Drumming Our Way to Freedom!

One thing I always regretted about my past is that I never joined my high-school marching band.  In the fifth grade I joined band as a percussionist.  The truth of the matter is that I really wanted to play the violin, but because I had already taken up the drums at church and owned a snare drum, the most cost effective decision was to continue in the way of the drum.  So be it.  I stayed in band up until about eighth grade when I decided to concentrate on playing sports rather than try out for the marching band.  But last week, while participating in the protest demonstrations affiliated with the Take Back the Capitol event held in Washington, D.C., I finally got to fulfill a long time wish.

I brought my snare drum along with me on the bus ride to D.C. from Florida, with the hopes of being able to contribute some spirited rhythms to the marches we had planned.  I even went to Lowe’s and purchased some rope so I could make a harness for my drum.  On Tuesday, when we marched to the house of Congress, it was raining and I could only play a few rhythms in between wiping off the moisture on my drum head.  But on Thursday the precipitation had moved out of the city and the skies were all clear.  I was a little bit late getting to where our group had lined up for the procession so, at the last minute, I found myself running full speed with my snare drum secured under my right arm and my drum sticks clasped in my left hand, darting in between protesters, heading up to the front of the march where I could hear the sounds of other drums.

When I got to the front of the march, I saw the company of djembe players providing the celebratory rhythms I had heard from the rear.  Not long ago I had purchased my own djembe and begun to study the West African rhythms that are traditionally played on the drum like Kuku, Djole, Madan and Suku.  Because I wasn’t officially invited to play with the company of drum players, I was careful to blend in with the beats they were playing, basically helping to create the foundation over which the master drummer would routinely solo.  Little by little I joined in and even found pockets within the rhythms to do my own soloing.  And because I was the only drummer using a snare drum, the rudiments I had learned way back in fifth grade band and was now executing, fit quite nicely with the over all scheme of the playing; adding an interesting contrast of high and low tones, celebratory (djembe) and cadence (snare) all blending together rhythmically.

At one point I turned and looked behind me, and to my delight I saw people in the march following us; dancing and chanting their way up to the Capitol building where our destination lied.  I asked one of the marshals to take a picture of us so that I could have a memento to last throughout the years.  It was a special moment for me, and I’m sure for everyone else who had traveled thousands of miles across the country to be an active participant in our great democracy.  With drums and signs in our hands, we took yet another step forward toward more fully realizing the freedom we are all promised in the Declaration of Independence; to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

© 2011



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