Recently I went to a live performance dedicated to the ocean great mother orisha, Yemonja on my birthday. As a bata drumming student, I have played bata rhythms for the cuban version of the mother orisha Yemaya. Yemonja is the Brazilian version and the performance featured a variety of offerings that were magnificent. I heard about the performance through my current drumming teacher because his children were in the performance. Going to it was uplifting and inspiring.
What I did not bargain for was running into my ex percussion teacher. I saw him during the intermission putting drums on the stage. I knew this meant he would be performing in the second half, which he did, with 3 other cuban guys. The performance was sold out, packed, and when I walked from the main room to the lobby, there he was in front of me. We had a moment of unavoidable eye contact and he turned to stone. He cut me cold, as though I hadn’t been the neighbor, friend and dedicated, consistent drumming student of his for 4 and a half years. When he arrived from Cuba, I was the one who introduced him to people that would become his students locally. I had nothing directly to do with the end of the relationship that had brought him to my home town and his exit from it.
This was not the first time he’d refused to acknowledge me. He did it before when I went to a drum class taught by a drumming crony of his in the city. He was there playing bell at the request of his friend during the class. He had ignored my smile and a wave then and it seemed like it might be accidental. But this time it was very clear it wasn’t. Though I can guess why he is no longer OK with me, I can’t be sure what he’s thinking and why he is shunning me.
It hurt and I felt quite angry though I did not react. Not one minute after I saw him and experienced the psychic slam to my gut, I ran into another Cuban fella who was also briefly my teacher. He hadn’t left on the best terms either. He called out my name, seemingly delighted to see me and gave me an enthusiastic hug. All a mystery, as I had been a hot mess when I’d been his student and didn’t believe he thought much of me.
And yet now I see this situation as the sign of real growth that it is. My ex teacher contributed a great deal to me becoming a better drummer. He is a musician of high standards and quality. Yet I had arrived at a place where I knew I needed to move on and he’d taught me all that he could before it ended. I once heard him tell someone who was asking him what he’d been up to that “he was JUST teaching the women percussion.” He had some very good points as a teacher, could be benevolent, but he was often harsh and bordering on abuse of me and others who were his students. What he taught the most was FOCUS, and I cried some bitter tears learning it while fighting to not walk away from him for good.
I have no doubt now that being around this man stirred up my inner emotional wounds around father and authority issues. He was perfect for it, holding a rigid standard of perfectionism in playing bata which resonated with my unforgiving internal judge.To his credit he ignored a lot of emotional static from me, including tears. The war between me and my love/hate projection of him was waged mostly in silence while in his presence during class.
I have learned not to look to him or any other outside source for praise and validation. As I got better as a player, my ear and awareness of what was correct and in the groove began to inform me more than his guidance. It was three years before I began experiencing my own excellence with an inner knowing that was sure, and there was nothing like that feeling. And I can’t begin to count the days of rage and devastation when I questioned why I was doing this at all before I came anywhere near to the joy of my own development.