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02/18/2004 Archived Entry: "The bodhran and other elemental stuff"

I GOT MY FIRST CHANCE TO PLAY THE BODHRAN LAST NIGHT. That's the hand-held frame drum that gives so much Irish music its haunting quality (and can also give some lively energy to contemporary pub music). I've been enchanted with this instrument since I first saw one played, back in the mid-70s.

I'm crazy about drum sounds in general, from Gene Krupa to Bongo Joe Coleman, whose "Innocent Little Doggie" is the best (and perhaps strangest) piece of music ever beat out on a 55-gallon steel barrel.

But the bodhran (bough'-rawn) holds my heart.

Unfortunately, I'm as musical as a rock. Ever since a painful encounter with a violin in the fourth-grade (more painful for my music teacher than for me, I'm sure, though it ranks right up there with dentist visits in my own mind), I've never thought of playing any instrument. But I figured what the heck, surely even I can bang a drum?

Dunno whether I'll ever be able to play one in public without disgracing myself and ruining the rhythm of anybody I might be accompanying. But boy, I'm sure going to add drum-beating to my list of elemental pleasures.

Like hand-working with wood or stone or clay, beating a drum can be good for the soul. For me, there's something particularly powerful about the ancient sound of the bodhran (a sound you can change from emphatically flat to thunderous by varying pressure with your hand on the back of the drum). I could go on and make a fool out of myself about "ancestral memory" or "connectedness to the earth" or something. But I'll refrain. (Go ahead and thank me now.)

The short version is -- Whooo-eee! If you're all tensed up about the state of the world, and if you feel hopeless under the daily assault of bad news, banging a drum can put you in some utterly other -- and far better -- place.

I worked my way through the first four kindergarten-baby exercises on the "Absolute Beginners" CD, learning a simple reel and starting to find my way through the far more difficult rhythm of a jig (and finally "getting" along the way what all you smarter, musical types really mean when you talk about 4/4 and 6/8). But mostly I just felt wallopingly great, and I kept coming back to those exercises all evening. Had a ball.

My puzzled golden retriever disagreed, but I found it all good. Good to learn a new skill. Good to enjoy the many gorgeous sounds of the drum. Good to beat away the troubles of the world. Good to evoke ancestral mem ...

Oh, but I promised I wouldn't go there.

Posted by Claire @ 07:23 AM CST

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