Article By; Nick Grupido
Over the weekend I traveled to Oregon. Drove there from Michigan in only 6 hours – truly! Oregon, Illinois that is, near other towns called Norway, Peru, Lisbon, and Geneva. It seems the region was settled by a lot of nostalgic people. My wife and I went there for a family wedding, which was very nice. In the evening while trying to recognize more than one song from the mix of RAP and Hip-Hop the DJ was playing, I pondered the human penchant for rhythm, in all forms. With the beats of my least favorite musical genres thumping through the room, the drum beats eventually became enjoyable.
Drums are the oldest known musical instrument, some dating back as far as 5500BC. Through the years, drums found use in rituals, war, communication and entertainment. For example, a troupe of drummers entertained the attendees at the SRI meeting in Taiwan, 2018, demonstrating both artistic flair and ritualistic rhythms.
Even today, drums serve more purposes than entertainment and making music. Drumming in a group, or drum circle can bring satisfaction and release of the stresses we live with on a daily basis.
Drum Circles date back to ancient times and, in the more modern era, to the 1960’s and 1970’s in the USA. A drum circle is an end in itself, the purpose being to come together within a community or group of friends to share some time making interesting rhythms. It’s a nice way to participate musically with a group of people, even if you have no training or prior experience playing an instrument. Everyone plays at basically the same level, and everyone contributes to the experience.
Below you can see Ool Pardi who, when not working in the construction trades, coordinates several drum circles around northern Oakland County in Michigan.
I met Ool when he arrived at our house for a drum circle meeting sponsored by my wife’s boss. He brought with him a range of percussion instruments and drums from about 12” diameter up to 3” diameter. Most of the drums were hand-made by Ool using buffalo hide and sinew, much the way such drums have been hand-made since man figured out that stretched hide creates a great resonance.
Ool teaches that drumming, used in healing in every culture since the dawn of man, releases endorphins, enkephalins, and helps generate alpha waves; all are key ingredients to improve your sense of well-being. Indeed, research headed by Professor Daniel J Levitin at McGill University found that listening to and playing music increases the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells — the cells that attack invading viruses and boost the immune system’s effectiveness. Music also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Who would have guessed that banging on drums with friends is not only fun, but good for you!
In addition to coordinating drum circles, Ool teaches people to make their own drums. My wife and I joined a session and made the drums seen here.
We used materials provided by Ool for the drums: soaked buffalo hide and sinew with wooden frames made from ash. If you look to the images, the process may come to you intuitively. Anchor a sinew through a hole in the hide at one point. Then weave the sinew across the opening behind the hide to the next hole, keeping a fair amount of tension to assure the drumhead is tight. Repeat until all holes are connected. Next, stretch the binds even more to draw the hide tightly against the frame. When tight to your feeling, tie off the end. During this process, be sure to keep the hide centered on the frame.
Now select four adjacent strands and, starting at the center, wrap those into a bundle. The purpose of wrapping is to tighten the drumhead even further. Note you will drop off some strands while wrapping, do so when it seems they those strands should need no further stretching. Note the result will have some curve to it, this is normal. Finally, tie the wrap near the frame. Keep in mind, this stretching and tightening is done while the hide and sinew are soaked; once dry, both materials shrink even further. It takes a lot of tension to have a good drumhead!
Once all the sinews are wrapped, set the drum aside and do not play it for at least 3 days. You want everything to be thoroughly dried before creating any vibrations in the materials. It was hard to avoid trying the drums sooner since we wanted to hear the results of our work.
We have tried these drums since their creation. The tone is different on each of our drums. Also, humidity will affect the drum since it changes the tension and resonance in the material. While it was a lot of fun to make our own drums, it will be even more fun to use them in the next drum circle.
You are all welcome to join the drum circle at our house on October 12 this year. Let me know if you’re interested to join for some relaxing and fun drumming!