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.