An informal drum circle had begun about a month ago on Monday nights at the Cafe 4W5. Have drum will play. Or even, have no drum, come and play. I have gone every week, although I have not drummed each time. One week I had to make a proposal for the calligraphy class which I had the opportunity to teach. On the 11th of October, the Green Willow organization had sponsored a concert in the open space, which I chose to listen to rather than play in the drum circle, which had been relocated around the corner. Next week another concert is being sponsored by Green Willow, and the drummer will probably be dislocated again.
I have been coming regardless, to maintain some continuity of support to keeping the Cafe open on Monday nights. Polly [the cafe’s owner] has successfully grown in this last year a weekly “jamming” of bluegrass and blues musicians who come on either Tuesdays or Thursdays. It is a venue where if you bring your instrument, the musicians either take a turn on the small stage in the open room, or you may find little jam sessions in corners of the adjacent cafe or out on the sidewalk. This fall was the debut of the drum circle. It seemed a tiny bit fated. Here I was – fresh on my return from Missoula and an apprenticeship in West African drumming. How unlikely I thought it – to return to the beginning of a new drum circle just when I got back to Delaware. It must be something I was meant to do. Or at least try.
This last Monday night, it was an interesting experience. It was the beginning of the truly cold weather, and rain was threatening. We did have to quickly move inside after a short time. It is truly an informal event, and although 7:30 pm is the “official” start time, folks show up and sometimes fool around “early”, and sometimes or leader designate, Roldan West, isn’t always ready to begin on time. The drum circle truly operates on a flamenco-sense of time in the universe. There are a lot of people who show up regularly, and every week there are folks who hear us on the street and stop by to investigate. It is interesting to watch the self-consciousness of some of the young boys who have “dropped in” for a bit. They are unwilling to show how much they like it – or how “right” it feels. They laugh at themselves, and each other. They do not stay too long usually.
This evening the drum circle attracted the attention of a gentlemen waiting for the train at the Amtrak station a few blocks down the street. He dropped in and jammed the whole night until the last train to Boston left for the night. It turns out he is from Bar Harbor, Maine and had brought his boat south to winter on the Chesapeake Bay, in Chestertown Maryland. He was returning via the train to Boston and home. He had heard the drumming while we were still outside on the sidewalk, and had come up to investigate. He truly wished there was something like it in Bar Harbor, and I could identify. Until a few weeks ago, there was nothing like it in Delaware either.
Roldan and Duane own most of the drums that are brought each week. There are a lot of fine instruments, and one that Roldan, a painter, has also turned into a work of art. There also is one that has been built in true Carribbean fashion from an oil drum. It is our “bass” drum. It has only a few voices, but even so, it always seems an essential part of the ensemble. It seems also that it is a somewhat a fashion to own a small African type of drum. Somehow, I missed this article in the NY Times style section. There is quite a parade of young women over the weeks who stop in for an hour or so with their little drum. There also is another older woman who owns a fabulous djembe drum. Then there is Claire (I think it is her name) who is a talented musician and singer. She can play rhythm on anything, and a few times has tried to get us to sing a little harmony. Neither of these “regulars” was there night before last, although that doesn’t mean anything. They probably will be back.
However, the core of the group seems to be Roldan, Duane, and Anthony. It is probable that these were the guys that proposed the idea to Polly. I am one of the few others who has been a “regular”, though there are always at some point in time at least 10 players. After the rain started on this last Monday, we had to move inside to the open space adjacent to the cafe. We set up on the little stage. When I looked up after I had gotten myself and my entourage (my dog) settled, I noticed that we had lost most of the others than the “regulars” and the Bar Harbor guy. We played on.
It was a new experience for me to play drums on a resonant stage. For the first time, the experience of the rhythm was completely kinetic as well as auditory. The sound reverberates through your feet and the whole body as well as resounding through your ears and hands. For the first time, I was getting confident enough to release myself from finding a basic rhythm and sticking with it. Up until now, I had like the security of fitting in on the oilcan drum. Now I was playing a tall djembe (if that is even its name) standing up with it strung on my body with its strap – just like it is played in processions in Africa. I was free of the chair – free to move and drum at the same time. It seemed a natural for me. Part of me would respond physically to the rhythms of the other players, while fitting in my part on the drum. I seemed to suddenly “hear” better as well. All seemed to make sense – alternatives and variations on the rhythms seemed completely obvious, suggesting themselves directly out of my musical intelligence directly to my hands, completely without hindrance from any analytical thought.
I was no longer thinking – “gee this is structured more in the tangos-tientos type family so what goes with this might be ……” The music was talking to me and I was talking back. It was as Rollo May tries to describe in Courage to Create – an experience so far beyond the ordinary definition of “joy” that it is hard to describe. I will spare the reader of my attempts to verbalize it. Dorothy Ling comes close. I was truly happy and calm and at peace. I had found a home of sorts.