By Paul Roberts
Special to The PREVIEW
Join musician and music therapist Paul Roberts for a free hand-drumming class at the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at noon.
The class offers a welcoming environment that encourages fun, creativity, playfulness and connecting with others.
From time immemorial, indigenous peoples have used drumming to send messages over long distances. When I was a young child, I learned how drums could talk. In my record collection was one titled “Little Indian Drum,” about a Native American boy named Red Fox and how he acquires his first drum. Red Fox’s father, Tall Hunter, gives him a drum and instructs him how they can communicate through drum telegraphy.
“I will make the drum talk,” Tall Hunter says, as he teaches his son a signaling system to use if Red Fox needs help when he’s in the forest. Tapping the rhythm of the words, Tall Hunter chants, “Where is Red Fox, where is Red Fox?” Red Fox responds by tapping to the words, “I am here. I am here.”
“Remember,” says his father, “if ever you are lost in the valley or in the woods, I shall beat my big drum like this (drum sounds) and, wherever you are, Red Fox, you shall answer like this (drum sounds) and I will find you.”
Danger ensues, and father and son put the ancient GPS technique to good use when Tall Hunter rescues Red Fox from a harrowing situation. The story ends with the words, “That was how Red Fox learned that his little drum could speak with many voices and say many things.”
I was captivated by the story, listening to the record hundreds of times.
Still quite young, I attended a mind-opening performance of Native American drumming, dancing and singing.
As a 9-year-old, I began going to Native American gatherings in southern California at the home of writer Ruth Beebe Hill, who was doing research for her book, “Hanta Yo,” a fictional history of the Matho tribe of the Ogala Dakota Sioux. Hill knew Native Americans who were acting in Hollywood films during the ‘50s and ‘60s and they would come to her home in the San Fernando Valley, as a refuge where they could tune into their heritage of drumming, dancing, singing and prayer. I was privileged to attend these small, private gatherings by virtue of the fact that Hill’s husband, Dr. Buzz Hill, was a researcher at the City of Hope Medical Center where my father, Dr. Eugene Roberts, was chairman of biochemistry and director of research.
One day, a medicine man showed up at my parent’s home. His purpose in being there was to honor my father. He played a small drum to a heartbeat rhythm and sang a song, which he had composed. He gave my father a pipe that he made. It was an enthralling cross-cultural affirmation.
Several years ago, a huge Native American drum took up residence in the middle of my Pagosa living room, when I was recording a group of boys and girls who were performing at intertribal pow-wows. After two days of intensive drumming and singing, they left with a CD duplicating master, leaving my home full of energetic, heartfelt vibrations.
Drumming is a language through which people have been expressing themselves since they first saw the sun rise above the horizon. Throughout the ages, different cultures have evolved different drumming traditions. In Pagosa, we’re creating our own drumming culture. Drums can speak with many voices and say many things.
For more information about the hand-drumming class, email email@example.com or call 731-3117. The Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse is located at 230 Port Ave.
By Paul Roberts