Monday, July 09, 2007

Drumming with Layne Redmond

Thanks to the folks at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, MA, I got to spend the weekend learning from the wonderful Layne Redmond. I had not been to the center before (conveniently across the street from Tanglewood and, as I discovered, around the corner from the Berkshire Botanical Garden and the Norman Rockwell Museum). As you can tell from the image above, it's a gorgeous location. When I arrived Friday after the beautiful drive through the Berkshires, I got out of the car and just sighed. The center is a the top of a hill looking down on a valley with a lake (Kripalu has its own beach there). A year away from Houston and I still can't get enough green, but here was the perfect place to be. Trees, trees, trees -- and plants. Lots of bees! A very good sign these days. The main building still ahs the look of its former residents, the Jesuits -- their legacy remains in the Saint Francis statue outside the door. His influence still seems to be felt among the little creatures there, too. Just outside the doors where people gather on picnic tables, chatting and eating, birds, squirrels and even little bunny rabbits sit calmly eating among the flower beds with others walking by. It was wonderful to walk around the hills and forests. There's even a labyrinth. After the big storms Friday night, there was a lot of moisture in the air and Saturday morning the mists hung in the hills like something out of Miyazaki (no Totoros to be seen, so far).

Of course, the main reason I was there was for Layne's workshop. An enthusiastic group gathered to hear her play and share her skills. I have been a big fan of hers ever since I read When the Drummers Were Women, which I found out about when I took my first drumming class with Toni Kellar back at Eastern Connecticut State University's Day for Women. As many of you know, I've been drumming ever since, but this is the first opportunity I'ev had to attend one of Layne's workshops.

She's just as inspiring as her book and CDs. She's in the process of moving to Brazil, so many of the rhythms we learned came from that region. It's amazing how well the Brazilian rhythms mixed with the Middle Eastern patterns that have long been a part of her music. The participants ranged from practiced musicians to complete beginners, but there was something challenging for everyone. Layne led us through stages carefully, helped by her assistant, Shirsten Lundblad of Inanna. Usually we'd start with the basic rhythm which we would chant first, then we would learn to play on chopsticks -- yes! chopsticks: a cheap and simple rhythmic instrument. Then we'd have to play it while stepping right, cross left, then left, cross right. At least we didn't have to chew gum, too. Once we mastered that, it was time to pick up the drums. We were using the lotus tambourines that Layne designed for Remo (and yes, I bought one to bring home. I had been wanting one for a couple of years now and sold my old riq which was just too heavy). We would learn the basic rhythm, then add the frills, then do it all -- chanting, playing and moving. Ay yi yi -- it was quite complex and often it was hard to get everyone in sync. But when we were, it was just magic. Of course, we were all eager to hear Layne play -- it's amazing the range of sounds she can coax from a drum. She also brought along footage of players in Brazil and videos she has made for the new songs for the Orishas.

It was hard to leave Sunday afternoon -- well, she wasn't leaving. The Sacred Pulse Festival happens all this week at Kripalu, but work beckons me. Sigh. But I'm listening to the new CD as I type this (that doesn't sound much like work, does it?) and I can play along with my new drum later.

I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.
George Eliot (1819 - 1880)

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