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How to Know: Spirit Music - Crazy Wisdom, Shamanism And Trips To The Black Sky

By Published: January 4, 2014
The rules and advice about the drum (dungur) were not about the playing. They were rules like—never place the dungur on the ground because the energy in the drum could escape into the ground. And advice like—just listen to the drum. Like a lot of this kind of advice, it sounded simple, obvious when it was given, and insightful when it was put into practice.

In fact a lot of shamanic teaching is short and simple like that. It is often more like a signpost to a path you must follow yourself and learn from. There was no doubt however, that the dungur was the most important instrument for shamanising.

It's not used by shamans as a musical instrument, and shamans do not consider their playing to be musical—it's a spiritual practice. And they are similar in this approach to Tibetan Buddhist monks. I played several tours with different monks, and they all thought of their "music" as spiritual practice, not music.

And this is an important distinction. If you listen to a shaman drumming, it may be musically interesting for a few minutes say...but not for much longer. Its purpose is not entertainment. So Spirit Music is a combination of spirit and music. If it is all music, then it won't be spiritual and vice versa.

Playing with Tibetan monks was another ear-opener. They would play short sections where it sounded like a drummer falling downstairs with a pile of drums and cymbals.

The monks all faced in one direction, not looking at each other. There was no count in. And the staggered and speeding-up playing just began.

I soon discovered there was no way to count it, or anticipate it. It was different each time.

The only way to join in—was by joining in. By going with the moment, playing each sound one by one, allowing your intuition to determine where it would be placed—as if some other force was doing the determining.

On one occasion they did something wonderful during a concert in Schio, north Italy.

The westerners—myself, US trumpeter Jim Dvorak, and Brazilian bassist/cellist Marcio Mattos—were playing fast and light with much energy. Then the monks suddenly joined in, mainly with Tibetan percussion.

Very quickly I felt the rhythmic ground fall away as the monks de-stabilised the rhythm and tempo. Their tempo was out of synch with ours.

I looked around, to see the monk playing the rolmo (a pair of Tibetan hand-held cymbals) looking at me with a huge grin on his face.

It was one of those moments you remember. It was a revelation. It was a lesson.

And I remember how it felt.

Reprinted from How to Know by Ken Hyder, with permission from Amazon Digital Services USA. © 2013.

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