Tuesday, December 21, 2010

drum heads

I have reheaded a couple of drums in the last two weeks, and let me tell you, it is hard work. My latest was done on Sunday and I am still feeling the effects of it. Sore muscles in my arms, legs, back.

I remember once watching my teacher working on one of my drums. It was a moving and humbling experience. So much physical work. He was sweating and grimacing as he straddled the drum and tried to pull the rings down over the edge. His tools were simple: a big stick and his back muscles. And leg muscles. And arms.

I actually felt moved to tears that it was so much effort and that he was willing to do it on my behalf.

The thing that is crazy about heading a drum is that it is hard work no matter whether it is a beautiful Mali shell or a piece of junk from Ghana or Indonesia.

Once I found a drum shell on Craig's list for $40. I showed Sidy a picture of it and asked him if it would be worth buying so I could practice heading. He told me he could tell from the picture that the drum was crap. It's base was off center, the bearing edge was cockeyed. He could tell that the interior carving was rough, just from looking at the shape of the outside. I was so new to drumming at that point I couldn't see what he was seeing, so I just took his word for it. Now I can spot a bad drum a mile away. It might be easier to carve a bad shell than a good one... but it is just as much work to rope it and put the head on.

This week I was working on a poorly made drum that someone hired me to fix. The skin was a beauty... a spotted thick goatskin from Mali. My process is getting better. I am learning how to keep the rings even all around and pull them down to just the right level on the wet pull. In this drum's case, I don't even have to do a dry pull.... it dried nice and tight on it's own. But at the end of a long afternoon of physical work, we are left with a bad drum with a nice head.

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