Monday, May 3, 2010


Remember Rhythm Band? I remember it fondly and brightly, though there was probably dismal lighting in that old gray Music Room off the “basement”---the local name for the two restrooms---the Girls on the right and down the stairs as you went into the front door of the school, and the Boys on the left---with the entire hall and several classrooms between.

Perhaps we were sequestered down there with our wild symphonies because of the sound, or perhaps that’s just where the instruments lived---I never knew, but Fridays meant Assembly right after lunch. We all gathered in the big old auditorium, and one class or another “had charge” of the half-hour’s entertainment/instruction/slideshow/play/skits or whatever else they’d prepared for weeks to show the rest of the school.

After dismissal from that, our class made a beeline for the basement, to get in that music room and get something---anything---beside those Blessed Rhythm Sticks!! They were red once, with little chips and pecks down to the wood all over, the countless scars of countless small hands and their smacking against doors, desks, windowsills, lunchboxes, and any fellow musician who got too close. They were cut from plain old dowels, I believe, for they were plain and cylindrical, and it didn’t matter which end you took hold of.

They were the least favorite of the instruments, for all they did was click together or upon other items, making nothing but a sound you coulda made with a pencil. They were no fun. But there were a LOT of them.

There were also a couple of sets of maracas, with little toucans painted on their fat gourd sides, and several small wooden boxes that didn’t open, but you could shake them and make about the same noise as with the maracas.

The Woodblocks you just clacked together, as well, or hit with a little stick, for a similar sound to the Rhythm Sticks.

The “Raspers” as we called them, were small blocks of wood with a tiny drawer-pull-type handle on one side, and a heavy-grit sandpaper on the other. You slid two against each other in a scritch-scritch sound, and I didn’t like those very much either, for the dust got on your hands and fell in your shoes.

The tambourines were fun---small round drum-things with the skin on one side, and four little cymbal-thingies in holes in the sides. They made quite a nice racket, and besides, we’d seen them used quite dramatically in movies, by dark-eyed, beautiful ladies in swirling skirts and waist-length hair.

There was a small cymbal---only one, and as the cymbals in the High School Band were all played by boys, the cymbal was always considered a male instrument, so I never touched it.
I also remember some kind of little crinkly metal contraption, like a child-size washboard, with a string holding two metal thimbles. You put the thimbles on your finger and thumb, and strummed up and down the little pleats of the board, like Mother Maybelle.

But the absolute Grail hidden in that musty closet was the Triangle---perhaps it’s the rarity of the thing, or the fact that I never did get there in time to get it, but I remember it as being solid silver, like the two covered serving dishes they used at Lord’s Supper.

It was dainty and small; it hung on a little string, along with its tiny silver striker, and it made the songs of angels. Nothing could be as important in any orchestra as that triangle was in our Rhythm Band. I thought it had the clearest, most wonderful silvery note of anything I’d ever heard, whether it was tinging along to Winter Wonderland, or hitting that final, delicate ping at the end of Clair de Lune---it was magic.

Mrs. Keene earned her keep on those Fridays, pounding that old yellow-keyed piano to keep up with our reckless abandon to the music, and she DID teach us rhythm and tone and the appreciation of beautiful music, as well. After our energetic music session, she'd get one of the old black records out of its slick sleeve, and barefoot little farmboys in their one pair of overhauls sat side-by-side with dainty little ruffle-primped girls, all losing themselves in the “Quiet Time” of Moonlight Sonata and Traumerei. They didn’t scuffle or talk or make the faces of children bored---they soaked up the music. I like to think that we all took that with us, to whatever places we had to go from there.

But when we played---we were a loud, raucous orchestra, clanging and clicking and banging and rasping along, shaking our gourds and our tambourines and our backsides, transported to the heady levels of Juilliard and Carnegie Hall, just by two wooden sticks and an enchanted triangle of silver.


Keetha said...

How fun! We didn't have all that when I was in school.

mary said...

I am drinking in these reminiscences like fresh lemonade. We went barefoot to our three-room school, boys and girls, as soon as the weather warmed, and until the first fall frost.

Southern Lady said...

I had forgotten about the "rhythm band," Rachel. I seem to remember that I always ended up getting the "sticks," but what fun we had as we marched around the gym, and the noise we made was glorious "music" to our little ears.

racheld said...

The memories are as bright as the original colors must have been on all those instruments, especially the STICKS!

And it WAS music, a conglomeration which somehow became a cooperative effort. It was great fun.

And Mary---I cannot see who or where you are, but I'd love to hear your own reminiscences sometime. If you'd ever like to recount some of them as a "guest writer," it would be a lovely thing.

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

We had all those things when I was in school..but I never got to play the triangle either. My dream was playing the piano...literally. Now I can.
It's sort of like getting there in time to play the triangle! :)