Miss Pelican's Perch

Looking at my World from a Different Place


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Hearing My Voice in the Din

I have not posted about drumming in the last few months. This is because I have not been to my favorite drum circle in the last few months.  When friends ask “How’s the drum circle?  Still going?”,  I’ve been telling them that I’ve been too busy, or had a commitment elsewhere, or the hot weather was not to my liking, and so on.

The truth is I stopped going mainly because I felt intimidated.

Some of the people who regularly attend the circle are professional musicians. Several of them specialize in Latin jazz or traditional African drum rhythms. I find these rhythms difficult to ease into.  I just can’t nail those syncopated beats.  I felt like I was messing up their drumming because I could not get this.  I had convinced myself that I was not a good drummer.

During my hiatus from the drum circle,  I continued to drum with some other musician friends who play and sing contemporary folk/pop/rock arrangements. I get enough affirmation from them to know that I’m not completely hopeless. Those arrangements are my style, it seems.

I returned to the drum circle today because I missed the people there. But I held back, finding the base beats and softly playing around them so as not to throw off the other drummers.  Mostly I sat there and just enjoyed their playing.

The take away from this lesson is that I need to learn the nature of my own creative expression—what I enjoy, where my strengths reside— and be comfortable enough to not be intimidated by other Creatives who might be better in some respect. My creative genre is primarily writing. I need to know my style. I need to write in that style with no regard of what critics, both my inner and outer, think or say.

If someone doesn’t like my style of writing, so be it. I am going to keep on writing anyway. If my critics make a racket because they don’t like my writing, I’ll quietly persist nevertheless, hearing my voice in the din.


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Noisy Toys: How I Start a New Creative Project, Part II

In yesterday’s post, I shared how I engage in a new creative project. In the process of working the plan I ran into a glitch. Or, to be more optimistic, you could say I expanded my knowledge base on a grand scale. At first, I almost jumped through the loophole I articulated yesterday of admitting the plan was not workable. Instead, I powered through and made the first of I hope many recordings of my own percussion music.

To make a long story short, I had no problem mixing a very short audio clip. The problem came with sharing it. Oh, is that not the bane of the creative’s existence: showing the rest of the world your work? In order to share the audio, I ended up having to make, with great difficulty, a video. Even though I felt like I had enrolled in a crash course in film editing, I was pleased to learn some new applications, and refresh myself in some old ones.

What I learned is this:

  1. Pushing the boundaries in my creative process requires hard work and a headache. The idea came easy.   Mastering the tools and technology, well, not so much.
  2. It is not enough for me, at any rate, to create. I must also share it with an audience for it to be worth my while.
  3. Finally, I will never be happy with just one creative genre. I need to be trying new things on a regular basis. I may never be very good at music making, but I enjoyed the process. And that is just as important as the product.

Without further delay, here is my twenty-four second sound mixing experiment.

Note:  To create and share my percussion work,  I used my iPhone to access Garageband (only available for Apple products) and to shoot the video,  a PC laptop in order to access Windows Movie Maker, my email application to mail the audio and video files from one device to the other and, of course, WordPress. Oh, and the instruments:  A darbuka, an egg shaker, and a cowbell.

Oi.

ljgloyd 2018


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A Cow Bell, Two Shakers, and a Strumstick: How I Start a New Creative Project

I am an over-committed person (AKA a workaholic):   I have the day job. Then I have a continuous home improvement project that is going to take months, if not years, to resolve. I do things for my faith community. I drum as much as I can to relieve the stress of the first three commitments. I love to read (see the Goodreads list on this site). I do about forty-five minutes to an hour a day of cardio exercise and yoga for health maintenance.   And, of course, I write.

Sometimes I don’t feel like I can permit myself to try out new activities because of all these other activities. I believe, though, that to call myself a Creative, I must constantly push the boundaries through to new experiences. And once the permission is granted, it is simply a matter of making a plan and then working the plan.

One of the new activities I am considering is composing and recording some of my percussion work. Let me say here that I am most definitely NOT a musician, but nevertheless I have given myself permission to still explore this creative and technical genre.

So how am I doing this? First, I set the intention by granting myself permission to try something new AND, just as importantly, permission to set it aside mid-stream should I find it not a viable endeavor.   Next, I brainstormed the project on a pad of paper, grouping the dump of ideas into actionable items. For this project, I realized that I needed to review the technology I had on hand or could access without cost,  investigate online videos and tutorials for the software, and inventory my percussion instruments* and song sheets. After sorting, reviewing, and prioritizing these actions, I determined that I would start by learning if I could use my cell phone and the Garageband app on it to record and mix MP3 tracks.   Before I start working on this, I started a Project page in my planner.

So my process is: 1) set the intention, 2) brainstorm ideas, 3) sort the ideas into specific actions, 4) implement the first action and make note of the results.

If I am able to get past the first action, then I will proceed to the next, and so on until a finished product is at hand.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

ljgloyd 2018

*FYI:  I have four frame drums, two darbukas, four egg shakers, a flex-a-tone, a strumstick and a cow bell.   That’s going to be one weird and funky track if I am successful.


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Back to Basics Across the Disciplines

Once or twice a month I gather with others at a local drum circle. This particular circle has a lot of djembe and conga players and most of them are experienced and talented percussionists. I am learning a lot from them.

However, I am an amateur darbuka player, and my initial study of drumming was with middle-eastern rhythms– which are enormously different from the Afro-Latin beats of the drum circle players. Furthermore, once a week I practice with a band (guitarists and vocalists) who play contemporary pop/folk. So you can see that I am exposed to an ecclectic variety of musical sounds. Unfortunately, this is resulting in me developing, in my opinion, a rather eccentric drumming style where I am not particulary good at any one of them.

To mitigate this, I have assigned to myself the task of going back to the fundamentals of middle-eastern drum patterns and practicing them until I am competent in them.

I think this return to the fundamentals is important in all creative disciplines. If you crochet, perfect that single chain stitch. If you cook, be a master at hard boiling eggs or making that bechemel sauce. If you write, dust off your dog-earred copy of Strunk and White and review the elements of style.

Before Picasso started painting like this,

he learned to paint like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ljg (c) 2017

In case you are interested, I am working on perfecting a maqsoum pattern:

 


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Apprentice Learning

Recently, I shared with a co-worker that one of my interests is drumming.   The first thing she said was:  “That’s great.  You should take professional lessons.”

I was taken aback for a couple of reasons.  First, she just presumed I needed lessons, and second, that only a “professional” instructor in a formal setting was the only legitimate way to go.

I do concede that I need to learn more since I don’t come from a musical background.   But I prefer to learn by watching, listening, and doing.  I learn in an “apprentice-style” relationship with other drummers.   I hang out at drum circles and jam with better, more experienced drummers.   They know things and generously share that knowledge with me.  Sometimes I just shut up and listen to their rhythms and try to imitate them.  The ego of the “professional” teacher is not present in the drum circle; they are just a bunch of musicians having a good time,  and I am along for the ride.

We have learned this way for thousands of years.  I see no reason to change that.

A WordPress Daily Post prompt: Apprentice


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Intuitive Community: Drum Circles

If you look at my About page, you will notice that I hang out at drum circles.   If you are unfamiliar with drum circles, they are informal gatherings typically in some outdoor space where people drum for fun.   Everyone of all ages is welcome.  No one needs to know how to play a drum.   The drumming is all improvisational and spontaneous.   There is usually a host, but she or he is there simply to make sure everyone is having fun. That person does not teach the drum.   You simply sit down and start to play.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you are doing or how to drum.    You are just there to make noise with a group.  There is no other purpose for the group.  The odd thing is, despite the various levels of drumming experience, most of the participants usually fall into a rhythm with each other.  Real music begins to happen, and that music is created as a group.   There is a mysterious unity that coalesces.   There is not much conversation and you might not ever learn the name of the other participants even though you see them every week.   There is a harmonious community spirit that manifests on a non-verbal, non-rational level.  An intuitive communication engages among the participants.

It’s the strangest darn thing you’ve ever experienced.

Here are some clips of my recent drum circle experiences:

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Banging my Zills

I wrote this about 17 years ago. I may have posted it on another blog but I can’t remember. When I saw this morning’s DP prompt,Jiggle, I immediately thought of this piece and pulled it out of my files. Enjoy.

Banging My Zills: An Adventure in Belly Dance  (Sometime in 1999)

“So what’s so funny about learning to belly dance?” I told a friend who laughed out loud when I told her about my plans. It was the eve of a significant birthday and I wanted to do something to make me feel young. I have always loved to watch people dance, but I was always too self-conscious to get out on the floor and dance myself, especially now that I am middle-aged and have packed on some extra “baggage in the rear.” Reactions from friends and family to the announcement of this endeavor varied from person to person, but most fell into the category of “you’ve got to be kidding!” In spite of the nay-sayers, the desire to explore the creative act of dance was too much for me to ignore, and after some research, I located an inexpensive belly dance class at a local adult night school.

On the first night of the class, I arrived before anyone else. I had struggled over what to wear. What does one wear to a belly dance class? I had already made up my mind that I was NOT under any circumstances showing my navel! I finally decided on wearing a dance leotard and sweat pants for the first class.

As I waited in the dance studio, other students began arriving. The first to enter was a petite blonde in a tight T-shirt. She strutted into the studio with considerable jiggle. A mild pang of apprehension caught me in the stomach. A few minutes later, a second student arrived, a young brunette in shorts so taut you could ricochet a coin off her butt. Great, I thought, I’m going to be surrounded by a bunch of skinny teenagers. Next, a well-groomed woman and an adolescent who I assumed was her daughter entered the room in matching designer exercise suits. At this point, I think I groaned aloud. I felt so out of place in my grungy sweat pants, and I wondered how bulgy I looked in my leotard. What was I thinking!

As panic began to work its way through my mind, I looked for a discrete way to make a speedy departure. Before I could act, a laughing, boisterous group of women entered the room. The group was comprised of several middle-aged women, a few of them women of ample endowment. I relaxed a little.

In a few minutes, the studio had filled with seventeen women of various ethnicities, sizes, ages, and attire. A woman about my age sat on the floor next to me. She had on a flowing dance skirt and several brass and silver bangles on each wrist. As we waited, I tried to imagine what the instructor would be like. I envisioned a sultry, middle-eastern woman, gracefully gliding into the room. That image evaporated when a small, muscular woman with a blond ponytail enthusiastically bounced into the studio and introduced herself as Leela, our instructor. She looked more like a Nebraskan cheerleader than a belly dancer. At first, I was a little disappointed with her bicycle shorts and tank top, but after she took care of some registration details with the class, she reached into a plastic grocery bag and pulled out a silk scarf with a leopard-skin pattern covered with hundreds of small gold beads and coins. The coins loudly jingled as she tied the scarf around her hips. Immediately, the cheerleader was gone and woman of elegance and gracefulness stood before us.

She quickly called the class to order, punched a button on her cassette player, and began a series of slow belly dance moves designed to warm us up. We did some head slides and snake arms (ala I Dream of Jeannie), rib circles and belly rolls (neither of these having anything to do with barbecues or bakeries), and some hip bumps and shimmies, all to the slow, rhythmic beat of a middle-eastern drum.

As a result of my having studied and practiced tai chi chuan for many years, I was very adept at imitating the instructor’s movements. In spite of this, I felt uncomfortable watching my moving image in the mirror. I found myself comparing my movements to those of my classmates.

Then I noticed something. Most of the younger, more athletic women had pained grimaces on their faces as they struggled to follow the instructor’s movements. One of them stopped the movements altogether and muttered “I can’t do this!” Then I looked over at the older, more ample women. A few obviously had experience with the movements but the rest struggled as the others did, trying to complete the movements with ease and precision. Yet all of them had smiles on their faces, laughing and joking with each other when they fell out of time with the music or when their bodies completed a movement in some outlandish manner. They didn’t seem bothered by the fact that they were not doing the movements “perfectly.” They seemed in tune with their bodies. They were having fun.

After the warm-ups Leela went over the plan for the class and announced that next week we could purchase our zills and have them fitted. “You don’t want to go losing a zill when you bang them in front of an audience, ” she quipped. Zills? Whatever they are, I’m sure not going to bang MINE in front of anybody! The woman with the bangles seated next to me, noting my quizzical look, leaned over and whispered: “Zills– finger cymbals. It’s great when we all practice then together. What a racket we make!”

The instructor continued. “I’ll be taking orders next week for hip scarves for anyone who wants to buy one. In the meantime I have a few here that you can borrow for today.” I hesitated for a moment, but then walked over to the plastic bag with a few of my classmates. There were a variety of scarves: purple silks with gold coins, green with iridescent bugle beads, turquoise triangles with sequins. I selected a simple black silk scarf with hundreds of silver beads and coins. I watched how the others tied theirs on and followed suit. Then I looked in the mirror and smiled. I did a brief hip shimmy. The silver coins made a pleasant jingle. The brunette in the tight shorts said, “That looks great on you.” She turned to the instructor. “I’d like to place an order for one like hers.” I did another shimmy and couple of hip bumps. The bangled woman chirped: “Honey, you oughta have those hips registered as lethal weapons!”

Leela reconvened the group to teach us some basic moves for a routine that we would be learning during the rest of the course. After teaching us a basic walk, she demonstrated a simple spin and urged us to follow along: “Keep your hands open! Drop your shoulders! Keep your eyes fixed on a point in the room so you don’t get dizzy.” I slowly began turning in place. I reached out my arms and unclenched by fists. As I picked up speed, I felt like I was flying through the air. My whole body relaxed and I melted into the music.

Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my chest and I almost lost balance.

“I am SO sorry!” exclaimed the woman next to me. She had hit me in the chest with one of her outstretched, bangle-encrusted arms. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” I replied, rubbing the spot where she had clobbered me.

“You’re going to have a bruise, though. This sort of thing happens sometimes. You have to develop a sense of humor about it. Your spin was really great, though. I’m sorry I messed it up.”

“Thanks, it’s okay.”

The instructor walked us through a few cool down exercises and then dismissed class. As I gathered my things, the bangled woman said: “Oh, by the way, my name is Rosie. Will you be in class next week?”

“Hi, Rosie. My name is Lori,” and to my surprise I responded enthusiastically, “Yes, I’ll be in class next week.”

“Great, Lori, see you then,” she called as she walked out the door.

Before I untied my borrowed hip scarf, I looked once more in the mirror , shimmied, and smiled.

ljgloyd (c) 2000, 2006, 2017

Image:  digital manipulation of found images, 2013