Corby's Orbit

Corby's Orbit
Listening in All the High Places illustration by John Kricfalusi

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Farther Adventures With The Conundrum

Drum keeper David Hynes and I set up on the front porch of The Arlington in Maynooth last Saturday night.
As expected, The Conundrum blew minds and powered up the dormant batteries of a lot of tourists, campers, music fans and Hastings Highlands Hillbillies at the Jane Bunnett / Pan Am All-Stars gig.

Onstage, Jane shared the front line with her hubz Larry Kramer on trumpet and the impassioned Venezuelan vocalist Eliana Cuevas, while the inspired support of keyboardist Jeremy Ledbetter and an intense rhythm section of Magdelys Savigne, Amhed Mitchel and Juan Pablo Dominguez kept the fire crackling all night.

Sunday morning, acting on a tip, we headed west into the pristine primeval wilderness of Algonquin Park in search of a non-aligned All Nations Pow Wow. Following the instructions on a hand-drawn invitation with no map, we went "about 20 minutes down the road" five times, before we finally turned back. But there it was, sighted by chance - a small sign in the grass at a corner:
 Pow Wow This Way >>>>.

People along the roadway were still donning regalia and being blessed in clouds of sweet grass and rosemary when we drove up. We thought we had missed it, but 
The Grand Entry had been delayed, so we set up the drum right away at the far side of a tall gazebo, crowned with an evergreen sapling, known as The Arbour. 

As soon as The Conundrum was pushed into the sun, a young man in sunglasses and a cowboy hat approached, and touched it carefully.
 "Is this really a drum?" he asked. "Are you going to play it?" 
I said, "Well I could, but I think you should."

He began to hit a heartbeat rhythm. With every beat, another person arrived with a stick and joined in until all of the drummers and singers and women and children in the clearing had gathered around it. Someone suggested doing "the Leonard Peltier song."

The drummers began a beautiful and powerful chant as a group. It went around for nine or ten cycles. I have heard the drum go loud before, but never THAT loud. The singing was poignant and prayerful, opening the hearts of all the people in the area (and probably those of a few trees and clouds too). The drum was rocking and making the tobacco dance on all of the other drums. Feathers were spread to shadow the rawhide membrane. Children were holding the edges of the rawhide to feel the ticklish vibrations.

When the song was finished there were tears and hugs and handshakes all around the instrument.
It was extraordinary, for a Toronto resident, to see no cameras or phones during the performance. The event had set the pace and the Grand Entry began soon afterwards with jingle dresses, flags, feather fans, and furs...

 The drum was invited into the Arbour circle, but it was left just outside of the perimeter of the canvas. Over the afternoon, the skin became very hot, so that we needed to put iced towels on both ends to keep it from cracking.  I put the camera away then. 

Speeches by two of the MC's about the meaning of the Conundrum followed. The connection of the Cheemaun (canoe) with the Dewe'igan (drum) needed to be investigated through cross-references to legend and tradition. MC Stan Taylor said "I've been drumming for forty years and I'm still going to have to think about this one some more." A woman selected our drum to sing a song about angels' wings.

The circumstances of its surprise arrival and awesome sound gave everyone pause for consideration. "It has me amazed and honoured," said the other speaker. It was explicitly and carefully declared to be the product of a vision separate from the Algonquin community's. It was a warning not to be seduced by its power. The young men had responded instantly to its grand volume and artful appearance. An elder put his hand on it gently as we were leaving and addressed the drum directly: "I will remember your voice for a long time.``

The discussion continued long after we had gone, and is probably still going to last for quite a while.

Another canoe usage.

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