Twirling with 4/4 Time and muscle memory

There is a drum kit in our living room: a bass, floor, middle, and high tom-tom’s, a snare, a high-hat cymbal and ride cymbal. Our daughter took drum lessons and played in a band when she was in 4th and 5th grades before becoming more involved in the piano and guitar which are for her, more conducive to singing and writing music. But we still have the drums 4 years later just-in-case.

Last week after DesignInquiry was over on Vinalhaven Island, board members stayed here at the house for a few extra days. Between planning for next year, cooking together, recapping, and just rewinding, our colleague from NC State would sit down and play this dusty kit. There was a moment while she was playing a 4/4 beat I couldn’t help but yes, march. So in front of the sofa next to her beating while marching I pretended to hold a baton because this felt just as natural. I’d been a majorette in high school—an oboe player couldn’t march in the band— so this was my option to still be a part of the band. While I was marching and miming the baton twirling I remembered I’d actually kept and could locate my baton in the basement. So with the real deal in my hand I began to spin it; over-under-over-under for the basic twirl, then the figure-8 in front of me rotating from left to right, then, wait: there is a twirl where I can pass from one hand to another… running outside for more room and to maybe hook some of these twirls together, I started a move where my arm is like a windmill and passes the baton to my other hand behind me, then windmills back to front.  Without pause, I added arm motions and looks to the ‘crowds at the sides of the parade’, still marching in time. My friends were in with me in total surprise at witnessing with me this pure muscle memory coming to life. Thirty-some years later I was putting together movements, piece by piece, with little pause what I’d learned and practiced so long ago. I was transported home to the side yard, watching myself practice the thumb-flip over and over in the mirror-like living room window outside of Dad’s chair. The ‘other-Margo’ from Gilby was my teacher, she came over to teach me on weekends and I learned just enough to be able to keep up with the band, Margo, Randy, and Michelle.

Now I’m learning to play the banjo and I practice daily the ‘rolls’ of Scrugg style picking which are meant to also become this muscle memory. Denise and I were both impressed that maybe what we are learning now will become embedded in the body. Baton-twirling as proof.

Four-four time brought it all back and today my baton sits at the back door where I vow I’m going to learn the thumb-toss better than when I was 16 by the end of this summer.



  1. Fantastic. Your narrative failed to disclose (mention) bottles of wine or other beverages. I will be keeping a look out for the baton as I walk through the hood.

  2. This lovely story is like a song that was once a favorite, or just part of the radio landscape, but long forgotten, Then, hearing just a few of the tunes opening notes, all the words come back, and this time around with meaning.

Comments are closed.