Music Is Poetry Beyond Words

And poetry is music beyond tones and rhythm. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to play the drums in the school band, but I was told “girls don’t play drums.” So, later I learned guitar, piano, and Appalachian dulcimer, but I didn’t play drums for many decades. In the meantime I had read Layne Redmond’s When the Drummers Were Women and learned that girls definitely do play drums! So, about five years ago, I took an African drumming class at a nearby music school, and then switched to a full drum set. 

I had originally taken the classes for fun and because of drumming’s relationship to women’s spiritual history. But soon I was reading about the healing aspects of drumming and how it is essential to the practice of traditional healers in Africa and elsewhere. Healing has always been an aspect of my writing and I was excited to find my writing and music shared this connection.

I was also finding that I was increasingly frustrated with the inability of the words I wrote to fully express what I wanted to say, and suddenly the fact that Sappho wrote her poetry to be sung to music made a lot of sense.  Now, no one wants to hear me sing, believe me, so I began to compose little instrumental pieces of music to go with poems and stories I was writing to more fully convey their meaning and emotional tone. I also began to explore writing little pieces to go along with how I interpreted some of my favorite traditional myths and stories.

I found that, whereas I had been venturing into the fusion of spirituality and words for years, both words and spirituality become much richer when they are in a triad with music, and music also gains a greater voice when brought into a circle with words and spirituality. To me, this is especially true for percussion because rhythm is so integral to the cosmos, which is alive with vibrations, and our own bodies that are dependent on our heartbeats and breath. 

As life becomes more complex in this time when we are facing such daunting challenges, I think we will increasingly find music, words, and spiritual ideas to be more meaningful in their combination and complementary relationships rather than appreciated alone. I also believe that music’s healing properties are especially essential now when so many are feeling trauma. And, I’m having a lot of fun playing with my drums and home computer recording software!

Here are three pieces that I have finished in recent weeks. The first is Seven Gates, about the soul’s descent into the Underworld to meet one’s own mortality and the truth of one’s life, and the ascent back up into the everyday world, based on the myth of Inanna. Even if this type of experience isn’t what the piece makes you think of, well, maybe it brings up something else for you! Here it is:

The second is titled January, 1900. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the region where I live was home to mills and factories and hundreds of people who came from many nations, especially Ireland, to work in them. As I wander the streets of my neighborhood I sometimes wonder what these people thought about their new home, especially in our New England cold and icy winters. It is in mixolydian mode, which many traditional Irish songs are in, to evoke their heritage.

Finally, here is just a short rhythmic piece to get you moving!

I hope you enjoy them!

A quick note: Yes, that’s me playing all the instruments, but no, I don’t know how to play bass, flute, clarinet, or string ensemble. That’s the magic of computers that can take what I put into a keyboard and make it sound like just about any instrument I like! It is actually me playing on real percussion instruments, however. And sometimes the keyboard acts like a real electric piano or organ, and that’s me, too.

By Carolyn Lee Boyd

Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, drummer, and herb and native plant gardener who lives in New England. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in, among others, Sagewoman, Feminism and Religion, Return to Mago E-Zine, The Goddess Pages, Matrifocus, and The Beltane Papers, and various anthologies. Her work focuses on spirituality in everyday life and encouraging new ways to better live in local and global community by seeking guidance in traditional myths, stories, and practices and creating new myths and stories to find our way to a more peaceful, just, and sustainable future.

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