Saturday, December 19, 2009

This is Why Drums are Great

Source: Friedman, Robert Lawrence. The Healing Power of the Drum, White Cliffs Media, Reno, NV, U.S.A., 2000.

Synopsis: In this book, the author draws on his experiences as both a hand drum enthusiast and psychologist (with holistic leanings) to establish a definite link between total health and the activity of hand drumming. He begins with an overview of his own personal stpry, from his earliest experiences playing drums as a child to his many experiences in various drum circles (highlighted by a few run-ins with Bobby McFerrin), and his eventual decision to incorporate both of his interests in one method of healing. Then, the author gives a bit of a narrative history which traces the role of hand drummig through various cultures. He explores the personal drumming experience, delving into topics ranging from exploring one's inner child to brain entrainment to "The Unifying Quality of the Drum." Then, the author gives a large sum of anecdotes, both his own and from others, that serve to demonstrate the effects of hand drumming on various conditions, ranging from the physiciological (Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Syndrome) to the psychological (addictions, disabilities, stress) to the sociological (at-risk adolescents, coporate employees, prisoners) to children's conditions (Autism, Down Syndrome, William's Syndrome). Through it all, author maintains a bright outlook on life and the almost panaceaic relationship between hand drumming and total health.

Reflection: Don't tell the Percussive Arts Society I said so, but I think Mr. Friedman may be a hair too zealous in his claims. His is certainly a fascinating personal story, and much of what he says about hand drumming and health is either proven or at least plausible. To me, the error in his approach lies not in the results, but in the conditions of how to get there; quite simply, I don't believe that hand drums are the only viable musical means to achieve these results. I heartily agree that the striking, pounding nature of percussion lends itself quite well to therapy of all sorts, but I think it's a bit over-romantic to claim that hand drumming somehow metaphysically connects the performer to the instrument in a way that is somehow categorically superior to any other instrument, perussive or otherwise. Ask any string player how important their bow is to their connection with the instrument, and they'll look at you as though you just noticed the sky is blue; to string players, their implement of choice (the bow) is as much a part of their unique sound as the instrument itself. And of course, the same can be said for percussionists who play keyboard percussion instruments such as marimba, vibraphone, and xylophone; the specific mallets they choose, and how they hold and use those mallets, is an integral part in the sound produced, as well as the perfomers' mental sound concept.

That said, I don't think that Mr. Friedman is exaggerating the results at all; I just feel he's trying to give exclusive credit to hand drumming, when there are other viable forms of similar therapy. Of course, much of his philosoph stems from a perceived personal connection to the drums, so it makes sense that he is psychologically pre-conditioned to view hand drums as superior, and producing superior results. Perhaps this is why I'm finding it hard to wholly subscribe to the all-powerful properties of hand drums; I prefer the vibraphone!