Feynman and the Frying Pan: a physicist drummer

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I’ve been reading ‘”Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character)”. Physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was a Nobel laureate, and he also happened to be a drummer, and one of the most entertaining characters I’ve ever “met” between the covers of a book! Our own Lorrie Dillard (who has created a great many of the wonderful NEXUS photos you will find around the website here) found a copy in a used bookstore and told me about it. I got my copy from the library. But the book is still available from your favorite bookseller. Ralph Leighton says in a tiny preface that “the stories in this book were collected intermittently and informally during seven years of very enjoyable drumming with Richard Feynman.”  Feynman tells the stories in his own voice.

The most outrageous things happen to this man, or rather he MAKES them happen, and he has a lot to teach us about the role – the necessity! – of a playful spirit in creativity and innovation. He continually makes the point that when he stopped having fun with ideas just for the sake of  Having Fun – he lost his edge. He shares some wonderfully crazy tales about drumming on Indian drums in Los Alamos, and about learning the frigideira in the samba bands of Brazil, and his collaboration on a “Caribbean ballet” danced entirely to percussion, that eventually made its way to Paris. He particularly enjoyed learning Watutsi and Nigerian rhythms from Africa and studied with anyone “who would have him as a student”.

The frigideira stories especially delighted me.  “Frigideira” literally means “frying pan”, and it does indeed look like a little frying pan. The website Kalango, a supplier of Brazilian instruments, has several photos of the frigideira. Another website called “Samba Supplies” says “This obscure samba instrument is played like a tamborim, and it’s lovely metallic ring can be heard very clearly above the other instruments in the bateria. It’s taken us nearly two years but we have finally sourced a proper professional frigideira. These beauties are made out of steel in a small percussion workshop in Rio De Janeiro and come with a special stick.”  To see the frigideira being played, check out Youtube here.

I was so pleased to find this photograph of Mr. Feynman drumming. It is from the blog of ra mcguire, singer songwriter with the well-known band Trooper,  who claims Richard Feynman as one of his heroes.

If you want to rediscover the sheer joy of drumming for the fun of it, not to mention finding out if people smell as well as bloodhounds, how “mindreaders” do it, how to deal with ants in a dorm room, and how to crack any safe, check out “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman”.

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