The Music of the Heart

Ray Buckley

The drumbeat is the heart of our people. It binds us together—one heartbeat among many.

I recall my father lifting me to his lap. “Listen to my heart,” he said. Leaning against his chest, my little ear heard the movement of his heart.

“What do you hear?” he asked.

“I hear your heart.”

“Is it loud or soft?”

“One beat is louder than the other?” I answered with a question in my voice.

He placed my hand on his stomach. “Make the rhythm of my heart with your hand.” I began to beat out the cadence of my father’s heart on his stomach—one beat strong, one beat softer.

Two weeks later, he again sat me on his lap. In his hand was a drumstick made from cottonwood, with one end wrapped in cloth strips and covered with deer-skin. Again he said, “Listen to my heart.”

As I listened, he placed the stick into my hand and helped me begin to beat out the rhythm of his heart. “What do you hear?” he asked.

“I hear your heart—one beat stronger, one softer.” I said with confidence.

He began to sing in the rich, round sounds of Lakota. He sang a song that sometimes came from his chest and sometimes erupted from his throat. He sang a song his father had taught him, a song his grandfathers father hand sung for him. He sang a song of life. And I was listening to his heart-drum. Lost in the warmth, the rhythm, the blanket of awareness that all of this came from the cadence of my father’s heart.

Days had passed when he came to my room with a small hand-drum. “Do you remember the rhythm of my heart?” he asked. I nodded.

Lakota Drum2 CF 3003051706_725cf7a740_oThe drumstick connected with the hand-drum, a bit too loudly. Placing his large hands over my small ones, my father and I beat out the rhythm of his heart; and once again he began to sing. He sang of the coming of morning, of the joy of feeling the sun and the world around him. He sang with his hand around mine, as we celebrated life and the love of father and son.

“The drumbeat is the heart of our people,” he said. “It is the calling together, the pumping of blood into our culture. It is the sound of joy and sorrow, of celebration and worship. It is the heart of our ancestors and of our unborn children. It is a sacred thing because it binds us togehter—one heartbeat among many.”

Many years later, as I greet God in the morning, I hold the drum my father made. As I sing my thanks for life, in my ears is once again the heartbeat of my father. When the people come together to celebrate, my feet move in dance; and I dip low and stand high, lost in the heartbeat of my people that flows like a silver river through my life.

Photo Credit: amilczar via Compfight cc



Native American Drum Ftr TSP 163940176Music connects persons of various groups to each other. What is one group that music connects you to? Your ethnic group? A religious group? A group of persons with a common interest?

Some types of music connect you to your faith experience. Identify some of your personal favorites. Now, try to think of music that connects you to your parents and grandparents, to an older friend, or to God.

Ray Buckley is a terrific guy and a real babe! His grandfather was Oglala Lakota, and his grandmother, Cheyenne and Tlingit.

—from devozine (May/June 1997). Copyright © 1997 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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