Drum Making Connections

by Keeley Hope Harding

I pull the long piece of rawhide through a hole in the horsehide stretched over the round cedar frame. I instinctively know the pattern and how tight to pull the rawhide, as my mother and I alternate lacing it back and forth around the twelve inch frame of the drum, forming a sixteen-pointed star across the back and stretching the hide tighter across the front. My mother’s two brothers and parents and my brother hover around us at the kitchen counter in our rented beach house in Yachats on the Oregon Coast. My father says “Once a drum maker, always a drum maker.”

It has been almost sixteen years since my father and I made our first Native American drum. We participated in a workshop at Cedar Mountain Drums in Portland, Oregon. The store provided the materials and our teacher, of Cherokee descent, presoaked the hides for twelve hours. We chose elk hide for our drum, to bring out emotional healing, trust, endurance and the inner child. My father knew I would appreciate the experience and I felt special because he had wanted me, his little seven-year-old daughter, to make it with him. I took it very seriously and my father said he was the one helping me. We wrote our names inside the frame as a written record of the day, October 9, 1993.

I think of that day every time we play the drum, but only this year did I truly remember how important the experience of making it with my father was for me.

My parents wanted another drum in honor of my mother’s birthday. During Spring Break my brother, my mother and I went back to Cedar Mountain Drums and picked out the frame, beater stick and head, and a thick horsehide, to bring out the Shaman energies.

Wet, the coloring of the horsehide is like that of a batch of homemade apple cider. This time my mother soaks the hide and one afternoon when we are taking a break from watching the waves break on the bluffs, she starts reading the directions for the drum. I leave a game of cards and climb onto a stool at the counter and emerge myself in distant memories of drum making. I am unsure at first and we rely on the directions to get started.

Finished with the initial lacing, we retrace our steps and further tighten the length of the rawhide. Then we divide the spokes of lacing into four sections and tightly wrap them at the center with the remaining rawhide to form an equal-armed-cross-shaped handle. Finished, we look at it and realize that the handle is off center. Everyone thinks we will have to redo it, but I just grab the handle and pull it towards me slowly but firmly and it gives just enough. It’s not conscious knowledge; the drum is talking to me and it feels like the natural thing to do.

Everyone marvels. I act modest but I can’t help feeling proud.

Finally, we tack the puckered edge sections of the hide to the rim of the frame so it will dry in the right shape.

The next day when the drum has dried and claimed its voice, we take turns playing it on the the edge of the land as the waves sparkle in the sun and splash against the dark bluffs at our feet. Where a drum is made is important and this drum will always be home at the ocean. The whole family goes down to hear it. This drum has a rich, deep voice and mingles with the crashing waves of the rising tide.

Making a drum is very spiritual for me and I know that making one with each of my parents is one of the best and most lasting gifts we can give each other. My parents plan on giving me my own drum next weekend when I go home from college. In this world of digital technology, I have chosen a moosehide drum. I was born in Alaska and moose will bring out my inner Alaskan. Moose drums empower the feminine energies, emotional honesty, spontaneity, self esteem and the inner child. These are all qualities to which I aspire.

The moment I beat a new drum for the first time, and free its voice, I know I have created something truly unique that will always be a part of me. Drums are the heartbeat of the earth and they connect me to my parents and my spirituality.

(This piece was for Keeley’s magazine article writing journalism class
at U of O. We’d like to thank her for sharing it with us!)

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