I walked home from the Saturday night speaker series thinking about rhythm. An informal drumming circle, where at one point, each of us was invited to beat our own rhythm, had some of us stumped. So busy was I listening to who drummed before me that it felt as if any ideas I had – were already taken.
But I gave it my best shot. It was interesting to see some use definitive, loud beats while others were tentative, playing softly. If you are not a performer by nature, airing your musical ability, or perceived lack thereof, can be sobering.
The presentation on harp and drumming, which included mindfulness training happening in several local schools, came to an end. I walked down the street to go home and passed by kids playing on an outdoor rink. I heard them before I saw them. The scrape of ice skates, the hockey sticks slapping the puck, children’s voices.
My footsteps were crunching on the snow in the cold night. The wind whistled through fir trees nearby. When I got home, I looked up this sound, suddenly wondering why wind makes that haunting sound in trees. It is called psithurism: the sound of wind whispering in the trees.
The best whispering in the trees I have ever heard was on the point of my aunt and uncle’s island in the Kawarthas. A big pine with big branches hung out over the rocks. You could sit and listen, the sound filling the world. You could lean against the tree and almost feel its resistance to the wind.
But back to last weekend. This was Canadian winter, I thought, taking in the sounds and the crispy night air.
The next day, chopping away at the ice on my side deck, I was not in such a happy space. This was more like coal mining, not ice removal. I hacked away and heard “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in my chopping rhythm. I laughed to myself and continued to “play” that tune with my chopping tool. I wondered if the neighbours were listening.
I ended each rhythmic verse with E-I-E-I-O and one good d _ _ _ it! just for good measure. Was this a sign of cabin fever gone terribly, terribly wrong?
There is likely some word to describe the notion of hearing a song inside the rhythm of a jackhammer or the sound of a bus idling. Maybe I don’t need to know it, in case it is an early warning sign of something terrible.
In the meantime, I have decided to continue my enjoyment of rhythms that remind me of songs.
My mother’s wringer-washer used to beat out the Mommas and the Poppas, “Monday, Monday,” albeit a bit slower than the original hit, perhaps more like a bossa nova.
Skating under the full moon as a child, next to the barn, where milking cows was ongoing, there were the random moo’s that always seemed to create a song. I can remember scraping my skates on the ice to add to the cacophony.
In addition to this hearing music inside rhythms is the place in our minds where we store sounds which we never forget. An 80-something pianist can sit down at the piano and play pieces all from memory. I can still sing all the skipping rhymes I learned more than half a century ago.
I can still hear the sound of my father’s voice if I think about it, even though we lost him half a century ago. I can hear him whistling and sending me to fetch tools for him. Somewhere, inside each of us, all we have heard and remembered governs how we live out there in the world.
Although there may be poignant memories, there is happy music playing inside each of us, if only we listen for it. I read a lot about the importance of being present in today’s chaotic world. But I think that if the wind in the pine trees sweeps you away to another place and time, take that short trip.
You’ll be back in the present, chopping ice in no time.
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