Tell me about your background in music.
Some first sounds I remember hearing are the sounds of the woods. I would hang out in the woods a lot as a child. I’d listen to the wind at my grandfather’s place in upstate NY. I would be in the woods and tall grasses as much as I could and imitate the sounds I heard. I started some music training, piano, when I was in the sixth grade (that didn’t last very long). Then I played folk guitar in High School and sang with my sister in coffeehouses. I learned a lot on my own. When I was in college I majored in music therapy. My main instrument was classical guitar. When I began working, I worked with children with music. It wasn’t really a surprise to go into a field like music therapy where I could join my love of music with my love for children and people. I did my internship in music therapy in California, with people of all ages.
I discovered drums more recently in my life, about 9 or 10 years ago, around a ceremonial fire. I was captivated and insatiable in my desire to experience more of the drum. When they [drums] came into my life, they literally changed it. The drums opened me. I was a performer from way back. I felt like I was always a judgmental and self-critical musician when I was performing with guitar. As a performance artist I would be in my mind, even during the performance. I would be criticizing myself, "I’m not singing good enough," or "I’m not playing this the way I want to play it." When the drums came into my life they shifted that in a very obvious way, and very quickly.
I had always worked with music and sound and studied its affects on the body and emotions. I had learned a lot about using music in community, in gatherings and how to use music to bring more of a healthy energy flow to the body, mind and the heart. When the drums became more central in my life, their power in this realm became quickly and deeply apparent.
At what point did you realize that there was a connection?
Besides connecting me to my Self in a very authentic and core way, drumming brought me into a relationship with the best of who I was. It brought me out of this judgmental mind set and brought me freedom. Drumming literally transformed my life, and brought me joy I hadn’t experienced before as an artist with sound.
So from that point, do you feel your performances were substantially different?
Definitely, the quality of freedom and the quality of expression was more obvious to me and those around me. I was using music to do "therapy" on myself and it affected people around me in similar ways. I felt like I could be more expressive. I had a greater freedom of creativity. I enjoyed it and fell in love with what I was doing. The drums pulled me in a different direction. They gave me the perfect connection between my love and affinity with natural cycles and the natural world. They gave me connection in a deeper way than the guitar, and also affected my performance and creative process with the guitar.
You talked about personal therapy and releasing creative expression. What was the tie with community and drumming?
I was a woman who felt like I was suffocating for much of my life. I felt like I was actually being held underwater. The drums helped me free myself, and helped me be in situations with people where I could share that creative joy of expression.
So you could take the growth that you felt and just present it so that others would have the same opportunity. How is it different in working with women compared to men?
I often say and feel very deeply that the frame drum is the feminine aspect of percussion. Although historically we think most of the frame drummers were women, it feel it's important today that there be acknowledgement that this is a feminine principle coming alive again through men and women. I work with both women and men, although there are more women doing frame drumming at the moment. Now, women are being called to the larger voice drums as well. The awakening of the feminine principle and bringing that back into balance with the male principle is the work of men and women both. The communication center of the body, known as the fifth chakra, has been afflicted, maybe more in women than men. We are evolving with the desire to find our creative voice, to find our essential expression whether that’s done through the vocal cords, the drum or any other way.
A multi-sensory approach to expression is required. Rhythm is a sense, just as listening is. Rhythm at the core of our being and deep listening from the core of our being will help us find our creative voice.
Do you see a spiritual connection with drumming?
It’s difficult to separate what is spirit and what isn’t because to me it feels like all the expression that I’m involved in is spirit. Spirit is the source as well as the expression. What calls in my soul to have a voice is spirit. There are some obvious ways to connect drumming and spirit. One of them is through the breath. When we breathe, we become in-spirited, or inspired, taking in spirit breath. When we exhale we breathe out spirit breath. When we block full breathing, or take short, tense breaths, we interrupt spirit flow. Then there’s the synergy of drumming from and for the heart of Earth and breathing spirit fully in and out!
What would you recommend to someone who is interested in frame drumming?
Pick one up and explore it. Bring the voice of it out. Explore it in as many ways as you can. Do things that you might have seen other people do but then go further and try to get a new sound. Just explore it and you will identify sounds you might not have known even existed on the drum. Then study, watch how people play, take workshops. Get one!
As I become more aware of the cultural elements of rhythm and sound through research, exploration and experience, I feel privileged to be able to bring that history and rich tradition to more of a conscious level for myself as well as others. Since we don’t have a drumming tradition in our own country we have felt compelled it seems to draw from other countries. We have responsibility in that. To carry on the rich legacy of the frame drum is an honor. To learn about and draw from the practices of rhythm, sound, and healing among the world’s first peoples is awesome. To be carrying those traditions into the present and be a part of their evolution is a privilege and a joy.
Helen Bond is a percussionist, educator, and drum and related goods merchandiser residing in the Chicago area. Her retail organization is Medusa's Mysteries.