More Drumming @ Page Presents!

by Vicky on July 5, 2010

This week’s Page Presents class featured a great story I learned from my friend, Emmanuel Agboloso, who taught economics and political science at Diné College when I was the instruction/distance services librarian there.  Emmanual, who was from Ghana, told this story at our very first Tellabration event in November 2005 that we held as part of our Friday Nights @ the Library coffeehouse series.  Dressed magnificently in a Ghanaian smock, he danced and sang as he told his tale of that tricky fellow, Tortoise.

As I researched other versions of the story, I found a much darker version, and I wondered if Emmanuel had adapted the story for his Navajo audience and added the gambling element because we were moving into the winter storytelling season which is also the time when the Shoe Game is played.  Unfortunately, I can’t ask him now because he has passed away. I miss him.

In Emmanuel’s version, the Tortoise played the guitar and sang.  In my version, the Tortoise became a drummer because our branch manager Linda decided to let me have our stash of collected coffee cans for this week’s craft.  So I planned an extra special drumming event!

Our page, Andrew, agreed to come early and join Matt for a drumming extravaganza.  Matt came equipped with large plastic buckets, and he reviewed the marketplace rhythm that the kids had been learning.  Then he had Andrew play the marketplace rhythm and he taught the kids to clap a series of 16 eighth notes in time with the rhythm.

Next he had them clap 8 quarter notes.  Soon he had them switching between the two counter-rhythms as Andrew held the basic rhythm.

It sounded fantastic!  The kids could really keep the beat, and hearing how their rhythms meshed with the marketplace rhythm was thrilling.

Then we got to put this together with some music, and Matt and Andrew took turns holding the marketplace rhythm while the other riffed more complex patterns.

The kids loved it!

Then it was time for our story.  In my version of the story, Monkey hears marvelous sounds of drumming and singing one day as he is going about his business in the forest.  He follows the sounds and discovers Tortoise singing and drumming away.  The two become friends and move in together, but Tortoise makes Monkey promise to never ever tell anyone about his music-making.  Monkey agrees, and they live together happily until one day when Monkey happens to be hanging out with some friends who start boasting.

As the competing boasts escalate, Monkey forgets his promise and brags that he knows a Tortoise who can drum and sing.  No one believes him, but the gossip spreads about Monkey’s boast, and soon the chief (played by Page the Bookworm, co-host of Page Presents) hears about it.  He summons Monkey and demands that he produce this singing and drumming tortoise.    When Monkey tells Tortoise that the chief wants to see him perform, Tortoise can’t believe that his friend broke his promise.  He withdraws into his shell and refuses to come out.  Monkey eventually heaves Tortoise onto his back and hauls him back to the chief’s house.

The chief wagers that Tortoise is just an ordinary tortoise.  Monkey bets everything he has that Tortoise is an extraordinary musician.

And that’s how Monkey lost his shirt.

He is laughed out of town, but by now everyone is tired and hungry and cranky.  “I think this Tortoise is good only for supper,” declares the chief.

At this point the Tortoise has to come out of his shell and plead for his life, and reluctantly proves that he can indeed drum and sing.  The chief thinks he can win a lot of bets with this Tortoise, so he insists that the Tortoise stay with him.

“But I know so many other tortoise musicians!” says Tortoise.  “I have one friend who plays the guitar, and another who plays the flute, and another who plays the violin—why, you could have a whole Tortoise Orchestra!  Let me just go and bring them back with me and then what music-making you will hear!”

The chief agrees to this, and Tortoise leaves…never to be seen or heard of again.  And to this day, no one has ever again seen a tortoise singing or playing a musical instrument.

And all because of a broken promise.

After the story, Matt and Andrew jammed while the kids made their coffee can drums.

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