How I Became a Drum Maker
I have always been attracted to drums; they are living beings to me.
As a child I spent summer evenings with my parents watching native dance performances at local community events. The sounds from shell leggings, tin jingles, rattles and dance drums are some of my first musical impressions. As a Junior High school art teacher, I attended pow wows with a First Nations family whose children were in my art classes. Their willingness to include me in their culture’s indigenous art forms gave me opportunities to watch native hoop drums being played, and ceremonial drums being assembled and prepared.
In 1986 I was invited to join a shamanic drumming circle but I seemed unable to ‘journey’ by visualizing. Another member of the circle went to his power animals to ask “Why is Kristen blind?” He returned with the answer, “It’s the wrong drum. She has to make her own.” This man (who had never built a drum and did not know me before this experience) brought back detailed instructions of where I was to find materials and how I was to proceed. Although at first I received advice from an Ojibwa friend, a MicMac medicine woman, and my First Nations students at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where I was teaching, I have never claimed my drums were “native.” I believe this would be disrespectful to the help and friendship that was shown me.
I understand my drum making is a rite of passage which draws from many paths of spiritual practice. In learning how to make a drum, I have become a co creator with the Life Force in the reincarnation of skin and wood into voice. Although I am trained as a visual artist and art educator, I am self-taught by my life experiences to be a frame drum maker.
When I finish building a drum, I take it outside and show it to the four Directions, then claim it with my breath, then display it again to the Directions as my child. After this I touch the new drum to a natural presence—a rock, tree, flower, water—and let the energy of my effort flow into the earth as a gift of food for the Holy. I received this drum ceremony from the first drum I made. I consider myself taught by the drums themselves to be a drum maker. This is as it should be, because I believe the only appropriate credentials a drum maker can have, ultimately, are the voices of her drums.
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