Smiles Apart
by Dan
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.



John Cale - "Summer Heat"
Fela Ransome Kuti & The Africa '70 - "Swegbe & Pako"

BeatGrooves teaches a free drumming class in Pierre-Gérand park on some summer afternoons.

"I wanna go!" Jason wears cut-offs and a Dragonball t-shirt, and stands in front of the BeatGrooves banner.

"Do you wanna go, Ryan?" Jason and Ryan are staying with their grandmother in Pointe-Claire.

"No, not really," Ryan wears dress pants and skate shoes, a bit of dark hair on his upper lip and between his eyebrows.

"Come on, it'll be fun," their grandmother says, taking a long drag, dealing with the kids in one place is hard enough.

The next day all three of them are at the free BeatGrooves lesson, with assigned djembe in hand. The class is about 15 people, and it's attracting attention from around the park. The spunky instructors in tight t-shirts and radio mics.

Jason taps timidly away at his djembe, smiling up at the instructor. Ryan pounds frantically at his drum, as if trying to patter through three lessons at once, some kind of double-speed head-down show off. Their grandmother, meanwhile, has almost no rhythm at all. She hits the drum at random intervals, and her sunglasses and half-smile are a sign to the group that she doesn't want to talk about it.

Jason closes his eyes and begins to feel the music. The boom-boom-cha and the dut-dut-bop and all of the noise together. He feels that rhythm is the great unifying thing that crosses all borders and differences like love or natural disasters. Even deaf people could feel rhythm for goodness' sake. Jason is smiling euphorically now, taking his small drumming steps as he's instructed and beginning to feel like he may be part of a whole system of energy called Mother Nature, that he may be in the blood that beats the pulse of the universe, and that today he has been shown that the light lives within him, trying to scrape its way into the world, and that he can let it out through his openness, through drumming.

An enthusiastic young girl down the row from Jason is showing lots of potential and commitment, she's shouting and adding an extra bap or tup here or there, the kind of energy that BeatGrooves likes to highlight. The instructor brings her to the front of the class to be the metronome for everyone else.

"Follow Julie, tout le monde, she's the leader now. Go Julie! Go Julie! Go Julie!"

Jason's brother Ryan, still trying to play a beat so fast he'll lap the rest of the class, takes no notice of Julie at all. Jason's grandmother is still a masque of medium enjoyment and zero rhythm. Jason, however, is losing steam. His smile is fading and within a few minutes he's tapping lazily with one finger, leaning back in his chair. By the end of class, when they're handing back their djembes and Julie is high-fiving Alex the instructor, Jason is holding back tears.

He stands in the bright hot sun, outside the drum tent, with his brother and his grandmother, suddenly looking dumb and pointless in the grass, like the Three Bears of BeatGrooves. Way too much rhythm, way too little, and Jason in the middle, with almost but not quite enough rhythm, to compete with the likes of Julie and her funky braids and her neon socks. The Julies of the world will always get the attention, the Jasons will always stand dumb in the grass with their dumb families and their dumb bodies in dumb clothes.

"Wanna get some ice cream?" another long drag. They head to the car and Ryan thinks about what it would take to make homemade fireworks.

[Buy Open & Close]
[Buy Sun Blindness Music]

Posted by Dan at August 20, 2010 8:59 AM

Aw... such a sad story
but that really how it can be with music.. There is always someone better than you. Unless you are willing to commit yourself fully... which most of us don't feel we can do... I couln't do it...

Posted by Amy at August 21, 2010 1:20 PM

hey, where is that photo from/ who is it by?

Posted by kate at August 28, 2010 10:19 AM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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