The Making of… Mr. & Mrs. Deer
A few years ago after a full moon celebration with friends we were drumming and talking about making our own drums. Most of us had never done that before, but together we shared some experience. We decided then and there to get this show on the road! We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into though…. We prepared the best way we could and started fresh. We couldn’t find a lot of info on the www, except for some video’s on YouTube. I decided to document the process in pictures, for ourselves and for others that might be interested. Here’s the ultra-short version:
We wanted to make everything from scratch where possible. I decided to use the frame of my first bodhrán (of which the skin was ripped). Ron (my husband) wanted to make a 13-sided drum. We chose birch (my frame was birch too) and started searching. We found a local entrepreneur that has a sawmill for hobby. He knew exactly where the wood came from, he cut the tree down himself. The planks were beautiful but rough. Ron sawed them smaller and into pieces. I made calculations to see what edge to saw. To make a 13-sided drum we needed a 13.8 degree edge; 13 pieces of 13 by 9 cm made a drum with a diameter of approximately 54 cm (21.26 inch). That’s big, but Ron is tall and strong. Because we knew we would often use the drums outside in all kinds of weather we decided (even though it’s not natural) to lacquer the frames with a special weatherproof yacht varnish.
We got the skins for the drums from a butcher. They were ‘leftovers’ that otherwise would have been destroyed. We did a ritual to honour and thank the animals for the skins (and the tree for the wood). The deer were hunted by professionals with permission for population control. The skins weren’t very clean; we had to cut quite some flesh away. That was hard work of which Ron did the major part. He used the back of a double-handed curved cheese knife (a tip from one of the many YouTube-video’s he watched). I did the finer work with a smaller very sharp knife. We rinsed the skins a few times to clean them. Ron stitched a hole with a suture needle and thread.
The other people used parachute cord to tighten the skin to the frame. Ron and I wanted to use only natural material. Ron made the lacing out of the leftover skin, I used tvinningsbennen (or lucet) to make a cord of light and dark (real) sinew. We watched a lot of YouTube-video’s to find the best way to stretch and tighten the skin around the frame. We used a hole punching tool to make the holes, because that gave less risk of tearing the skin. We tightened the skin wet (both skin and lacing). The drying took quite some time. After a few weeks we gave the lacing an extra layer to tighten it even more. In the meantime we had made beaters from leftover birch wood and leather.
We wanted the drums to have the complete skin with hair, but they were too thick for a good sound. So we shaved the skins with a hair trimmer, a little bit each time until we were satisfied with the sound. During the process I had nicknamed our drums Mr. & Mrs. Deer with the intention to find a real name later. The names suited the drums remarkably well though, so we kept it at that.
It was a long process (months), but it was very worthwhile and rewarding. Perhaps we’ll make more drums in the future but I don’t think we’ll make more drums from scratch as we did this time, because that was very time- and energy-consuming. You could use ready-made frames and prepared skins; you put your own energy and time in it to make the drum your own.
The drums feel so good, they sound wonderful together. Mr. Deer has a deep and healing sound, and Mrs. Deer definitely has her own charm and slightly higher sound. The spirits of the deer connect with our energies and that works out amazingly well. We’ve been using them for quite some time now. Outside we sometimes have to tighten the skins by keeping them near a fire, but most of the time they sound great. When they aren’t used they hang on display in our hall, so they are never far and easy to grab for a drum session.