Photo by Proust Susie looks at drumming as a connection to her culture and the sacred, with a melody bringing her closer to purpose and a band that’s kind to all of her – eg, to poor people. Pictured with an ovoid tribal block made in Sumac, South Dakota (Photo by Sophie Hernandez)
Sophie Hernandez, a 27-year-old Iowa native, grew up surrounded by music. Her dad’s family played fiddle and guitar, and her mom had a voice that blended Adele with Nina Simone. Her grandparents, especially her paternal great-grandmother, took singing lessons and taught them how to play the fiddle.“My family has always been extremely musical,” Hernandez says. From a young age, she was drawn to the rhythm of drums. But when her grandparents died, she focused on music training. She played with a high school band before taking time off to study flute and piano at Iowa State University.Trying to balance the lessons with a rigorous music career wasn’t easy. But music was key to her de-stressing, Hernandez says, because the rhythmic beat brings a kind of rhythm-and-movement discipline into play. Plus, when she’s enmeshed in music, Hernandez can tell when something is bothering her. A single drumbeat can illuminate problems, Hernandez says.“It kind of kicks me into a state of mind where I can think about things in a different way.” She picks up songs she likes, and puts them on her iPod over and over to get a rhythm. After she’s moved from song to song and back, Hernandez steps away for a few minutes to gather her thoughts, she says. But she also loves practicing right up until the last note is played.“That’s when I’m most kind of clearheaded,” she says.Hernandez stayed tuned to the drums as she got into grad school at the University of Missouri. She likes the way the drum builds emotion, and she loves how the sound can tell her a lot about the time she’s in, she says. Though the drums aren’t her “first love,” Hernandez has worked to further develop her learning of them. She took a drumming class last year, spent some time in New York City on a project and has also become one of the founding members of a Wailla Indian tribal drum group called Heta-Samik.Hernandez teaches sessions for girls on the reservation, and sees a lot of girls who think that drumming and dancing are “too white,” she says. She says she tries to steer the girls away from traditional entertainment and to instead come up with something that’s more indigenous to the tribe’s culture.“Dance and drumming are both ways to do that,” she says.“You’re learning about what your culture is about,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be just dance and drumming.” She tries to steer the younger kids in that direction, too. She recently tried some slapstick-style style “tribal pla,” which involves twirling and slapping a pipe while forming a tree shape.“That was so fun,” she says. “I wasn’t even getting old enough to pull that one off, so I thought it would be funny.”The series “What’s your soul song?” airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on TV20. Hernandez is currently a health care student at Creighton University, but she’s long been interested in medical research and hopes one day to study neurobiology or psychiatry.