I spent this afternoon playing drums with my new musician friends from kirtan, for two different local groups of disabled people. I have never actually played with this group before, so I'm not sure what to expect. Although I've been playing drum kit for a while and used to play tamborim in a samba band, I've never played the drums I'm playing today before either (a cajón and a dunun), for more than a few minutes. So really all I can do is wing it on stage in front of our captive audience.
The first gig is for a group of adolescents with Down syndrome. Despite my lack of practice, experience or rehearsal, they love it. If there's one thing to be said for people with Down Syndrome, they sure know how to let loose and have a good time. Before long they are up dancing, jiving and laughing, showing far less inhibition than I have. One of the guys gets down on the floor and breaks into a spontaneous rap dance. We aren't even playing hip-hop. But that isn't about to stop him. Before long, one of his mates joins him; both of them writhing around on the floor unselfconsciously to our beats.
In contrast, I feel really self-conscious when our leader suggests that we start doing some "laughter yoga", playing music to the sound of various different people in the band laughing. When it comes to my turn, I laugh away feeling ridiculous. I feel the rush of blood to my face and the feelings of shame at looking foolish; and the audience love it. One of the girls is laughing so much that it looks as though she is about to fall off her chair. By the end of the song the audience are all laughing more than we are.
The second gig is for a group of adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. Actually, I don't know for sure that they all have an intellectual disability; that could just be my own prejudice shining through. Half of them are in wheel chairs and their speech and movement are awkward. The part-aboriginal woman with most of her teeth missing sitting on my left takes an immediate liking to me. She quickly reaches out to touch and hold my hand, and it isn't long before we are high-fiving each other. This is a lot of fun at first, but it gets a little distracting as the gig progresses.
Once again this group has something valuable to teach me about going for what you want regardless of the apparent constraints of the situation, or of what other people might think. She wants to hold my hand, and the fact that I am currently using that hand to hit a drum isn't about to get in her way.
Then there is another guy down the back who yells "Jesus!" at the top of his voice every few minutes. Just as an exclamation; it doesn't seem like he is using it either as a swear word or in a religious capacity really. I assume he has Tourette's, but once again he seems undeterred by any thoughts of what the people around him might be thinking. Praise the Lord.
I'm not exactly sure what to make of the woman down the back with the walking frame, who spends most of the gig marching to and fro across the room with her tongue stuck out. How does she avoid dehydration when her tongue appears to be spending more time outside of her mouth than inside? Still, she seems to be enjoying it.
Some of the songs that we play are quite meditative, and I look over at one point to see a woman in the audience who appears to be in a deep state of trance. I can't honestly say for sure whether this is the result of the music that we are playing, whether it is medication-induced, or whether that is just how she always looks. Either way, she seems to be enjoying the experience.
The gig ends with a beautiful improvised flute, guitar, drum and didgeridoo piece. The audience are obviously grateful, and I feel happy about the way I chose to spend this afternoon as I pack up to go home. My life may not be perfect, but seeing people trapped in bodies that don't give them the freedom that I enjoy really puts some of my problems into perspective.
On the other hand, I wasn't the only one to notice the lack of inhibition in some of our other audience members this afternoon either. As we pack the cars to leave, one of the other guys from the group comments: "You really gotta wonder sometimes who has the disability... them, or us."