Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The language of the djembe

I think I have reached a significant milestone. This afternoon, while practicing, I remembered one part of the rhythm we learned last night.

In the past, I have been able to remember bits and pieces of a part, but usually not the whole thing. Today, though, I am pretty sure I am playing at least one of the parts we learned in more or less the correct rhythm. I definitely got all the handing in there.

It feels like there are stages of development as a new drummer. At first, it all seems like the linguistic equivalent of gibberish. Trying to reproduce the sounds and movements without painstakingly writing it all down or recording it (or both) is nearly impossible.

Little by little, though, one begins to discern patterns. Recognizes a word here or there. Can put together simple sentences from memory. Like a language, there are building blocks that provide the foundation. Once you are familiar with the building blocks, it becomes easier to put them together into something meaningful.

And like a language, you begin to dream it when you sleep. I remember the dreams I used to have when I studied French. Strange conversations that felt far more natural than anything I could summon when awake. Now I dream in rhythms. In my dreams I play my drums. I see my hands on the skin and hear the sounds. And sometimes they get so loud they wake me up at night.

What is amazing is that my 7 year old can already speak this language. This morning he sat at a drum and showed me all three rhythms they learned last night. The 11 year old argued about the handing of one of the parts and Emmett simply corrected him.

Could I speak this language when I was 7? Am I, at nearly 43, reclaiming a tongue that comes naturally to children? Or is Emmett just particularly good at it? I don't know. But I know that learning this language, which is so difficult for me, is one of the most joyful things I have ever done.

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