Percussive Therapy

64 Arts

Why this isn’t clustered with the earlier art of musical instruments I’ll never know, but we’re switching out our lace-making fiber for others of sturdier stuff.

27: Art of playing the vina and the damaru (drum)

Stringed instruments are the most important, particularly the vina. The drum is indispensable. Both are difficult and need to be practiced from childhood if the various notes are to be clearly distinguished.

So this art is about 2 percussion instruments: the Vina, a stringed instrument played either with or without a slide, and the Damaru, a 2-headed, hourglass-shaped drum. Both are popular is Hindu music.

The vina (or veena) is similar to a sitar, which is probably what most of us thing of when Indian stringed instruments are mentioned, but uses gourds as resonators and either is held in the arms or sat in front of while it rests on the floor (either on its resonators or on legs, again, it depends on the style).

Thanks to the wonder of the Internet and the “mecca” that is YouTube, here’s an example of veena music being played by (supposedly) the first female vichitra veena player!

Direct link for the feed readers.

The damaru is a much more portable instrument, it’s small size making it easy to carry along for whatever reason you might have. In many cases, it’s a ritual instrument, and kind of reminds me of that scene at the end of Karate Kid II. But I digress…

Direct link for the feed readers.

Now, I suppose I could have tracked down a damaru or similar drum in town (the vina might have been a little tougher), or even ordered one online and played around with it at my leisure.

Thing is? I’m short of leisure these days and, instead, I’mm using this art as a remider to plunk myself on the ground of my own studio and blow the dust off a stringed instrument I already own. (The dust is only on the case, thankfully.) My poor lap-hard hasn’t been getting much use at all.

Music is more than just playing notes or plucking strings. There’s a certain slow-down that happens, especially with a stringed instrument. You have to get situated, make sure it’s in tune, and remind your fingers where and how they go all before playing a decent note.

With a to-do list a mile long, this sort of thing might not sound like the best use of my time. I’m inclined to disagree, though. Being forced to slow down, reminded to take a moment for beauty and skill, is part of what “better living through creativity” is all about. Music may be ephemeral, ethereal, and a thousand other intangible things, but it’s the sort of thing that will never clutter up your corner or make more for you to dust. It will adjust your attitude, though.

So I encourage you to dust off that guitar you stopped taking lessons on months ago, open up the piano or even make your own tissue-box guitar and just have some fun making some noise.

Powers to Soothe the Savage Beast

64 Arts

Not so much savage, more like ravaged.

Have you ever had a day when you just felt, for lack of a better word, fragile?

I had one of those days a couple weeks ago. Preceded by an emotional roller coaster the day before, I began this particular day uber-sensitive to everything and everyone. I couldn’t stand the talking heads on my podcast list. Voices of coworkers grated on my nerves. Even music was annoying.

Those lyrics, those words, trying to tell me what happened to someone else , somewhere else, at a time when I wasn’t there? Forget about ’em. Because that’s what songs, at least the good ones, do: they tell stories, they paint pictures and those pictures are populated with people and emotions and all manner of things to evoke an emotional response. Happy. Sad. Angry. Lonely. Loving. Dreaming.

I wanted no part of them.

But silence is deafening. Silence gives my mind way too much leeway to ramble in circles around what’s bugging me or what I “should” be doing or feeling or–do you see the pattern here?

If music paints a picture and lyrics populate it like a busy city, what I needed was a landscape.

Enter If you haven’t heard of this, it’s one of many Internet music services out there. This one uses the music genome project that classifies songs, albums and artists under a variety of criteria so that when you tell it “I like this song by REM” it shuffles through and picks other songs with things in common. You create a station by seeding it with songs or artists and then offer feedback by giving the songs you like (for that station) a thumbs up, and those you don’t a thumbs down. Fairly simple.

For this particular day (okay, it lasted a few days, actually) I cocooned myself in a mix of New Agey sounds of piano and guitar. No vocal music unless it was mostly indecipherable (meaning I let some Enya in, but not much). It’s a small step, but it helped. The music helped settle some of the inner turmoil and allowed me to get on with my work and come back to my usual personality in a much gentler fashion.

If you’re having one of those days, I’m happy to share my Gentle Days Station with you.

That’s Where the Music Comes From!

64 Arts

I love, love, lurve this short cartoon that Disney made back in 1953: Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, the building blocks of all musical instruments (and, yes, it’s the mate to Adventures in Music: Melody that I shared during the singing discussion).

(the only DVD I was able to find with these and tons of other awesome bits of animated nostalgia was the Walt Disney Treasures – Disney Rarities – Celebrated Shorts, 1920s – 1960s DVD)

I’ve talked about my “toot” instrument experience and the early-childhood “plunk” failures. Several years back, for a variety of reasons (though a large one was my involvement with the local SCA–Society for Creative Anachronism–group), I purchased a harp and have endeavored to teach myself how to play it. Off and on. Okay, more off than on.

Before I get too far into the harp, well before it’s purchase I was hanging out with this guy (it never really developed into dating, despite my temporary desire to the contrary) who loved to play the piano. One night, in the wee hours of the morning, I found myself sharing a practice room at the local University listening to him play. At one point he turned to me and said: “do you want to give it a try?”

“Oh, no, I can’t play the piano.”

“You can’t press a button?”

Gee, is it really that simple? Yes and no. On the one hand, the piano is a simple instrument in which each of it’s 88 keys represents a particular note on the scale. This is probably why folks who play ‘by ear’ (instead of using sheet music, they are able to pick out and match the notes they need by traveling up and down the keys) gravitate towards a piano or keyboard as opposed to instruments with many keys and valves (not that it doesn’t happen, just not as often).

On the other hand, it’s one thing to press a button or two in a particular sequence to play a tune and another level of skill, entirely, to understand chords and what notes sound right together (consonance) and which do not (dissonance). Some truly amazing things can be done with folks just noodling about on the keys but, me? I prefer a road map, which is what sheet music provides.

Guitar is another instrument many pick up and just seem to play. Of course, with only a handful of strings, it’s more important that the musician know which strings to press and on which section of the neck to change the chord they’re strumming or note their picking. As much as I would love to learn to play guitar I admit my vanity gets in the way: I like to keep my nails long, when they cooperate, and at least one hand would need to be kept short. Ick! Of course, Dolly Parton manages with those long nails of her’s so may there’s hope for me, yet.

Which brings me back to my harp. Like the piano, each string corresponds to a particular note on the scale. My little lap harp has 22 strings, covering 3 full octaves and sounds lovely when I do get the itch to tune it and actually practice it a bit. The only thing I would do differently, were I to purchase another, is to get one with levers.

Unlike a concert harp (the big ones you see performing with orchestras and at fancy weddings) that use a pedal to modify a note sharp or flat, lap or folk harps have little levers that sit above the strings that can be flipped to change the pitch of a note at will. Without levers, the harp has to be returned for each song that falls in a different key. I failed to adequately understand what an absolute pain in the ass that is.

Still, levers can be added after the fact though it’s not something I’m keen to do on my own. Considering how little I do play it, though, it’s not high on my priority list. I think I’d better work on my treble clef skills and playing with both hands moving at once, first!

We Are the Music Makers

64 Arts

The second of the 64 Arts is also musical, this time focusing on played instruments instead of the instrument of our voice.

This makes me happy.

Why? Well, I’m a band geek from way back (okay, technically only as far back as 1987; still, that’s 20+ years of band-related geekiness!). Mom was surprised when I signed up for band instead of chorus when it came time to pick our electives going into middle school. This was done, it should be noted, completely without parental input which does seem a little odd, looking back, but it’s just how it happened.

Mom was surprised because my earlier forays into instrumentation were not what you’d call a success. Recorder (through brownies, I think, it’s a fuzzy memory) was a bust. Guitar in 1st grade? Also not so hot. Piano in 2nd grade? That I was actually good with/at. Until I was busted for playing by number instead of by reading music.

I was not a sneaky kid looking to skate by, but the teacher (Mrs. DeRosier, my 2nd grade teacher who also taught piano out of her home) pointed out that the writers of the beginning piano book put the numbers under each note so that youngsters like me would know which finger to use for which key. This was great on the simpler songs but when my hands were supposed to start traveling? Yup, you guessed it, things went awry. Still, that wasn’t the end of my lessons. No, that end came when we moved and the piano had to be sold.

Such is life.

I still don’t know why I chose band, though, as this was several years removed from my last unfortunate music lesson. Mom fully expected me to sign up for chorus like my friends did but, I think, knowing me as I do, that that was the exact reason why I didn’t. Heaven help me, I was trying like hell to stand out, to be different, even if just a little, tiny bit. That and 6th grade orientation might have been made more impressive by the band playing in the Commons (the combo cafeteria-auditorium of my middle school).

So I joined band and on Day 1 we had to pick an instrument. My first choice was saxophone. Can you blame me? That is one sexy instrument. Unfortunately, they are also expensive and to say we were poor might have been gilding the lily a bit. School instruments it was! And this is how I ended up playing baritone (aka euphonium or the baby tuba for the visually inclined) for the next 20 years, off and on.

A definite plus to the baritone was that it required only 3 keys to play (and a hell of a lot of air). The downside was that it was, at least the ones I learned on, an ugly instrument. The bell screwed on and off. It was huge, heavy and made transporting it on the school bus a pain and a half. All I could think, for the first 2 years, was getting to 8th grade and being able to play one of the shiny, streamlined, one-piece horns that the older students got to play on.

It’s good to have a goal.