Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Get It... I Think

Iris talks excitedly about one of her little friends. She beams as she explains how well he's doing, how hard he's trying, how he's defying the odds and expectations.

"He's so smart and quick. You can see that he has things all figured out. He knows all the words. He hears them in his head. But when he tries to say them, they don't come out the way he hears them."

I think, "OK, I get it", at least conceptually, but I still wonder what that's actually like. Then something happened the other day that made it a bit clearer.

I've played lots of percussion and hand drums such as djembe and conga. I've composed hundreds of drum beats. I can hear them. I can see them. I can write them down. I can play them on my keyboard. However, I've never tried to play them on a drum set.

I sit down at Iris' drums to play. How hard could it be. I know this stuff inside out.

I start playing something simple, my left foot on the high-hat, my right on the kick-drum pedal, sticks in each hand. As soon as I add a little syncopation, my feet go completely haywire, nothing like I hear in my head.

I stop and try again. This time my left hand follows my right foot off the rails and down the ravine.

I stop. I slow it down. It's as though my right foot has a mind of its own, a squirming, greased pig racing around the pen. I try to grab and control it, but the tighter my grip, the quicker it squeezes out.

I stop. I go even more slowly, but my feet and hands refuse to cooperate. I feel a tightness in my chest as I try to control my unruly appendages.

I stop. What beat was I trying to play? Thank goodness rehearsal break is over. Time for me to go back to my keyboard and do something I feel capable of doing.

This drumming thing could get really frustrating. If people were to hear me, they'd think I had no concept of music, no sense of rhythm. Meanwhile, I've got all this music bouncing around my head, completely worked out.

Worse, someone might try to "help" me. They'd mean well. They'd encourage me, but I'd be able to tell that they didn't expect me to be able to do it, that they didn't expect much from me at all. I'd want to show them they were wrong, but my body wouldn't cooperate.

Then maybe someone would come along and see me. They'd see that there's more music in me than is evidenced by my flawed attempts at drumming. They'd see that I my difficulties are not with rhythm or music, that they're more simple, more basic. They'd get me away from the drums and we'd play games that'd help me with coordination, games that seemed to have nothing to do with music.

We'd play and play and play. Then, when no one else was around, no one to look concerned at how poorly I played, we'd slip back into the studio and make a game of drumming. She wouldn't look concerned. She wouldn't even look as though anything were wrong. She'd just extend our game to the drums.

I fumble. I misstep. I lose my beat. But it's fine. It's just a game. It's fun chasing that greased pig around the pen. Every once in a while I catch him. The grease wears off. The pig gets tired. It's getting easier.

I start playing complete beats, simple ones. I start playing complete phrases. I add some syncopation. It comes together, slowly at first, but it comes.

I think I get it, at least a bit better than before.

Happy Tuesday,

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