Over the ages, crafters have skillfully balanced basic physical materials to give Indigenous music its depth, richness, and variety. Gabe is learning these complex and subtle variations. Different kinds of wood and hides, the size of the drum frame, even the seasons in which crafters select materials, all represent distinct traditions spread across the Indigenous cultural landscape. The journey includes the modern powwow drum that Gabe and many drummers of his age prefer. This emits a deeper sound than the traditional powwow drum. Indeed, crafters have changed the powwow drum only slightly, but those small differences continue an ancient generational and cultural evolution.
Indigenous music never eclipses the past. It honours it. In slight ways, the sounds are new, but modern drummers, Jimmy says, are “watching people, learning the rhythms, developing that confidence.”
Scientists, too, have traditions and have developed their craft over the centuries. The language of the drum and the language of mathematics and physics don’t just carry cultural messages, but physical ones as well.
“The drum is the heartbeat of the people,” Jimmy muses. “When you play, it’s doing something physical to your body: that ba-boom, ba-boom, pumping your blood. The more energy you put into that drum, the more you get out of it.”
Knowing the drum means to know not just the body, but the Universe in which the body moves. Drumming is a means of connecting to the Earth and the forces it sets in motion. Drums, flutes, stringed instruments and the singing voice are the ancient music of humanity on Earth. These form a language that interconnects our collective existence here. At the same time, the mathematics of physics is the music of the Universe, a language that interconnects us to existence.
The two languages describe our shared world differently, yet they are not so different after all. Indigenous people learn the ways of the ancestors and other North Americans learn the ways of science and physics. But, this potentially could unite these great lifeways rather than divide them. All of us are living in the present. All of us are learning what an ancient yet timeless Universe is teaching humanity, namely, that each of us whether with intuition or the mind should – in our own way – honour the Creator.
This we should know: In real ways, the Universe is music. Time, space, intuition and the laws of physics combine to set the music in motion – drawing on that energy and returning it; a reflection travelling endlessly back and forth.