rhythms in a drumming circle, without a conductor or "leader," will naturally fall into a "locked" pattern where each player's patterns harmonize rhythmically with everyone else in the circle.

In that room, our rhythms continued, swelling and receding, while the facilitator smiled and invited more people to join the circle.  We were locked. We were entrained. We drummed on for a long time, lost in the rhythms of our own making. We drummed on long enough that my hands became bruised. Long enough that many of us in the circle bonded without saying a word.

Coming out of the drumming workshops at PASIC, but especially out of that particular workshop, I felt energized. Ideas - about drumming, about instrument making, about projects back home, about writing - flew through my head. I all but skipped and cavorted down the hall each time I left a workshop.

The drumming workshops were a Boomwhacker to the side of my head. They dislodged preconceptions and misconceptions I had about drumming, starting with "I can't do this." They turned on lots of lights in my head: Whooaaaa - I can do this! Whooaaaa - we can do this! Whooaaaa - we can launch that project without a lot of $$! Whooaaaa  - this is WAY COOL!

Sometimes you have to step outside of yourself to see where you are and where you are going. Sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone and stick your hand up (even if you are the only one doing so) to jumpstart your brain and your energy.

Sometimes you need a Boomwhacker to the side of your head.

1 comment:

Arlene said...

So very true, April..."Sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone and stick your hand up (even if you are the only one doing so) to jumpstart your brain and your energy."

Once again, your words present great lessons... The power of drums works on elemental responses. Thoughts of Japanese drummers on stage... of Native drums at the PowWows we sometimes attend... bring once again similar responses I felt.

Thank you again for sharing your words and experiences.