Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Drum Making Paradigm: My Journey

Making a drum involves processes that mirror life. What is interesting to see is how much of a person’s life is reflected in how a drum manifests in the hands of the maker. Even more interestingly is what the drum actually teaches us in this process of the drum journey.The drum maker’s journey can be separated, for the sake of this paradigm, into a few metaphorical, intellectual steps. The first step usually involves in what I call…

The Invitation:

Many are called. Few answer. Even fewer are “initiated”. I recall attending a “real” powwow for the first time. It was different than just a bunch of white guys selling cheap knockoff beads, dream catchers made in horrid colors and with plastic beads, low grade “Native American” flutes that were made in China or India, and guys running around in moccasins with “made in China” imprinted on the sole. I have been to those, and while you can find good “finds” from the occasional vendor who sells the real articles, they are not a good representation of traditional drumming, traditional dancing, traditional food, or high quality wares from vendors who sell to people expecting to pay more for authentic goods.

While attending this more sophisticated, authentic powwow I heard a sound that captivated me and spoke to something innate that was likely encoded within me on a genetic level. It was the heartbeat of Mother Earth. In the center of a ring used for traditional dancing and dancing competition, the local tribe sat around a ceremonial drum with beaters in hand and offered a prayer. There were 8 of them and the drum was so large it easily accommodated all of them. When they began to beat the sound would ricochet off any solid object and echo back from a great distance, but only after penetrating the skin, bones and sinews of everyone present. From then I knew what I wanted, but didn’t know that I was being called to become a drum maker.

From that very moment, like many, I was “initiated” into the rhythm of the Earth and the path of the Drum Maker. I fell in love with the drum and wanted to play one. I didn’t own a single percussion instrument at this point, but I opened myself to the Universe and discovered so many “coincidental” happenings just falling into my path, including a resource for which to purchase my first drum (a Djembe) and people who would teach me about drumming, about how to make drums, and about the wisdom of the animals used in the process. One would be surprised as to just how many of such “life lessons” present themselves to us in our day to day activities when one steps into the stream of Awareness and Intention; the key is just to be open and available to be taught by them.

The Test:

This next stage I call “The Test” because in that stage we are given an opportunity to experience the heartbeat of Mother Earth, and to partake in it like it were a communion with The Sacred. This might come in several forms for individuals, but for me it presented itself by way of the Native American flute, surprisingly enough. The process has given me a greater understanding of quantum theory and of the Great Web of Wyrd, an ancient but valid concept of the inter-connectivity of everything. Chief Seattle in his famous speech referred to it as “The Web of Life”. Digressing, the Native American flute caused me to gain a deeper understanding of natural rhythms from the standpoint of an instrument originally designed as a courting tool, and later as a solo instrument that uses techniques of rhythm in its playing. In learning to play the Native American flute I was taught to look at the horizon and, for example, pick a tree line and play the notes on flute according to the rises and dips in the height of the trees. I would Experientially come to understand that rhythm comes in visual forms, in cause verses action as seen in a swaying branch in the wind, and a host of other examples.

Of course, the Native American flute is also commonly played along with drums and other percussion instruments such as rattles and shakers. Basically the Native American flute and drums go together like ham and eggs. I would then go on to form a flute circle where drums are often played, so I began to look at the Native American flute, like life itself, as complementary to the drumbeat. That of course, caused me to want to experience drums on a more intimate level, and an opportunity presented itself – again, Universe directed – to make a drum. The real test came when I was presented with the challenge of what to do with this opportunity.

I view the entire experience in this stage as a test because at each stage an opportunity was presented to me. What I choose to do with it, and how I chose to relate to it, was purely my own choice based on Awareness, on Intuition, and on an almost Spiritual level, the answer to what I felt was a natural Calling from what already was within me… I just needed to Remember both how to do it, and how to step into the rhythm I already know was there. Some of the best things come to you when you open yourself to them.

The Initiation:

In short, I made my first drum, and I quickly discovered the healing properties of sound and was forever transformed from the very moment I soaked my hides and ties 2 days prior to making it.

I was introduced to a gentleman in his mid-seventies. He started his path as a drum maker in his 60’s, and has since made over 4000 drums and has taught many to become drum makers over the last 15 years or so. He showed me how painfully easy it is to make a drum, as they key to making a good drum is knowing first how to approach the process, then how to prepare the hides for stretching, and finally the proper techniques involved in building them. These are all easily learned. What can really make a bad drum is in NOT knowing what NOT to do during the process. That, as well, is easily learned and therefore avoided... sometimes by trial and error to the new drum maker.

So with my wet hides and willingness to learn, I became initiated as a drum maker. Once a drum maker always a drum maker, as you will continue to make drums all around you from that point forward. Even if you never touch a wet piece of Elk, Moose, Deer, Bear, or any other animal, the process of creating a drum for yourself that can be handed down to generations to come, is more than just making a drum. It’s about stepping into a Sacred Mindspace with an intellectual and Experiential knowledge of the workings of the Universe, the interconnectivity of all things, and how the voice is created. And to that end, we learn when taking the drum into circle that we have the power to create and to cause change. Its as simple as stepping into the rhythms all around us, and taking your proverbial beater, and the heart beat of the Earth within you, and changing the rhythm that can be felt and heard by others. One simple idea can change the course of a society or culture. In quantum theory we say that the beating wings of a butterfly can change the weather patterns on the other side of the world. We can prove this theory in the laboratory on a molecular level, but what we also do is what we have done for centuries. We can use the gift that resides in each of us to do the very same thing. Making a drum is an intellectual and kinetic expression of this, and a physical celebration of this Great Power.

From the first drum I made, I knew that I wanted others to experience the personal transformation and Awakening. I knew it would be my calling to Initiate others and present them with the Opportunity. As with anything, it is up to them what they get out of it. However I have yet to find anyone who was not transformed by the process of making and connecting with their own drum.

The reflection:

It has been said that the Journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step. The Drummers journey never stops and transcends this life I am most certain. Once you are open to drumming and, perhaps, even as a drum maker, you become open to so many useful things in life. The perspective you gain, and the voice you develop, is unstoppable and ever developing. The drum has been used in cultures of developed humans for ages. Shamans refer to the drum as the horse, as it carries you; some even induce a “shamanic state of consciousness” using the drum. Some use it to communicate, while others use it to celebrate. Some use it to heal, while others use it to study the world around them. One common thread is that drumming unites, transcending all language, culture and understanding.

As a drum maker, it now behooves you to teach these concepts to others. Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to teach someone how to stretch and tie rawhide, but merely how to reflect on the information and Experience presented to you by the Universe and by your own heartbeat.

Further reflections on the drum making process:

Now, getting to the process of drum making and what you have an opportunity to experience. There are many important lessons a drum maker has an opportunity to both experience and learn in the process of making a drum. We are not perfect. The good new s is that we don’t have to be! Every one of us has imperfections in our physical, emotional, “spiritual”, or any other areas in our lives. It gives us something to work on and to perfect. It also gives us a reflection point for which to triangulate our efforts in life, in everything we do. When we make a drum, we use materials that are imperfect. The edges are rough. The hide has scars, bruises, marks, and other imperfections. The rawhide ties are cut by hand and reflect rough edges; we do that, as well, to use as much of the hide as we can so not to waste anything unnecessarily. When we tie a drum, sometimes the holes break and we have to make another one. Sometimes the ties break and we have to splice them. Sometimes the hide or the handle is not centered. Like life, a good drum will have imperfections. With this process, as mirrored in life, we need to embrace the spirit of humility and acceptance. This is as important in the drum making process as it is in life. What we do come to discover is that like with people, what is important is the Voice. Some of the ugliest drums I have seen have turned out to have the best voice. Some of the most perfect, mechanically made drums have sounded the worst, in my opinion. Consider why this is.

In my estimation, it is because the drum lacks “soul”.

The drum is alive, and alive with the Spirit of the drum maker. Nothing less than an Experiential understanding of this will do.

If you have the opportunity to make a drum for yourself, I urge you to consider the journey. If you do not, you can still benefit from regular attendance at a local Drum Circle. Most communities have at least one. If you do not have access to one, consider starting one.

The Journey of 1000 miles begins with one footstep...

or even one drum beat.

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