LISTENING TO ONE’S “INNER VOICE” IN A HANG DRUM - by Raven Crone (Guest Blog; with Rowley & Joy)
Updated: Feb 22
I was reading two poems about “Inner Voices,” in a manuscript of Ann’s second volume of poetry which is scheduled for publication later this year. I had the fortunate opportunity to read the poems because we have a long-time personal and professional friendship. Over the past fifteen years I have sometimes provided technical and artistic web consultation and editorial assistance to her various creative efforts, so she sent the manuscript to me. In these poems I learned that she had been searching for the meaning and definition of an “inner voice” in music, specifically in the piano music that Ann studies. But she was also searching for something more important and complex than that.
She was searching for her personal inner voice in music.
As it turns out, at the time I read her poem and unbeknown to her, I had been seeking to purchase a drum, a specific type of exotic drum that is not all that well known. It’s called a Hang Drum and sometimes called just a "Hang" or a "Pan Drum."
I was searching for the drum for a reason I then shared with Ann: to express my inner voice.
The hang drum is best described as "The Hang consists of two steel sheets welded together to make a convex shape, a little like a UFO. The top (metal) sheet has a main pitch hammered into its middle, along with 7 additional pitches located as indentations around its perimeter. The instrument almost looks like the concave steel pan turned inside out. To play the Hang you place it on your lap and tap it with your hands and fingers, which brings out the instrument’s many overtones."
The sound of the hang drum is certainly unique, described on the website above, this way: "Timbre isn’t everything, of course, but it’s a whole lot of what makes one music sound different from another. Think of the crunchy distorted electric guitar timbres in rock and metal musics, or the liquid metallic shimmer of steel bands, gamelans, and now, the Hang. Timbre is a big part of why we are attracted to or repelled by a music." (To hear what a hang drum sounds like, please visit this site.)
I love the sound of the Hang Drum! It reminds me of bells, deep resonant bells. These musical instruments are special; they are struck lightly with the fingertips unlike the tambour which is struck with the fingertips with force. They should not be struck by a mallet which can damage them and cause them to go out of tune. They are a percussive instrument. They are loud and they ring out boldly.
I’ve wanted one for years, but the price was an obstacle because even the least expensive is quite expensive, principally because it is hand made; prices can easily run into the thousands of dollars!
My need grew over the past year. Almost every day I would watch and listen on YouTube to people playing the Hang Drum. I would scour online stores for the perfect drum. I would listen to demonstrations of tonal quality and the sound of different drums made by different manufacturers. I would look at reviews of those who owned and played different drums. I would research the different types of steel that they are made from. Deeply down a rabbit hole I went! I was obsessed for sure, but still I believed I was without the means to get one.
But life changed: I actually decided to buy one! It's not the so-called “top of the market.” It's much like Ann's beautiful Duchess grand piano as she explained to me: not perfect, not “the best,” – but it’s her beautiful and best!
And so is mine; the sound rings true.
Surprisingly, I bought my drum sound-unheard. I calculated that I could send it back if it wasn't right. Then I could continue to search online and visit music stores wherever I happened to be.
There were two principal choices I had to make before I made my final choice. First, drums have a set sound, key, or pitch. That’s a complex subject, but the following is a useful summary:
“However, unlike other musical instruments such as the guitar, marimba, or piano, drums don’t produce a definite pitch. Also, drums can be tuned to have a high or low pitch..they are usually considered non-pitched instruments. This is because they produce a weak fundamental frequency and the pitches they produce are unrelated to the rest of the musical instruments available today...Some drums have a recognizable dominant pitch. However, you can tighten or loosen the drum heads, enabling you to achieve a particular pitch...Drums are usually tuned to make the individual drums sound as good as they possibly can and not necessarily to fit a particular note in a key...In spite of this, nowadays, people sometimes tune drums to notes on a scale...you can change the pitch of a drum. This is known as tuning. Drums are tuned by loosening or tightening the tension rods or ropes that control the tension on the drum head. The tightening and losing of drum heads are done using a tool known as a drum key;”
Hang drums offer notes in only one octave, but come in various keys. After some research and listening to various pitches, I knew that I wanted a drum sounding in the D minor key.
You can obtain a higher or lower pitch by striking different parts of the drum head. The same drum can produce a complex mixture of pitches. Some drummers may prefer a crisp, snappy high pitch, while others may prefer a low thumpy pitch.
Second, I needed to make a purchase choice between a drum designed principally for meditation or principally for playing with groups of people as you sometimes do with the guitar. Drums perfect for meditation should be constructed of a harder type of steel. My drum is for meditation. It is for healing. It's for clearing my mind. It's for relaxation. It resonates forever.
My drum arrived one day in a huge box and inside it was wrapped in mountains of Styrofoam! With great anticipation and excitement, I carefully removed her and started on my adventure to learn to play. Almost immediately something became clear: I have to be aware of and adjust my posture as I'm playing in order to avoid stress and obtain the most beautiful tones.
I need to keep my back straight, otherwise I might end up with really nice back pain. I have to check by body to become aware of any clenching of my muscles, such as in my toes. I have a tendency to hold very tightly or clench toes on my left foot. I need to scan by body and ask myself if I am I holding my arms in a proper playing position? Am I striking the drum with correct hand form and in a relaxed position while flexing and using my hands in a relaxed way? I found that sometimes the answers are “yes” and "no:" Toes are tight again. Back is hurting. You're not sitting straight. Yes...I've discovered I've got biceps and triceps!
I must be aware overall that I am relaxed in body and mind enough to, yes, play, but in a larger sense, to meditate and to be healed while I am playing my drum. I'm really enjoying playing. When I play I'm listening for and to my inner voices. I'm asking my drum if I’m relaxed, if I’m in a healing space, if I’m practicing in perfect form, and if I’m enjoying playing. It’s odd how answers to those questions simply pop into your head (or your back) as you practice or play; sometimes those inner voices can cause a bit of pain until you make the proper friendly relationship with your drum!
It was a bit strange and amusing to me, but when I told Ann about my drum, she immediately asked what is its name? I've never named any of my prior instruments. Without one hesitancy, I knew that she was a girl, and my inner voice told me her name:
# # #
(Poems from "Poetical Musings on Pianos, Music & Life - Vol. II")
Inner Voices.1: Some Questions
In these questions lies a poem
about a musical topic mysterious:
it’s called “inner voices,” of that I’m sure,
a phrase I find so curious.
To start my research, some questions I outlined
to flesh out the answers that hide:
are they notated only in the treble,
if there the main melody resides?
Or are they merely separate melodies
that occur in treble and bass,
like Mozart liked to use most times as his music us did grace?
And do these voices, if they exist,
ever transform at all
to main melodies, or melody, if one,
or disappear from the chorale?
And how the heck do I identify
an inner voice to look up,
and concerning such notes–if they exist,
do the stems go down or up?
So quest I now for answers certain,
my research cut out for me;
I’ll start with friends, then the internet,
and won’t forget Siri!
Inner Voices.2: More Focused Questions
Is a counter melody the same thing
as a true inner voice?
And is this phrase only applicable to
chorales for four equal voices?
Is harmony required, no less a pitch
one can easily identify,
to have a hope of every finding
where an inner voice does lie?
So lying ’twixt bass and soprano
is where inner voices I’ll find?
And is dissonance more acceptable
inside the main melody line?
Are outer voices the highest voice
and bass the lowest one,
with the inner voice softer by far
than the other singing tone?
Are there particular styles of music,
that tend to have such voices?
Making them easier to hear and identify
among all the myriad choices?
Is there a “leading tone” in an inner voice?
And need it be resolved?
Some say not so, and with them I’ll go
(is my puzzle now being solved?).
*For an excellent video explaining and demonstrating how
inner voices sound versus the melody line, see a video on
classical pianist Robert Estrin’s website: livingpianos.com