The stick-passing game
This is a great game. I first learned it from my friend and colleague (and all-round inspiring human being) Eugene Skeef. It was during the year I worked in Bosnia with War Child. A group of us had driven out to a town called Ljubinje, in Republika Srpska. This town was extremely isolated – situated near two inter-entity borders, so people there didn’t have a lot of freedom of movement. There was a very motivated and energetic drama teacher there, so our team went out to work with him and his students and give them some support in building a creative and peaceful life.
Eugene led the workshop. He asked all in the group to go outside and find a stone. It needed to be a stone that was small enough (and large enough) to fit comfortably in a hand. Smooth stones were preferable, but not essential; ideally the stones would have a certain robustness too, and not fall apart on impact.
Everyone went out and found a stone to their liking, and came back into the workshop room. Eugene got us all to sit or kneel on the floor in a circle, with our hands on our stones in front of us.
He then explained how the game works:
On a given count, everyone passes their stone to the right. They have to place it on the floor in front of the person on their right. They then pick up the stone that is now in front of them (placed there by the person on their left).
Are you with me still? It is easier to show than to describe.
The idea is to settle into a rhythm that goes like this: put-down, pick-up, put-down, pick-up, put-down, pick-up, etc. Things get fun when someone fumbles a stone (the person next to them won’t have anything to pass on to their neighbour, and so the stones start to pile up. When the ‘Stop!’ is called, the person with the largest pile of stones in front of them is out).
You can also get the group to gradually speed up, or slow down.
Variations include building in some floor taps as well, such as:
One, two, put-down, pick-up
One, two, put-down, pick-up
You can also sing a song at the same time. We will Rock you goes well with the two-taps-on-the-floor-before-passing-on example just above.
Eugene taught us a song from South Africa (he described learning it from his father, and how it told the story of, or was sung by, kids running alongside the trains taking adult workers to and from the mines). The song was called Bombela, and to my regret I never learned the words. I remember the tune and have made up my own (nonsense-language) words. But I’d love to know the real words, if anyone thinks they know the song.
Another variation is to invent a passing pattern in a different time signature. I like doing a 3/4 pattern and singing Eidelweiss with my students.
It is also fun to do a pattern in one time signature and an accompanying song in another time signature. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, as the rhythm established by the passing action is quite strong and grounded, and moves into an automatic mode with the participants.
By the way, you may have noticed that I have called it the stick-passing game in the title of the post, but described the game as being played with stones. Well, here in Melbourne, we are pretty short on stones in our concrete-covered playground. So we use rhythm sticks. They work just as well (although I find it useful to show the students how to put the stick down with firm and decisive hand pressure so that it doesn’t roll across the floor). You don’t have to use fancy polished rosewood rhythm sticks. Cut and sanded pieces of dowel work just as well, and are a lot cheaper to buy.
I find this game builds a great sense of rhythm among the students. They learn to prioritise their actions when they fumble or miss a beat – they don’t have time to catch up on all the actions of floor taps or pick-ups – they have to prioritise putting-down at the same time as the rest of the group (or they risk getting their fingers caught under someone else’s stick or stone!) Enjoy!