Lately I’ve been seeing how something that used to drive me crazy with anger has actually become a blessing and gift. Because a student I drum with is partially deaf in one ear, I have now learned three times as much faster in relation to playing bata drums. Granted the early days were like trying to climb Everest in a cocktail dress with my Cuban bata teacher driving us complete beginners to bata hell almost every lesson and I used to end up furious and more often than I’d like to admit in tears.
My comrade’s seeming difficulties with listening, focus, retention have made it possible for me to learn how not to be intolerant of being in those states myself and be detached when people around me are in those states. I used to resent watching other students struggle to get something that seemed clear to me until I would be doing the same thing and then hating the teacher and wanting to argue with him! We forget our own mistakes and think only other people do them. Very unfair and unconscious.
I know that I wish I could safely enjoy feeling good when I achieve better technique and performance, but I also know that I would hate a person who is superior in performance crowing about it and mucking up the lesson space with their self congratulation, and I prefer not being hated by the people I have to play with and around. Lately I’ve been catching myself trying to tell my comrade how to play because I’m beginning to retain more of the itotele patterns. I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop it and shut up. The last thing I like to get from other drumming folks is unasked for help, even well meaning or correct help unless I really really want it that particular moment.
One of the biggest treasures to come out of long and tiresome hours sitting and waiting with my okonkulo is a permanent awareness that I can be at any moment as completely incompetent at listening, hearing and playing. And I say to myself “Beginners mind”which is an attitude of faith one can learn no matter how hopeless it seems and compassion towards whatever is happening, because it’s simply a beginner state. Being a beginner is one of the most courageous things we ever do. It’s certainly not easy, takes a lot gutting it out and determination and it’s always a place to start again from.
Another treasure that has come from my particular comrade’s tendencies to rush, hurry and play from a somewhat anxious state is a lesson that can’t be explained, only modeled, which our bata teacher does to perfection: The emotional flow while playing bata, no matter what the actual tempo and the “Espeed” of the strokes, has to be deliberate, lively, but unhurried, even relaxed. There is a ground you attain through practice, experience, technique, intention and dedication for it.
Bata is a lot like the computer game Tetris: the rhythmic pieces must fit together precisely enough for it to work. You try bata, you work and work and work and fail and fail and fail, finally you learn to accept and even love your failure, out of that grows your real skill and love for it.