Monday, May 21, 2012

All Lives, All Dances, All Is Loud

So begins a poem from a collection of chant, song, poetry of primary peoples, in this case the Pygmies from the Central African rain forest. I awoke at 5 a.m. to that phrase come alive in a Nicaraguan jungle. Not only the criss-cross of multi-pitched rooster calls, the polyphony of the trills, warbles, whistles and calls of the birds in cross-rhythms that would have astounded Stravinsky, but also a loud staccato cry that accelerates and climaxes in a low roar.  I suspect it is from the monkeys in the trees overhead.

Music is the way of the world. And so is dance. The motion of monkeys leaping and birds hopping and roosters pecking and worms slithering and bugs flying, we are all creatures that dance. And in the early hours of a jungle, it is loud indeed. Not as loud as the Pit card game we played last night nor the boys down the hall screaming about the next bug in their room or the shouts of adolescent children at play in the lake, but loud enough.

Academics have long-suspected that our first music was but imitation of the sounds of the natural world filtered through the unique way we structure and pattern things in our brain. In Bali, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the rhythms of the frogs from a jaw-harp ensemble and the energetic and exciting kecak rhythms, those explosive vocal rhythms pre-dating beat boxing by centuries, is modeled on monkies. Dance is our attempt to match the grace and beauty of our animal neighbors. Long after we stopped living in close contact with them, we were still dancing The Monkey and the Funky Chicken.

Music is on my mind, not only from the extraordinary early-morning bird and monkey calls that awakened me today (now replaced with pumped-up radio and the patter of commercials), but because last night a marimba maker and musician came with his sons to play for us. I had heard some of this music on recordings, but there is nothing like a live performance and my spirits ramped up to overdrive. Because of the world of Orff xylophones I fell into all these years back, the xylophone in its many incarnations would be the theme of my doctoral thesis in my next lifetime. I’ve studied a bit of gamelan and  Ghanaian xylophone, had single classes in Thai, Ugandan and Zimbabwe marimba and today will add Nicaragua to the list as I taxi to the musician’s house.

All lives, all dances, all is loud. Except for the moments when the body settles into the comforting arms of a nighttime story told to 15 boys on a back porch and their usual shouts and laughs and screams quiets down to a pin-drop silence. They soon will be back in their comfortable homes surrounded again by their machines, relaxed back into their familiar mother tongue, buckled in the back seat of their cars and all happily so. But I hope a part of them will remember and even occasionally long for the feeling of going to sleep with sweaty bodies sprawled out with their friends in the night air and awakening to the calls of the guardabarranco birds and the strange calls of monkeys. 

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