Movement to Music: Musicians in the Dance Studio

By Katherine Teck | Go to book overview

5
Percussion Accompaniment: From Ethnic Styles to New Jazz

What was the first sound to accompany human dancing? Was it a clap of the hands or the human voice or the hitting together of sticks and stones? We'll never know the answer to that question, of course. But one thing seems certain: the drum has been around a long time and has been perhaps the single most important instrument for the accompaniment of dance throughout the world.

A reminder of the importance of the drum and its close kinship to dance is a large instrument that now resides silently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a "breasted drum" from the African Ompe and Ntan music and dance clubs of the 1930s and 1940s. The museum note indicates that this type of drum is "seldom played today, but still displayed in front of the ensembles as they perform. . . . The breasts indicate the drum's role as 'mother' of the ensemble."

In addition to this traditional symbolism, some trappings of contemporary musicians were sometimes added to such drums: framed clocks, for example, "to indicate when the hired ensemble began to accrue overtime wages."

American drummers have more in common with African musicians than clock- watching. Here, percussion music also provides either that "mother" tone or the entire accompaniment for many styles of dance. Moreover, the complicated rhythmic patterns originally developed in Africa passed through the African diaspora, found new forms as they met with European and Caribbean musics, and appear in the varied timbres of new instruments made with materials from around the world.

Yet with all the merging of styles in the New World, it is still exciting--for both musicians and dancers--to try to recapture some of the flavor of the traditional African dances, done to sounds that resemble as closely as possible

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