Wednesday, May 28, 2008

They speak......


The house is filled with them. Son Leland's full set of drums repose upstairs in the entertainment room while he is in college, or until he finds a place where he can play them at will.

The animal skins covering them have their songs, proving once again that nothing really dies. Before me lies the zeppelin drum I beat with a bone that a friend's Irish Setter brought up and dropped at my feet from the shore of Lake Michigan.

He carried it up the 100 foot bluff in Port Washington. It holds magic, I am sure. I use it to help make the music that the tightly stretched deer's skin of the drum re-sings each time it is played.

On the drumhead I have painted a zeppelin pierced by a lightning bolt in a Tao design; a Pisces double-fish symbol; a star and moon and planet; and around the border some German sayings my mother repreated as a child. Among them: Wie can ich rouse flieghen wen ich nicht keina fliegel haben? Riding in the family jitney, little Ruth, my future mother, leaned out too far from the car, and her grandmother (Wildgrube) said in German, "Don't lean out so far, you will fly out!"

My mother answered, "How can I fly out when I have no wings?" Profound to me, and fit for a drum-head that I play a lot.


Another drum here is one I made at a Native American drum-making workshop one week-end near the Wis. Dells at a retreat called Manitoumie. On the inside rim is written in pencil: Made by David Dix with the help of a teacher, Fred Gustafson, 4-15-00, at Manitoumie, Lyndon Station WI. Fred's signature is also there.

We made our drums from Native American scratch. Fred obtained raw, furry deerhides from hunters and we picked them up at his West Allis psychiatrist office, and went right to work on them. We had to, because they were arresting of our nostrils outside of their plastic wrappings.

Scraping off the hair was difficult. That preliminary work was accomplished in our homes before our journey to Manitoumie(I used our detached garage), and then we brought the cleaned and ready skin to the workshop "up north." It gave the drums we made plenty of hands-on history, along with the intricate technique taught by Fred at his retreat, a weaving of lacing cut from our same deerhides. The communication with the deer who gave it's skin is present whenever I play this drum.

I can play it, it so sensitive, with my bare fingers, sometimes holding the laminated rim - furnished by Fred - up close to my ear. I can hear the deer as my lightly-tapping fingers touch the drumhead, even the swishing of the grasses is audible when I draw my fingertips across the hide.

It is perhaps my most valuable treasure.

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