Get Up, Get Down

Rebecca Kahlenberg is vacating the pages of the Daily Californian and joining the circus. Leave her to her own reality at [email protected]

  • Printer Friendly Printer Friendly
  • Comments Comments (0)

Here at Berkeley, most of my teachers do not recognize my face. If I approached them in a dark alley, they would think I was trying to mug them. Whether or not I put effort into the work I do for them is irrelevant - my professors don't see it anyway.

Most of the GSIs who do see my work and my face seem to have issues. Either they have a disorder that causes them to be nervous and wholly afraid that the intelligence of the undergraduate species will somehow threaten their positions, or they are functionally unable to speak English. Either way, I don't end up going to that many classes.

I only go to one of my classes regularly. It has nothing to do with my major, and I'm taking it pass/not pass. This is my African drumming class, Music 148. It is a drumming and dancing class that focuses on polyrhythmic theory.

My teacher is named C. K. Ladzepko. C. K. calls everyone either "mistah" or "lady." If you go off beat or make up some weird sound sequence nobody understands, he lets you know. If you perform the right pattern but without passion, he makes you do it again until you have a little more soul. Class involves a lot of moving, stepping, clapping and playing. So no one falls asleep, and no one can hide from the teacher's criticism.

Some people don't like this. I do. It's very honest. And besides, he is not mean. He is just trying to make sure the music sounds good. One person can ruin it for everyone else. Can you blame him? He has to listen to it. We all do.

I like music a lot, but I had always considered it a diversion. But one day in class, C. K. said something that got my attention. He goes off on tangents sometimes to give us background on what we are doing, so we don't just treat it like an abstraction. What he said was this - "In Ghana, dance-drumming is the ideal that you aspire to. It is like the Constitution that you have here in America."

Now, I was really into Janet Jackson when I was about ten, and I listened to "Rhythm Nation 1814" and sang along, "We are a part of the rhythm nation. Ow!" But I never understood drumming and polyrhythmic theory to be a valid alternative to written law. I take C. K. pretty seriously, though, so I decided to check out this assertion.

According to his Web page, C.K. defines rhythm as more than just individual sounds moving in time. In his culture (the Anlo-Ewe culture from what is now Ghana) rhythm is also "the dominant feature which, along with others, create the transcendent environment necessary for the vital needs of communal communication and unification. In this communal view, rhythm provides the regular pulsation or beat which is the focal point in uniting the energies of the entire community in the pursuit of their collective destiny."

Wow. Given the heinous racket created by those guys on Sproul with the buckets and the sticks, this might seem to be an overly optimistic perspective on the importance of drumming in life. But these guys on Sproul have all the soul and none of the skill. And you need have both, as C.K. teaches us.

Being in this class, I have begun to feel these transcendent, communal properties. Simply put, this class is the one place in my world where I know exactly what to do. I don't have to talk. I just play, right along with everyone. I can show up 30 minutes late and still figure out exactly where we are, pick up a bell and join the collective texture of sound. This feeling is amazing. Imagine the feeling of falling into step with a powerful army that you know will protect you combined with the feeling you get during really good sex. (Not like an orgasm, which has a beginning and end, but more like an intensely satisfying continuum.) Except that in class there is no real war, and there is no fear of pregnancy or day-after awkwardness. And I get two units for it.

In C.K.'s native culture, rhythm provides a means to educate. It is the way that cultural values are reinforced, "an important instructional medium in the development ... of what is real and important in life, and how life ought to be lived. In this view, rhythm is the animating and shaping force or principle that underlies the distinctive quality of being." So for him, polyrhythmic theory is not merely an interesting musical phenomenon to consider, but a language through which he has learned the way to live.

It seems to me that this makes a lot of sense. Rhythm is a human universal, rooted in the beating of our hearts and the patterns of our walking strides. Unlike the Constitution, which is comprehensible only to those who speak English, ordered polyrhythms are accessible to anyone with ears, and everyone can dance. The evolving interpretations of the Constitution come from a small body of judges who impose their interpretations on the rest of us. But we can all interpret rhythms as we choose, slow them down or modify them to suit the occasion. If you consider that human existence is nothing but the passage of our consciousness through time, rhythm makes a pretty good metaphor for life.

As C. K. puts it, polyrhythmic theory "provides the training and the logical means of subjecting contrasting forces or moments in human existence to human control." The rhythms are metaphors for the contrasting stresses and challenges we face in life. The idea is that by training members of the community to keep in the mind and the body several different contrasting rhythms, you are teaching them how to balance the forces in their life and achieve harmony and strength.

I don't think C.K. knows my name, but I don't mind. I don't care if I stand out. I'm just glad to be there.


Comments (0) »

Comment Policy
The Daily Cal encourages readers to voice their opinions respectfully in regards to both the readers and writers of The Daily Californian. Comments are not pre-moderated, but may be removed if deemed to be in violation of this policy. Comments should remain on topic, concerning the article or blog post to which they are connected. Brevity is encouraged. Posting under a pseudonym is discouraged, but permitted. Click here to read the full comment policy.
White space
Left Arrow
Image OFF THE BEAT: Bookshelves and puzzle pieces
Someone once remarked there is absolutely nothing that compares with the...Read More»
Image Sobering reflections of a grad
I got defriended this week on Facebook, by someone whose cyber-allegiance I...Read More»
Image Editorial Cartoon
By Nikki Dance ...Read More»
Image Professor Healey's denial of tenure is not right
As the semester comes to a close, our campus is quietly losing ...Read More»
Image President Trump is a nightmare
So I'm sleeping peacefully one night until a dark thought pops into my mind...Read More»
Image I'll write the title later ...
Were Procrasti-Nation a country, I would be its queen. Supreme ruler over e...Read More»
Right Arrow

Job Postings

White Space