Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Make a driftwood drum beater with a secret ingredient

The first skill when making a driftwood drum beater is finding the right piece of driftwood.

I look for pieces that are strong and without cracks,
but also interesting. 
Perhaps what catches my attention is the way the wood grew,

Or seeing that a beaver chewed it,

or noticing that nature and the waves of the ocean sculpted something very smooth and even.

But before I begin felting the wool to make the drum beater,
I do something else, the secret ingredient.
I make a bead from a tiny chip of shale
 using a piece of pointed flint.

The flint is twirled into the centre of the shale
until a small hole appears,
and the irregular edges are smoothed away with a flat stone.
I save the bead dust as this is the real treasure of the process.
Because what makes a bead is the hole in the middle,
and not the material around it.

I make beads to honour the cedar trees that give me rings
for the back my frame drums,
and this thank you honors the pieces of driftwood also. 

So no matter how the drum beater is finished--
with a laced design of leather,

or with a simple embellishment of smoke-tanned deerskin,

always my thank you comes first. 

Here is a story I wrote for my Journey Oracle wisdom cards
that tells a deeper meaning about making a bead.

A Journey Oracle fairy tale
There was a child who so loved butterflies that she wanted to make them a gift. She felt communication without words when she was near one, like a coming into power. Her mother suggested she make a bead to give and that in doing so she would discover the secret of something, a knowledge that cannot be out there, and this knowing would be the gift that the butterflies would most like to have from her.
“But what material shall I use? I don’t want to be a death bringer to wood or bone” the girl said. “I’ll use an empty shell”” she thought. “This will be no harsh look at reality because the creature will have already left.” And so the girl found a shell and chipped and sanded it with a rock until a circular shape appeared. “But now the fairy tale’s over” she realized, “now I must be doing the work to make the hole.”
         The girl looked for shards amid a scattered focus of rock rubble, like seeing horns of stone that would be able to pierce without breaking the shell. She began twirling a sharp piece into the center of the shell circle, and felt her inner tension clearing, like she was going to a new place in how she used her hands. This twirling took a long time; the layers of shell were like hard news that does not want to be forgotten. Yet finally the girl felt a little tickle against her finger, the way butterfly feet tickle when one was walking on her hand. A hole appeared!

          “This is the secret my Mother told me about” she exclaimed. “A bead is not something that surrounds a hole; a bead is the hole with something surrounding it so it can still be seen. I am giving the butterflies something invisible.” Then the girl looked at her sore fingers, dented from all the twirling. “Maybe this is the knowledge from making a bead that cannot be out there—that the butterflies want the gift of my effort, more than the thing my effort makes.”

Saturday, September 15, 2018

frame drum repair

This deerskin and red cedar frame drum came to me for repair because the drum hide and frame was much stronger than the back of the drum.

The lacing in the back of the drum seemed to be buckskin and was quite loose.  When the owner of the drum brought the drum to me, she pinched the thongs together, saying she sometimes did this to tighten the pattern.  Suddenly, we had the solution for repair.

I understand that the way the back of a frame drum is tied is the drum maker's signature, so this method of tightening without removing the original lacing felt correct.

I use various kinds of sailor's knots when I finish the backs of my frame drums, and so using a variation of a Portuguese sinnet became the way to reinforce the lacing.

The drum back took on a look of sturdy elegance as the knotwork moved up each of the four directions, split at the Y and then continued across the centre bar to meet again in the middle.

Just when I thought all was resolved and easy, I came to the centre of the design--now what?  I tied the eight ends of leather into a crown sennit from Des Pawson's Knot Craft, a wee little book that has been a bible of knot designs for me. 

After several hours of frustrating non-success with wall knots and star knots, I just repeated the over and under weave of the crown sennit. and there was the solution!

The ends were tucked under and a drops of glue were added to reinforce the design so nothing could shift loose.  I have always maintained that good art can sometimes benefit from a bit of glue. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Naming the spirit of a drum

I consider that a drum is a living being.  
A spirit with a body and a voice.  
Fed by the vibration of drumming its voice awake into song. 

I understand from my years of shamanic practice that everything wants a home and needs food.  Everything also has a name.  The sound of its name is the vibration that helps it stay found.

When I first receive a blacktail deer hide from hunters here on Cortes Island, I spread out the skin, close my eyes, and let my energy sink to my first chakra.  I slowly move with my breath up through each subsequent chakra, feeling any sensations of intensity that show me where the energetic “charge” of the animal lives in my body. 

I then open my eyes.  I gaze at the patterns of veins and colours in the membrane without trying to see anything—I am just looking.  Something appears.  A figure, a creature, a face, a scene.  Like reading clouds on a summer’s day.  A phrase accompanies the image.  If the image is stable and the name has a frisson of connection, this is the some day new drum telling me its name. 

This name stays a deep memory as the drum is being made.  Most times the drum shows me a different image when I gaze into its dried surface, looking for a painting to appear. And that painting becomes another name, the one by which the drum becomes known.

But a drum that is not painted keeps its deep name.  
This is not the name of a picture. 
It is the name of a spirit that revealed itself 
in those first moments of transformation.  

This is the drum’s true face. 

Who is this drum?  Whose old wise skin flows smooth over the 
sliprock coloured spruce wood,
 singing with the stars.