So what is it that happens at Full Moon Drumming?” twenty-something Finch Terranova asked Owen nervously as they munched on lamb and veggies encased in whole wheat rolls somebody brought from Angel’s. “I’ve never done this sort of thing before.”
“Loud too,” offered Charley. “At least when we’re inside.”
“It’s been happening monthly for fifteen years.”
“More like eighteen or twenty, I think,” said Ursula. “It began when that bunch over there were in high school.” She gestured towards Arlo, Jay and Cali.”
“Others are as new to it as you are. Help yourself in the bags of percussion toys – tambourines, maracas, whistles. You name it. The pill bottles filled with gravel make especially good rattles.”
“Not everyone likes this free-for-all drumming,” said Owen. “Some prefer structure and a tradition, be it African, Middle Eastern or whatever. Or written out patterns.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you,” offered Charley. “A tight structure like a raga is cool and deeply spiritual.”
“It’s like how sonnets or haiku with set numbers of syllables or rhyming patterns somehow frees up the mind to play with images.”
“Owen, are you getting all didactic again?” asked Cali pointedly.
The older man looked sheepish but hadn’t quite finished his lecture. “Sufi dervish or Native American trance dancing has a pattern of rhythms or movements generated over millennia that can even include spirit possession. I learned recently that Shaker turning was also a trance dance tradition.”
“I can’t really grok the celibacy of the Shakers,” said Raven who had just come up. “And I like the lack of safety in what we’re up to.”
“You would,” laughed Alex. “I get frustrated when the beat gets lost.”
“Yet many traditional cultures are open to the unexpected,” said Owen. “In Voudun it’s never known who will be the ‘horse’ the spirits ‘ride.’ Brad Keeney who works with the Bushmen says you have to let go of rhythms even or beautiful dancing to give the gods room….”
“Oooo. Let’s get him here,” said Jasmine.
“We did once several years ago,” said Pia. “Sometimes he had two songs on at the same time to mess up our expectations.”
“Not that we have possession or anything like that goin’ on,” Raven contributed, his tall thin form dancing about a bit, feathered earrings flying. “We’re just makin’ noise and goin’ with what rhythms arise. Depends on the mood and who’s here and what instruments show up.”
“How the stars are aligned,” laughed Pia.
“Did you bring your trumpet tonight, Raven?” someone asked from the edge of the circle.
“I’m taking a break from brass at the moment. But here’s Uri with his didgeridoo. It’s been a while since we had didge players show up.” A couple of people broke away to greet the latecomers.
“I like bein’ in that edgy place where you never know what’s next.” Raven continued his line of thought. “I like the fact that we’re making it up. Older traditions are there to draw upon. Some of us have training even. But we’re combining and integrating to make us a new whole.”
“When it works,” said Alex.
“When it flows,” agreed Raven. “Sometimes it’s coherent and satisfying. Sometimes it’s irritating and ear splitting. Not because someone’s playing a ‘wrong’ note,” he mimed quotation marks with his fingers, “but because we’re not in tune with each other.”
“That’s not the right word cuz it implies ‘in tune’ like our western chord scale,” said Charley. “It’s more that we’re not entrained. Not together in some way.”
“Egos maybe battling a bit.”
“Sometimes the internal virtuoso gets the better of one of us and we’re rather showing off,” Owen chuckled.
“Yet sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed. When someone has a moment of being so present in the beauty of their skill that they take off and the rest give them room.”
“Yeah, the ego thing is more about hogging that spot or directing the show or … being ‘off’ somehow. Not connected with the group.”
“Don’t forget we add our bodies in there too.”
“When there’s a good beat.”
“Anyway, you’ll see that we’re improvising,” said Owen turning again to the Terranovas. “Making room for each other. Being playful. Allowing new people to be comfortable to give it a try. Just like life.”
“Inspiring the magical. Though we only manage to connect in that way every now and then….” said Cindy wistfully.
“I always like it best towards the end with just a few of us left and we can hear ourselves again – and there’s more room for dissonance and harmonies to take hold.”
“Each time is different, that’s for sure.”
“You’ll tell me if I’m doing something out of place won’t you?” said Finch still needing reassurance.
“One of the kids used to say that if you miss a beat or play a note that feels out of place, just repeat it and then it’s no longer ‘wrong.’”
“So what’s with all this talking?” challenged Raven, his hands beginning to dance on the congas. Arlo went over to join him as did Carlos. Soon fifteen or twenty folks had taken up drums. Others stood on the sidelines. Clusters of conversation persisted so the focus stayed scattered for a bit. Pia danced around the edges urging claves and rattles on the recalcitrant ones.
Most of the kids stayed out beyond the fringes of the music. Enveloped happily by the dark, they’d begun a game of flashlight tag that made them look like spirits flitting about. But as was usually the case, young Flicker sidled over and started in on a spare djembe.
If you listened carefully you might notice at a few who were a bit off. Charley’s plonking on the cowbell was erratic and a-rhythmic and the person on the third conga didn’t have a lot of confidence. But none of that mattered. The majority settled into a groove and carried the others along.
Molly lay down in the center with a deep sigh and let the beat throb over her. Though loud, it soothed her body lulling her almost to sleep.
At the end of the first fifteen or twenty minutes, an energy rush of wild-anything-goes drumming took over. Fast and loud and thumping. People grinned at each other at the joyful noise. Ursula threw back her head and laughed uproariously. Someone began to yip like a coyote.
Finch could feel the sweetness of that wild energy stir in his veins. Certainly finesse was not part of this thronging sound. Looking up at the Mountain, he wondered if he had found his home. He’d dropped in to visit his parents’ latest landing spot but there was something about this process that was calling him to linger…. As he had this thought the music suddenly stopped. Everybody was laughing and hooting in their delight at being together.
“Young Flicker here really lives up to his name. Like the woodpecker who drums on our chimneys, he knows his beat,” said Arlo quietly to Finch in the lull. “You could do a lot worse than tune in to what he’s doing.” Flicker ducked his head bashfully, proud to have been singled out by his hero.
Then the music started up again as spontaneously as a flock of sanderlings taking off at the same moment. This time the beat was more Middle Eastern. Rhea slipped into the center, banging a tambourine against her knee as her belly rolled and hips swayed. She was soon joined by Ursula and Pia as well as lithe and graceful Uri with snaky arms entwining. Two little girls in bright skirts were drawn in to dance their own versions.
Jasmine watched, working up her courage to let her body go with the internal call she was feeling. She certainly didn’t know how to belly dance and it was hard to imagine having the grace and style of those in front of her but when Raven leapt in with wild flopping and flittering movements, she realized that there were no more rules to this than there were to the drumming. She stayed on the outside of the circle, but her sways became jiggles and her hips took up the call, seemingly of their own accord.
In a bit, as if in response to Raven’s antics, the music morphed yet again and the dancing went with it, of course, for another twenty minutes or so.
At the next pause, the dancers flopped down in the chilly sand. Beers were renewed. A few more nibbles found, especially some late arriving brownies. Most families with little children rounded up their things and headed home to bed. A few of the younger couples wandered off down the beach.
Pia picked up her flute and began a quiet Native American yearning call. It wasn’t long before Uri’s didge contributed its primal growl. Soft beats came from a Remo frame drum and the congas. A voice – whose was it? – began to chirp. Another began a repetitious wordless chant. Thea, arriving late, was surprised to hear her own voice take up a counter chant that was syncopated with the other sounds such that her notes stood out every few beats. A clave began to sound in tune with that. The whole thing was mellower and more eerie sounding. Edgier, not in a punky way, but as if a different spirit was now leading the music. Dragonfly, maybe. Bat? That mysterious creature so comfortable in the dark.
Uri was lost in euphoria and his didge seemed to be playing itself. His circular breathing was flawless for once and suddenly it felt as if Spirit had come into him. Was it…. Mountain? Bird? Animal? All of the above, perhaps. Angel? He could feel the connection with the others and knew where they were going next before they actually did it. Was he leading or following? It didn’t matter because it felt so good. The entrainment they all longed for.
Cali sat quietly nursing Menolly next to the fire as the bright blaze began to settle into coals. The evening was winding down. A few drops of rain plinked here and there. More would be following soon. Owen knelt nearby as did several others. The coals were mesmerizing. Black laced with that amazing fiery orange and red. She suddenly knew with a sinking in her heart that she needed to walk on those coals. Not tonight. No, please, not tonight. She knew it was possible – her mom and others had done it in the course of their travels and workshops. But it always made her feel slightly nauseous to imagine it. So impossible. Yet not…. she knew that…. but….
Cindy too stared into the dying fire but she was musing about her husband, Van. Little flames flickered from the coals. Cinders. Cindy. Cinderella. Sometimes she wished she could be someone different for a while. Shed the mask of the shy herb lady and be swept up by a fairy godmother into the castle of her dreams. Not to a different man. But to a man who was different. Would Van ever see the beauty of her magic? Would the shoe of the greenwitch ever fit comfortably on her feet? She knew she was mixing up metaphors but it was that sort of night. Why think in straight lines? Staring into the fire was a kind of scrying for her…. As her eyes blurred she seemed to see a figure in the flames. A salamander. She’d never understood that legend. Here salamander was a creature of the wet woods. Bogs. Yet it was often talked about as if it were a fire being. There it was dancing on the tip of its tail surrounded by blue flames.
“You must come dance with me someday, Ms. Cinders,” the salamander whispered in a wavery voice. “The coals – the cinders – are calling you, aren’t they? I know you can hear me.”
Cindy froze using all her concentration to calm her gasping breath. She looked around to see if anyone else was noticing. Cali was entranced with her babe. The others were making quiet, dreamy music – the few drummers still at it were tapping now rather than pounding. Uri’s didge was dancing in and out with Pia’s flute. A voice she didn’t recognize hummed and another made rhythmic ch ch ch sounds. When she looked back at the coals, the salamander was still there, grinning wickedly at her. “You’ll dance in the fire before long, Madam Woodburn. Madam Greenwitch. Oh, you’ll dance…. Only this time you will not burn…”