Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A long way to go

Last night during class, my teacher was demonstrating how to play the third rhythm of Wassolonka. I sat and listened, and was simply blown away by how beautifully he played it. It is easy to be impressed with his soloing. He is a powerful and exciting player and when he moves around a rhythm there is really nothing else like it. But this was different. Here he was simply playing a straightforward rhythm to demonstrate how it is done.

Perhaps my ear is improving. I found myself able to hear the tones and slaps and noticing how they affected the timing of the piece. I could hear the tiniest hesitation between a tone and bass. I sensed a subtle difference in how hard he was hitting the skin, which affected the rhythm oh so slightly. It was like listening to Yo Yo Ma warm up on the cello.

I found myself awestruck, really. I could hear 15 years of playing in that phrase. Years and years of working with some of the best teachers in Mali. Years and years of practice. I could hear generations of players, each teaching, laughing, scowling, reprimanding, ignoring, encouraging. By contrast, I could hear myself, ham fisted, sounding like I was driving a sledge hammer. My drum is waiting patiently for me. I know it may be years before I grow into my drum. Before my skill matches it's beauty. It's power. It's subtlety.

And strangely, I don't find it discouraging at all. Quite the opposite. There is something incredibly exciting about being a novice with a beautiful instrument. It is as if I am earning it every time I improve, even the tiniest bit.

Someone on the djembefola forum once asked how good a player we want to be. I joked that I aspire to mediocrity. But after last night, I have to admit, I dream of making my drum sing Wassalonka like Sidy's does.

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