Saturday, February 21, 2009

No Words

I am a verbal person. Part of how I perceive the world is through language. I see and respond and describe. It is how I am in the world.

When I first started studying with Sidy, I loved it best when he would tell us things. He'd talk about the meaning of a song, where it fit into his culture, when it was played. I hung on every word. He could show me a part over and over, but what I would remember, later, at home, was his voice telling me

"Tone tone, slap slap slap."

In my mind, I would hear his words, his voice, his accent, while I grappled with a new part. I knew that the traditional way to teach did not involve telling... but was happy that Sidy adjusted his teaching for us.

In Mali, something changed.

I worked with a teacher who didn't use language to teach the drum. He taught by showing. No words at all. No facial expressions, even. Just the drum itself... and his hands. He'd play a part until I got it, then move on to the next piece. It was a rhythm unbroken by the appelle, seemlessly flowing from solo phrase to solo phrase, one into another. He'd announce the transition by emphasizing his hand position so I knew it was time to change. No words. At the end of the first day, I felt drunk with excitement. I really had no idea how my teacher felt... but I knew that something had clicked for me, in just that hour.

Yesterday, Sidy came to my lesson and we hardly talked at all. He said the name of the rhythm... but really, I would have known just by the break. We played, working over the pieces I have been learning. Then, a new one. No words, just showing me... first at regular speed, then slowly. Then bit by bit because I needed it broken down.

Then, I could play it.

No words. Just the drum. What joy.

No comments: