It’s been a long time—too long—since I’ve felt the need to warn neighbors of an impending clamor they could soon expect to hear from within the dusty bowels of our old pioneer log barn.
Such rhythmic ruckus has become something of a summer tradition in the barn: dozens of eager young hands, each wielding a 10-inch wooden stick, and hammering with exuberance (and hopefully some semblance of rhythm) against the 150-year old planks of that rustic old floor.
This frenetic exercise, however, is only a warm-up—a mere prelude—to the real event, which involves those same young hands beating zealously against djembe drums, and bongo-drums, and frame-drums, and buckets-drums, and a few other makeshift instruments that would take too long to explain.
We are engaged in something so thoroughly satisfying, so entirely exhilarating, that I am caught off-guard by the sudden appearance of my wife in the doorframe, incredulous that our communal hour of metronomic merrymaking could possibly be over already.
We are all striving together to master a multi-layered, up-tempo, African rhythm this summer; and when we finally get it to sound the way it is meant to sound, our collective joy will reach its zenith.
Inviting young people into the barn every summer to pound out various beats together in that cavernously resonant space, is a thing I especially love to do, and which I look forward to with greatest anticipation.
That it didn’t happen at all last summer was one of my biggest disappoints in a whole year of disruptions and disappointments.
But my summer drummers are back—finally—after a two-year hiatus—and with an excess of pent-up energy and surplus enthusiasm. Fortunately, I know just what to do with such a superabundance of youthful vitality.
We like to call ourselves a “drum orchestra,” for that is exactly what we are; and we play with just the sort of giddy glee and playful abandon that you might expect from such a lively group of young drummers. (I confess to one of us being a bit less young, though no less lively.)
Come August, I and my young percussionists will proudly take the stage at the annual Spring City Bluegrass Festival for our big moment in the proverbial spotlight. And we’ll be ready. We still have several weeks to polish and fine-tune our layered African rhythm. And I’m happy to report that it gets better each week—to the point where one local woman is now in the habit of setting out on a brisk promenade around the neighborhood, while our booming beats are resounding from the barn, because, “It really puts a spring in my step,” she declares, as she goes strutting snappily down the street in perfect time to our lively 4/4 cadence.
All too soon, it’ll be fall; kids will head back to school; and I will be obliged to stack my miscellaneous drums, gather up those dozens of sticks, and stow everything wistfully away until next year.
But, by Christmastime—certainly by New Year’s—I’ll be drumming my fingers involuntarily upon my knees, or on the kitchen table, or against the car steering-wheel (all to my long-suffering wife’s annoyance), as new beats and rhythms and syncopations begin playing in my head, in anticipation of that day—that wondrously raucous and rollicking day—when energetic kids will congregate in the old barn; and I will arm each of them with a matching pair of 10-inch wooden sticks; and we will commence; and then those rhythmic sounds of summer will reverberate once again throughout that cavernous stall, startling swallows from the rafters, eliciting knowing smiles from understanding neighbors, and making your humble columnist very, very happy!
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