Friday, January 27, 2023


Music at One's Fingertips

The topic commends itself right in this moment, when the whole world seems to be watching "The Banshees of Inisherin."  The film admonishes us that for a man to sever his fingers from his instrument, permanently, is a form of suicide, and that after that line is crossed "it ain't worth it no more" even if we continue to live.

The etymology of the word "instrument" is plain as day.  An instrument is a tool, and therefore an extension of the physical body in pursuit of a particular purpose.  The affection for and attachment of Thelonious to his piano are the same as those of the fisherwoman in the stream for and to her far-flung fly, the fly that accomplishes for her the miracle of "action at a distance."

In the case of the old Irish lap drum called the bodhran, the attachment may be enhanced still further by the materials from which it is made.  The body of the drum, the ring if you will, is of highly polished rosewood, as is the T-shaped support that lies hidden from the audience within the drum.  And the little drumstick or "tipper" that is held in the dominant hand of the drummer is likewise made of wood.  Between wood and wood, the head of the drum is of lambskin, cured, soaked and stretched.  Thus nearly the entire contraption is as organic as you or I; it is up to us to bring it to life.

To top it off, Paraic McNeela, in Dublin, who makes the drums, advises the purchase of a very special lotion called "Drum Diddly."  Its principal ingredient is lanolin.  Drops of the cream are squirted onto the drum head, and then the dominant hand caresses the head in small circles until every pore is softened by the diddly.  Lanolin, of course, is a natural sheep secretion meant first of all to protect a living lambskin from drying out as well as from other environmental assaults.  Thus we add insult to injury by reuniting the poor lamb in death with the esters that softened it when it was alive.

It is good that the sheep huddled on the hillside within faint earshot of a human commotion are too dumb to recognize the ancient composition that is unfolding in the pub below, too dumb to recognize as well the composition of the bodhran itself as they hear it punctuate the relentless rhythm of the reel, if only by way of artful syncopation.

No comments:

Post a Comment