I could feel the drumbeat literally vibrating through my breastbone. A group of men sat around a large format drum, playing in unison, and I was in awe, taken back by the pure visceral sensation. Standing there and feeling the pulse of that drumbeat was easily the most amazing musical experience of my life.
This encounter with the drum took place last Friday at the Indigenous Sport Council Alberta’s (ISCA) conference. It was part of an award ceremony that the ISCA was hosting for young Aboriginal leaders in sport.
The MC had just explained that, in his culture, they recognized accomplishment not only with material items like awards but also with spiritual accolades through the drum. Afterwards, someone explained that the physical experience I had was intentional and that the drum was meant to mimic the heartbeat of the listeners. As I felt the beat in my chest that night, I understood the valuable tie that the arts had to the spirit.
Later that weekend, I attended the funeral of Ethel Wolf. She was the mother of Helen Zenith - my former boss and mentor who is now a much-respected friend. As her friends and family remembered Ethel’s life, they spoke of the strength of a young Jewish girl who survived the Holocaust and went on to brave a new life for her family in Canada.
One fond story of Ethel was how she advocated that we must always pay good fortune forward and celebrate the joy in one’s life. Charity didn’t count, she said, unless you tore the charitable receipt up. Ethel worked hard but always had time for her friends, her family, and the community. When I heard these words it was as if I could feel the drum vibrating again in my chest.
These two experiences gave me comfort this week as I moved through my days. I found comfort in the knowledge that we can still move pass the material world and celebrate our successes with something as powerful as music. And I remember the power of this spirit through the story of a young girl who not only survived the horror of the Holocaust but also travelled across the world to make Alberta her home.
When I was in Susa Creek for the last ARTS Tour recently, I was given a book created by the elementary school and their community, the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation. It was a book of prose and drawings dedicated to the power of drum. Here is my favourite poem:
“When I hear the drum…
My heart beats.
Beats its beat.
It sings along.”
When I personally hear the drum again… I will remember those who have went before me. And I will always remember to always celebrate the strength and the spirit of those who make a difference in my life.
My thanks to Principal Mark McGimpsey and the students at the Susa Creek School for allowing me to reproduce excerpts from their book.