Thursday, June 26, 2008

Push comes to shove

Sidy has been pushing me lately.

In class, he'll sit with his head bowed, listening to me. Sometimes watching my hands intently. Then, he will lift his head, signal us to stop and tell me what I am doing wrong. "Your tones and slaps are muddy. They need to be clearer." or "That rhythm is off. You know you know it, but you are thinking too much and aren't able to play it."

I find this, frankly, thrilling.

I know he worries that I feel he is picking on me, but it is the exact opposite. I feel like I have reached some kind of threshold, where suddenly, it isn't about me ham-fistedly banging out the basic rhythms, but indeed, finessing the real essence of a piece from my drum. It is a refining process. It is, in other words, the kind of work that someone beyond beginner stage gets to do.

And believe me, it is a stretch. If I think about the tones and slaps, I mess up. If I think too much about anything, I lose my concentration and mess up. I am at the stage now where it works best for me to imitate what Sidy plays, rather than try and sort out what is a tone or slap, count the number of strokes, etc. I used to need to write it all down in black and white so I could wrap my brain around it. Now it is better to just listen and see if I can hear what I need to play and then try to play it. Over and over again.

Rhythms build slowly. First, it is a matter of remembering the handing. Then, the tones and slaps. Then, the swing of a piece begins to emerge. Then I listen to Sidy play it again, and it becomes painfully clear that it will be years before I can play it as beautifully as he does.

But that, too, is thrilling.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The drum is done!

I couldn't pull the uprights tight enough, but went ahead and threw a couple rows of diamonds in so I could check out the sound.

Sidy came by for a lesson today and pronounced the drum good. He even played it for awhile. Let me tell you, that was a complete thrill, listening to a djembefola playing a drum I rebuilt.

After he left, I took the diamonds out again and pulled the verticals tighter.... but I think I need a tool to be able to get them really tight.

I made a homemade rope pulling tool, but I broke it yesterday! Ha!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A new djembe head


I spent the day putting a new skin on my friend Lisa's drum... and let me tell you, it's hard work! With this one I was starting from scratch: new rings, new red fabric wrapping the top ring, new rope harness and verticals. The hardest part was getting the rings to stay even on top. Sidy might tell me it's not right and make me take it all out again.

But at the end of the day, I am excited that I was able to do it. I pulled the uprights tight enough so that the rings slipped down a little, where Lisa likes them. And I have wrapped the fur ring in an Ace bandage so it will dry nice and close to the drum.

Next up: shaving it and tightening some more. Then tune it up and hand it over to it's patient owner!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Making peace with my arms

I have always had fat arms. It runs in my family. So even for the 3 months that I was skinny in High School, my arms were chubby.

I hide my arms a lot. I wear 3/4 length sleeves, or at the very least, short sleeves. I am shy to wear tank tops, even on the hottest days. This is especially true when I am playing my drum because all the fat jiggles around and calls attention to itself.

But lately, I have been noticing that underneath the layer of extra flesh, muscles are forming. I can feel them. It makes me realize that even though they aren't pretty, my arms ARE the things that allow me to play my drum.

So I think it is time to make peace.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rebuilding a drum

I have never been one for crafts or art. I just don't really have the attention span. My dad, for example, will attack a carpentry project and spend months on it, going over every detail, making sure it is beautiful and functional when it is finished.

I have never had the temperament for that. I rush stuff. I throw things together. I want things to get done.

So why, dear readers, do I love messing with fixing drums so much? This has been a complete revelation to me. A couple of months ago, my teacher started letting me work on drums. He started slow: tune a student's drum, unstring one with a broken head. Restring one that he had replaced a head on.

This week, he gave me my friend's drum to rebuild. It needs new rings, a new head, the whole deal. I measured the drum to fit brand spanking new cold rolled steel rings. My husband is having them made for me. I soaked the skin to get the old rings out. I undid all the ropes. And as soon as I have the new rings, I am going to wrap the rope ring with red fabric and string the rope loops and mount the skin on the flesh ring and run the uprights and pull them tight.

And for some reason, as I do this, step by step, I don't feel rushed at all. I don't feel like I want it to be done already. I am just enjoying each part of the process.