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And Miriam Drummed

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Whoosh! The waves of the sea cascaded back. The Jewish people were free and celebrating their emancipation, led by Moses and his sister, Miriam. Moses sang. Miriam danced and drummed. The Torah states: Miriam "picked up a hand drum and all the women went out after her in dance with hand drums." (Exodus 15:20)

According to commentary, Miriam's use of dancing and drumming had such an effect on the Children of Israel (B'nai Yisrael) that the miracle did not remain an event tainted by pain and trepidation, but instead became one of jubilation.

Recently, I participated in a drumming course conducted by Torontonian Terri Segal, 27, an expressive-arts facilitator who shares the benefits of creative expression through group drumming and expressive-arts workshops.

She is a vibrant teacher who introduced me to the authority of the drum and helped me understand Miriam's decision to pound "the skins" in a bid to gather and excite the B'nai Yisrael. One evening a week for eight weeks, participants followed Terri's clear and gentle instruction. We learned the art of tapping versus pounding, and how to draw out a meaningful and hauntingly rich bass sound augmented with an echoed treble beat.

Terri taught us African drumming basics as well as aspects of drumming culture.

The drum has been used historically for rites of passage and celebration. It is also used to calm and focus people with Alzheimer's disease, emotionally disturbed teens, children who have autism, prisoners and homeless population.

A 1996 Newsweek cover story entitled Your Child's Brain presented strong data on the brain's fundamental need for rhythm, and noted that stress is caused when we are deprived of it because we are disconnecting from our deeper selves. Shamans of indigenous cultures have used the drum for years as a tool to retrieve parts of the soul that have been mislaid.

Barry Quinn, a clinical psychologist specializing in neuro-biofeedback for stress management, said drumming for brief periods can actually change the brain-wave patterns, dramatically reducing stress. He calls the results of 30 to 40 minutes of drumming on his highest stress clients, "by far the most amazing results I've encountered thus far in my research."

Being a member of Terri's class gave me the opportunity to live out a lifelong dream... I was jamming, kicking back and rocking with other musicians. In a very basic but potent way, the group expressed the "music in me", our hands zestfully pounding on the West African djembe drum. Our eyes rolled. Our heads bopped. We brought the house down. We were rocking!

Terri is an earthy woman whose method of teaching is inviting and exciting. She has an innate ability to make participants feel like musicians, even those who were off beat or out of step. On those nights, I was a Jewish babatunde olatunji (Nigerian drumming master), I was a musician and my heart was beating loudly.

A fetus' heart learns to beat by pulsing to the mother's heart. The heart is the only organ with a pulse beat, setting the rhythmic relationship for all other organs. Perhaps Miriam knew this when she encouraged the B'nai Yisrael to join her in drumming, following the fusion of the sea waters. Like Miriam, Terri seemed acutely aware of the connection between the heart and the beat of the drum.

Two passionate women. Two awesome jam sessions. One 4,000 years ago in the desert, and the other two weeks ago in Toronto. Rock on!

-Avrum Rosenweig
The Canadian Jewish News, March 30, 2006