Layne Redmond passed away on 28 October 2013. Days before her death I received by post her signature Lotus Tambourine which Layne developed with Remo, manufacturer of world frame drums. Remo posted a tribute to her on her page as a Remo artist. Percussive Arts Society published an In Memoriam of her, along with the link to an article by Layne Redmond “Frame Drums and History”. Facebook and especially Women Frame Drumming page exploded with expressions of gratitude, sympathy and testimonials of how Layne changed people’s lives. Here is an account of Layne’s last summer by a person who supported her in her end-of-life transition.
Layne Redmond was intensely busy with two projects during this time: completing her film about drumming spiritual practices to dream awake Afro-Brazilian Gods and Goddesses, and preparing her seminal book When The Drummers Were Women for re-printing with new materials and photos. She put out appeals for both projects, including on Karen Tate’s show “The Voices of the Sacred Feminine” in June 2013, and people helped with their money and time.
I got my first tambourine, after two and a bit years of sticking to frame drums without jingles. The first time when I sat down with the tambourine to watch Layne’s training video she was in the same world as I, and the very next day she was gone. My Beginners’ Frame Drumming Group has been growing over the summer. My Intermediate Group has been going for a year now and we are preparing two performance pieces based on Layne’s Malfuf variation for upright and sitting playing positions.
Layne Redmond was a strong woman who followed her own path. With her research into the Spiritual History of Rhythm (subtitle for her book) she contributed to recovering Herstory. With her frame drum performances and teaching, Layne gave thousands of women an opportunity to connect to Goddess in a very physical way, which is at the same time artistic and spiritual.
I learnt to play frame drums from Layne’s DVDs and CDs and I learnt from her book When The Drummers Were Women that frame drums were – and remain – a sacred instrument to the Goddess played by Her priestesses. This puts my personal drumming practice and my teaching into context. However, this is not the main reason why I started and continue drumming.
From school years, although I did go to the Soviet Music School for eight years to study a Russian folk instrument domra, and to various Arts classes, I was mainly interested in academic studies – which led to my earning a PhD in Government from the University of Manchester and working there.
The first major change happened when I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. By the time I had finished, I admitted to myself that I was actually an artist – a realisation not easily arrived at, nor easy to deal with: now what? I re-started writing, re-started painting and re-started playing domra. I went to creative writing course and other events, including a community drum circle.
On a side table, away from the African drums, there were percussion instruments, and a Bodhran (An Irish frame drum played with a beater). I picked that Bodhran and banged on it. And it just immediately did something to me. The experience of holding the drum close to my chest, the sensation of the wave of vibration going through my body – that was it. I was hooked.
Had it not been for my experience with The Artist’s Way, I would have not acted on this experience. One of the steps on The Artist’s Way is listening to the quiet voice from within and acting once you have heard it. I invested in a couple of frame drums (not Bodhrans). I started learning from YouTube videos and then bought Layne’s DVD and CD set.
The more I drummed, the more I saw it was for me, it fit. Or I fit. By the way, this was very similar to the process of me learning Buddhist meditation: I knew I was meant to do it, however difficult and painful it was for the first year and a half. It is not any particular aspect of drumming that I enjoy, or any one rhythm. It is the whole experience: the way the frame feels against my knee and palms, the sensation of the frame drums against my fingertips, the different sounds and vibrations of the drum, the way my whole body gets engaged in the playing process and starts oscillating like a wave – or a snake.
The initial period of learning a rhythm is exhilarating, albeit irritating. I love getting to know the rhythm. I love the moment when my body has incorporated the rhythm fully. I love witnessing other people, women and men, discovering the magic of frame drums. I laugh at their initial hiccups and then delight at their first successes. These moments when a group manages to create a rhythmic web, everyone contributing, everyone listening to each other and to the whole.
These are all gifts: from the Goddess and from Layne Redmond. More gifts followed: meeting my shaman friend who now teaches me, and all my other frame drumming friends who give me joy. My best friend took up Bodhran and together we went on a frame drumming pilgrimage to pre-historic sites on the island of Anglesey (off Wales)
In an article “Remembering Her” in Diane Stein’s anthology The Goddess Celebrates, Marion Weinstein says:
“She tells each of us individually or personally – not only what to do – but who we are. We Are Her. She is us. Not only is it a different set of messages [from patriarchal religions], it’s a different set of techniques – and the techniques are the message also. The process of discovery is also the message.”
I have experienced that with my Buddhist meditation practice and my frame drumming practice: the process of discovering, taking on, following up, and sticking with – it has been all part of the message. And the key to this journey has been listening to the quiet voice from within.
Oxana Poberejnaia was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and has been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention, now in its 9th year. Oxana is now exploring the Sacred Feminine through marking seasonal festivals, working with her menstrual cycle, frame drumming and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Oxana is an artist and an author. She teaches frame drumming and meditation. Her works can be found on her blog.