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Music Is a Social Thing
I accidentally woke my neighbor up yesterday. One of my intentions when making my shamanic drum was to sing and play instruments as much as I can. My husband works at home though, and it’s hard for him to focus even two rooms away from me singing. I try to take my chances whenever he’s outside, like when he’s driving our daughter to the daycare in the morning… just when our next door neighbor was trying to catch up on some sleep. I had no idea my drum can be perfectly heard in their apartment, they were away for the whole time since I first brought it home.
Just a few minutes earlier, I felt for the first time in my life that I might have a sense of rhythm after all. I was in music school as a teenager, and my teachers jokingly called me dysrhythmic. I could hear the rhythm, I could sing the rhythm, but reproducing it with any of my body parts was always beyond me. Piano classes were a nightmare, and even guitar was too hard beyond some very basic stuff. I always wanted to play the guitar well, but I just couldn’t figure out how to sing one thing and move my hands to a different rhythm.
Now it turns out the movement is much simpler with a drum. Of course you can complicate it if you like, but there’s no need to. In the beginning you can just hit it steadily and sing along. The teacher at our workshop didn’t lie, the drum resonates a lot and comes into some wild harmonies with my voice. It almost feels like there’s a bunch of other people there singing along with me.
I love singing along with other people, but I rarely have occasion to. When we lived all together with my brothers, we’d sing all sorts of stuff together all the time. Now I live with my husband who believes listening to music or watching movies is a personal activity that should ideally be done in a way that doesn’t disturb anyone (and my neighbor probably agrees with him too!). It was a major culture shock when we first moved in together, now he kinda gave up and allowed me to take over the public sound space in our home as long as he can retreat to his own private one in his headphones. Well, at least that was possible until I made a shamanic drum.
Listening to music in private is a pretty new thing. Only since the invention of walkmans it’s possible for a few people in the same room all listen to different songs. I love having all albums ever recorded always at my fingertips, or being able to hear my favorite songs as I’m snowboarding downhill. But I can’t shake the feeling that since we’re all locked up in our private sound spaces, something very important has gone missing.
For the most of human history music was a way for people to be together. They didn’t listen to the music as much as they participated in the making of it. Besides the bands that played in the local inns and at the parties, every village had singing grandmas who accompanied people in their daily work and life transitions, be it marriage, harvest, new babies, or death. Songs were passed down over generations, they created structure and meaning that everybody could relate to. There are still village grandmas like this here in Eastern Europe, but young women rarely want to stay in the countryside and continue their traditions. That’s why I wanted so much to start sharing on the internet all the old folk songs that I’ve learned, so that they don’t get lost when these grandmas die away.
Now everyone can listen to artists infinitely better than your local village grandma, but few people sing together anymore. Everyone can read or watch the best stories ever told, but few people tell their stories by the fire. We can consume culture from all corners of the world, but hardly participate in the making of it. Isn’t that the job of professionals after all?
I dream of a place where I could come on any random day and know there would be people singing and playing together. Even if it’s the simplest melody, simplest words and simplest rhythms, something magical happens when you join in and begin to make music with strangers or friends. Suddenly there’s harmony, flow, and synchrony between you. You become a part of something larger than yourself.
For now, it seems that even my own apartment isn’t a viable option to either bring people together or practice my songs before I share them online. But at least we have a great karaoke place nearby, and I just invited a few friends to come there with me today. It’s not quite the same thing, as instead of showing off on a stage I’d prefer us all just to jam and improvise together, but given how hard it is to sing with anyone these days it’s certainly a good place to start.
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