MCO, a silver lining in our drum journey

Nicholas has a fascination for the Lion Dance. The drums will draw him and the lion will hold him to the spot.

So when I saw an online post about an 8 lesson class (with a discount) on the huge Chinese drums by the renown Hands Percussion,  it was just too good to pass. My reasoning was that, it is only ONE big drum and TWO sticks. Difficult to miss and surely moving two hands/arms would be quite manageable.

Further, Nicholas and I had watched a Hands Percussion performance sometime ago as well as the latest on YouTube, and I was pretty sure that we would definitely NOT be doing any of the fancy stuff.

I immediately checked it out and was assured by Zoe Lee, Head of Education and Outreach, that Nicholas would be welcomed. In addition, it would be alright for me to help him out.

By the third lesson, despite Jack’s and our fellow students’ encouragement, I was having serious doubts about my idea. I could not even help myself! To add to my boiling pot of self-doubt, I discovered that Zoe had roped in teachers, Tee Leong Hoe and Melvin Kuan to personally help Nicholas so that I would be free to learn. I was torn between gratitude and panic.

How to perform the ‘One thousand hands’ formation.

Five lessons later, I realised with horror that we were expected to do more than just beat the drums but, in a team, performed tantalising patterns like Thousand Hands, Harvest, Plucking Stars and Confucius, among others. I began planning how to ditch the performance (the 8th lesson) because, at the rate we are going, I will be playing with 2 right hands and Nicholas to his imaginary lion.

Leong Hoe showing Nicholas (background, right) the moves.

Unbelievably, the MCO came to our rescue. We could not go to the studio for lessons and I thought we would have the luxury of waiting out the MCO. However, not to be beaten by such a small snag, our dedicated drum teacher, Jack Wan, decided to proceed on zoom.

Interestingly, Zoom really helps with the details of the patterns. (The cover picture is of the Zoom class!) Unfortunately Nicholas cannot focus well on Zoom basically because it is 2-dimensional and the computer screen is still relatively small. But he faithfully joins the Zoom class every week. Thanks to Zoe, for getting me to learn too, as I am able to help him with the beats and patterns, not perfect but doing it.

As far as beating the drum goes, Nicholas is doing a decent  job but getting him to remember the rhythm and pattern is something else. However, he is a good observer and copyist. He will probably need to practice each pattern for one or two thousand times before it will be part of his muscle memory (as teacher Jack always emphasizes) before he can keep to the tempo with ease. So again, thanks to the MCO and now Zoom, I actually have time to practice the patterns with Nicholas daily. I know the neighbours are wondering about the cacophony coming from our house.

Learning alongside Nicholas helps me to understand better the challenges he faces. Being right-handed, my brain and instinct get a bit stressed whenever I have to use my left-hand in a new way and that tends to mess with the rhythm and flow of the drumming. My personal style of learning is to line up details and memorize them (i.e. the drum beats for each pattern) and then only can I focus on the rhythm and natural flow of the beats. Having been Nicholas’ “ever since” home therapist, I know he learns almost the same way but at a much slower pace, with little parts that build up to a whole. The length of time is also a challenge for him to remain focused.

He is quite good with “Confucius” because it is the shortest piece with two repetitions. We have been practicing “Harvest”, “Plucking Stars” and “Rains”, and he is getting them but still basically following my cues. And, because mother is grappling with the “Ba Gua”, Celebration” and “Duo Blades”, we still have some way to go.

I do enjoy the lessons on Zoom and Nicholas looks forward to the practice too. After all learning something new is just good exercise for the brain cells as that will create new neural pathways and stimulate areas of the brain that may be dormant or less used. And I believe the body system is sending out good vibes whenever we practice and learn. The ability to consciously use the left hand easily with my dominant right hand always feels good and in Brain Gym language, we are integrating our left and right brains to be at its optimum. This journey with the big drums is a process where we get to unearth our potential and I am looking forward to that. It is so with Nicholas too.

Although the MCO is like a silver lining in our journey as it provides the extra time and space for Nicholas and I to learn the intricacies of the patterns and sounds of the big drums, we do miss the real big drums and other physical elements like the place, teacher, fellow drummers and the incredible energy of a group of people intent on mastering a skill.

Nicholas is totally unimpressed with my makeshift bucket drums and occasionally asks about playing drums, which I know means playing at DPAC. It is his social moment even though; as I explained to Leong Hoe and Melvin, he seems distant and asocial. In every situation and connection he makes, Nicholas learns directly or incidentally from the people around him, always.

So to Dom, Sophia, Bunz, Delesh, Hanim, Silby, Nora and fellow drummers of Hands Public Class Team B and teachers Jack Wan, Tee Leong Hoe and Melvin Kuan, and Zoe, thank you for the lessons.


My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

Maya Angelou

Filed under Bringing Up Nicholas
Lim Ang Nei

Lim is the mother of Nicholas who is 19 going 20. He is tall, almost a six-footer, tanned and quiet, that is, until he sees cars, lorries and buses. Diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) at 2, he has led a rather supervised life. She writes about his life and her experience here with the column "Bringing Up Nicholas"

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