The Mystery of “SING”

My left index finger has a numb area on the inside ridge  of the fingertip pad. Long ago I severed a tiny nerve there in an accident with a dull kitchen knife. I find it interesting that my current bata drumming   requires the  use of  my left hand a lot, and if my drum strokes hit that area in a certain way, it hurts.  Despite this, I am beginning to gain some skill after over a year of hard work and struggle.

My cuban bata teacher has hands that look ordinary but when you touch them the skin is  leathery and his fingers feel like  petrified wood. When he plays the quality and clarity of sound from his strikes  and the silken economy of movement is mesmerizing and intimidating at the same time. For some time now he has exhorted us at times  to use “MORE SING”.   This refers to us doing strokes on the bata head with  closed fingertips, creating  a sharp reverberating   tone, rather than an open or closed palm strike.

We did not learn until recently that what he’s been  trying to say in english was “THIN”.  What is clear is how the SING/THIN is supposed to sound.  The Okonkolo drum is the highest pitched of the three, and much of what I’m playing are SING parts. It’s great to be able to do it, particularly  with a maimed finger. The price of this accomplishment was sitting for hours in my barely suppressed fury over the  teacher’s insane expectation that we learn any such thing while learning everything else about bata drumming from the ground up. This has been saturation at it’s most volcanic on both sides.

And yet the man is very consistent in his fanaticism and now we are used to being expected to do the impossible. This does not mean we always comply quietly. The language barrier  has worked in our favor when we whine, deny, complain, glare, and make seditious comments about whatever he is demanding from us.  What we two students have is sheer grit and heart, if not the temperament or skill of great bata players.

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About Shirley

I started this blog to expand and explore my rhythm horizons as a hand drummer. That exploration includes touching on the rest of my life and inner world as authentically and truthfully as possible.
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