It was always fascinating to watch Layne Redmond’s hands and fingers as they deftly stroked, tapped, slapped, prodded, shook, and massaged sounds out of her tambourine. But aside from her playing, one could also be absorbed by her smile, which reflected a joyous bliss that radiated to the people around her. To many women, especially, she served as a rhythm goddess who empowered them to discover the power and joy of drumming.
Layne was best known for her virtuoso abilities on tambourine and her authorship of the influential book When the Drummers Were Women. A review in Percussive Notes hailed the book, saying in part, “By searching out the lost, early history of the frame drum, Layne Redmond has uncovered an important missing chapter in the history of humanity — a chapter in which goddesses ruled beside gods and in which women’s spirituality, wisdom, and sexuality were affirmed through rituals involving drumming. In an age where people are rediscovering the communal and healing powers of rhythm, When the Drummers Were Women establishes the link between ancient knowledge and the contemporary emphasis on the importance of passion and soulfulness to life.”
Liliana Ferrer met Layne in 2003 and traveled from Argentina to attend PASIC 2004 in Nashville specifically to attend Layne’s paper presentation and clinic. “Her world clinic was crowded, with a large group playing tambourines together,” Ferrer recalls, “and I witnessed the richness and diversity of our world. When the Drummers Were Women showed me a musical and spiritual history of women drummers that I previously knew nothing about, despite having studied music history. I was so fascinated with all of this that I went back to school and enrolled in a Master of Music Education program. Layne influenced me to keep my passion for sound and music. I kept educating myself and training on the use of tools such as The Listening Program, inTime, HealthRhythms, and Alive Inside to be able to serve my community with sound and music.”
Robert Damm, co-chair of the PAS Interactive Drumming Committee, says that Layne “demonstrated the highest ideals and professional integrity in our profession. Her presentations at numerous PASICs in which she played hand drums and recounted their ancient history were significant. Having attended a session on the history of frame drums presented by Layne at a PASIC, I purchased numerous copies of her book, which I shared with my colleagues in the field. I particularly gave this book to women who I knew would be inspired by the historical information in Layne’s book and its dramatic implications for women of today.”
While encouraging and empowering women to get involved with drumming is certainly an important part of Layne’s legacy, her work also did much to elevate the status of hand drums — especially the tambourine. “Layne was one of the most generous teachers I’ve ever encountered,” says John Fitzgerald, a drum circle facilitator who worked for Remo for many years. “While many know of her powerful and important work with women, she also had a very significant influence on the use of drumming — frame drumming in particular — in the general population. Through her exceptional capacity to engage novices with her intuitive and intelligent teaching style, she inspired people who may never have considered playing an instrument of any kind to study and play frame drums and tambourines.”
In recognition of her artistry, educational activities, and influence, she has been elected to the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.
Born in 1952 in Florida, Layne Redmond studied ballet and tap dancing during her childhood. When she was 14, she saw Karen Carpenter playing drums on TV. “I said to my mother, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Layne recalled. Her mother told her that drums were for boys and she should stick with dancing. She kept dancing, became a cheerleader, and developed an interest in photography. But, like other kids her age, she loved the music she heard on the radio in the 1960s — especially Motown. “My favorite song was ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” she said in a post on her website. “The shamanistic ‘Indian war drums’ beat on the bass drum and Jack Ashford’s tambourine jingles changed me forever. I still stop dead still and listen when I hear that song.”
Redmond attended art school, first at the University of Florida in Gainesville and then at Rutgers in Newark, New Jersey, before studying painting with Joyce Kozloff at the Brooklyn Museum as a Max Beckmann scholarship student. Layne also started studying yoga and Zen, which she said became “cornerstones of my life.” She became a member of a performance art/dance collective located in lower Manhattan and began to create performance art pieces.
In 1980, Layne joined a conga-drumming class “on a whim.” In When the Drummers Were Women Redmond said she might have been fulfilling a wish she’d had as a teen when she heard Karen Carpenter. “Taking conga lessons soon taught me that listening didn’t come close to active music-making,” she said. “I experienced for the first time the trance-union of people drumming in rhythm with one another. I had a sense of connecting, a sense of being one with the other players. It was an ecstatic, joyously communal feeling.”
At the last class, the conga teacher invited Glen Velez to play, and a few months later, Layne attended a Velez concert and subsequently began studying frame drumming with him. She mastered a variety of frame drums, but was especially drawn to the tambourine, applying techniques from different styles of drumming and creating a few of her own. If you were listening, but not watching, you would think that more than a single instrument was being played, as Layne produced drum-like sounds from the tambourine head with her right-hand thumb, fingers, fist, and hand, and castanet-like sounds from clicking the jingles together with her left-hand fingers.
After studying with Velez for several months, Glen and Layne started performing together. Redmond appeared with Velez on the recordings Handdance and Internal Combustion, and she and Velez formed the Handdance ensemble with bansuri flutist Steve Gorn. That trio recorded Seven Heaven (1987) and Assyrian Rose (1989).
In a 2001 Percussive Notes article, Layne said that when she decided to stop performing and recording with Velez and Handdance, she had to face the possibility that she would never perform again. “No one knew me except as someone who played with Glen,” she recalled. “So leaving that situation was very scary.”
But Redmond felt that it was a step that had to be taken. “I had some ideas of my own I wanted to work on,” she said. “I tried doing a couple of projects on my own, but it became apparent that my work was going to take me away from Glen’s work too much.”
Redmond was also feeling the need to emerge from Velez’s shadow. “Down Beat had reviewed our album Internal Combustion, which was a duo project,” Redmond said. But the CD was reviewed as a Velez solo album, even though Layne had played on over two-thirds of the music. “Then there were situations where we were booked for a duo concert, and we’d send a photo of the two of us, and people would cut the photo in half and only use Glen’s picture. I was starting to feel like I didn’t exist.”
Redmond had no particular expectations about where her path would lead. “People say you have to have goals and visualize your future,” she said. “I just threw myself totally into organizing and promoting my own concerts without putting any energy into thinking about whether I would succeed or fail. I probably would not have been able to do it if I had been worried about the results.”
Within a year, Redmond was paying her bills just from her own musical activities. “If I had continued playing with Glen, I would have never made CDs and videos under my own name,” Layne said. “So it proved to be the right decision. But I didn’t know I was making the right decision at the time. I can’t even call it a ‘leap of faith.’ It was just something I had to do.”
One of her first accomplishments involved starting an all-female frame-drumming group, The Mob of Angels. In 1991 they released Since the Beginning, featuring guest artists Gorn and violinist Vicki Richards.
She also became actively involved in teaching. “When I began to teach other women to drum, I became more deeply convinced of the healing and transforming power of this ancient sacred technology,” she said in her book. “There is power in drumming alone, but that power recombines and multiplies in a group of drummers.”
After an editor at Random House saw a Redmond performance and slide lecture, Layne signed a contract to write When the Drummers Were Women, which was published in 1997. The seeds for that book were planted when Layne helped organize a collection of images of frame drummers that Velez had collected. “I noticed that they were almost all women,” she said. “This started me on the path to figure out why at one time most of the drummers were women and why they are not today.” She began researching the ancient playing styles and history of the frame drum in religious and cultural rituals, which ultimately led to the book.
Meanwhile, Remo, Inc. created a Layne Redmond Signature Series of frame drums, and Interworld Music invited Layne to make an instructional video. First released as Ritual Drumming, the video was renamed Rhythmic Wisdom when it was released on DVD.
Redmond was recognized as one of the most exciting performers on the frame drum and was featured in many music festivals, including the Touch Festival in Berlin, Seattle Bumbershoot Festival, the Institute for Contemporary Art in London, Tambores do Mundo in San Luis, Brazil, and as a soloist at the 1995 World Wide Percussion Festival in Brazil.
Beginning in 1995, drummer Tommy Brunjes (aka Tommy Be) became Layne’s collaborator on several CDs including Trance Union, Chanting the Chakras, Chakra Breathing Meditation, Invoking the Muse, and Heart Chakra.
Redmond won numerous awards, including Drum! magazine’s 2002 Percussionist of the Year, Percussion Album of the Year: Trance Union, and Percussion Video of the Year: Rhythmic Wisdom. In Drum! magazine’s 2005 Reader’s poll she won Best Percussion Recording: Invoking the Muse. The February 2000 issue of Drum! listed Layne as one of the “53 Heavyweight Drummers Who Made a Difference in the ’90s.” She was the only woman on the list.
In 2004, Layne authored the book Chakra Meditation for Sounds True. In 2006, she volunteered to teach percussion at UFBA, the university in Salvador, Brazil, and Escola Pracatum, Carlinhos Brown’s music school in Candeal. She and Rosangela Silvestre produced a CD of traditional candomblé songs and shot footage of six orixás, the gods and goddesses of Afro Brazilian legacy, which led to Layne’s interest in making music videos and short films. Redmond also met Tadeu Mascarenhas, a young musician and engineer who became a collaborator on her next four projects: Flowers of Fire, Wave of Bliss, Invoking Aphrodite, and Hymns From the Hive.
In 2006, she and Karen Hopenwasser M.D. presented “Therapeutic Rhythmic Techniques” at the International Society for the Study of Dissociation. In 2007 she taught at the Marranzano World Festival in Sicily, and in November of 2007 she performed with her group, Sundaryalahari, at the UFBA Percussion Festival in Salvador, Brazil. Redmond also presented at the National Association of Music Therapy; gave the keynote lecture and performance at the eighth annual Healing Sound Colloquium, and was one of the keynote presenters at the 2007 International Sound Healing Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 2007 she presented and taught at the University of Florida’s Health and Spirituality Program and at the New York Open Center’s Sound and Music Institute. Redmond performed and lectured at colleges, universities, and music conferences around the world, including several appearances at PASIC, the last of which was in 2009.
Redmond was featured in All Things Considered on National Public Radio, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Drum!, Modern Drummer, Percussive Notes, New Age Journal, Harper’s Bazaar, New Age Voice, and Shaman’s Drum. She contributed articles to several journals, including Percussive Notes, for which she contributed three articles, including the January 2012 cover story, “Frame Drums and History.”
Layne moved to Brazil in 2007. “I met Layne in the heart of Salvador da Bahia’s Pelourinho district,” recalls PAS Past-President Julie Hill. “Her fearlessness was the first thing that struck me. Layne did not speak Portuguese and the two of us were surely the only white women in the entire area. Still, she was able to communicate very effectively through a small amount of words and gestures, and all the local Brazilians were willing to work with her and be patient with her in spite of her language deficiency because they sensed her good nature and her abounding, endless zest for life and learning. Layne gave me riq lessons in exchange for Portuguese lessons.
“In addition to her passion and openness to being a life learner,” Hill said, “Layne was visionary in a number of ways. Her knowledge of the history of frame drums was immense, and she was most assuredly an accomplished performer and teacher, but what stuck out above those qualities was her interest in finding new voices for frame drums. I observed her work in Brazil for a number of years, and she worked with musicians in Bahia to create new hybridized styles of music that gave frame drums a fresh and innovative sound and audience.”
Redmond came back to the U.S. and settled in Asheville, North Carolina in 2009. She launched Golden Seed Films, which released the 6-DVD set Frame Drum Intensive Training Program in 2010 as well as the Trance Union Series of instructional DVDs. She also created an online archive of materials related to When the Drummers Were Women.
In early June of 2013 Layne had an operation to remove fluid from her lungs and heart. She said that without the operation, she would have only lived a few more days; with the operation, the doctors predicted she would live one to two months longer. Her positive attitude extended her time to nearly five months, during which time she focused on completing an expanded e-book edition of When the Drummers Were Women and the film Axé Orixá, Dreaming Awake the Gods and Goddesses of Brazil.
During that time, her smile never dimmed and she maintained her positive attitude. “Whatever time I have left must be used for manifesting the most profound purpose that brought me to life to begin with,” she said. “I must be satisfied with every interaction I have with any person, as if it is my final action, my final thought.” Layne Redmond died on October 28, 2013.
“Before Layne passed, she encouraged her students and those who were already teaching to carry on with her work,” said Debra Roberts. “At her last drum conference the year of her death, when she was mostly teaching through others due to her low energy, she was very clear that her legacy was to be shared generously. Her wide circle of students have continued to study and celebrate her style, also blooming into other lineages with her expressed support. Thousands of people are still actively learning from her CDs, DVDs, and her students who are now teachers. Her legacy goes on, and respect for the frame drum, tambourine, and their rightful sacred place in a culture and amongst peoples continues in a profound way because of her.”
Articles by Layne Redmond
“Frame Drums and History.” Percussive Notes, Vol. 50, No. 1, Jan. 2012
“Fusing My Life with Brazilian and Mediterranean Rhythms.” Percussive Notes, Vol. 47, No. 4/5, Aug/Sept 2009
“Percussion Instruments of Ancient Greece.” Percussive Notes, Vol. 42, No. 4, Oct. 2004
“When the Drummers Were Women with Layne Redmond.”