I’ve made Roebuck Drum. He’s now curing and drying in the scullery where it’s cool and dim. I made him last Thursday with Suzi Crockford of Dartmoor Drums and did pretty well all of it myself, including the final tensioning which I’m really pleased about.
Roebuck came to me on my birthday, he offered himself to be shot at dawn that morning and the shooter took him down perfectly with a head shot, through his ear, which was very good shooting. From a human point of view that wasn’t designed, they didn’t know it was my birthday, it “just happened” to be the right day for taking the elders of the Hiuchol, Dogon and Australian peoples out to show how we take deer, and do so respectfully. Roebuck and two fallows were shot for the celebration feast at Reigniting the Ancient Ways from 7-9 August this year (2015), and very good they tasted too. The Huichol folk had his head – though I would have loved to have it but they wanted him to meet the Blue Deer who works with him. He seemed quite content with this, I had a chat with him just before he was skinned and while he wanted me to make a drum from his skin he was happy for his head to go travelling. As you can see he was a young buck, not more than a year old and very handsome.
So his skin came home with me and he had to go to sleep in the freezer for a few weeks while I fixed a time with Suzi for her to cure his hide. I took him down to Dartmoor at the beginning of September and we took a pic of him before he went into the lye bath. His coat was such a beautiful golden colour it was a bit of a wrench to lose it in the lye but he’s a drum not a skin to sit on and he was really jumping to get going! Into the lye he went and the process began.
Suzi tells me he spent a week in the lye, losing his hair and cleaning himself up, then she rinsed and sensed and rinsed him before she scraped him clean, cleaner than clean. Then he took a trip to Buckfastleigh Tannery where they stretched him really well and blew him dry. And all this time he was chatting to me! I’d get little chats and comments about how luxurious (?!) the lye bath felt, and then the rinsing, how the scraping made him feel all excited. When he got to Buckfastleigh there was “Oooo!” and “Ahhhh!” for a bit while he was put on the stretcher – none of it seemed painful but all felt good and exciting to him. Then he came home to Suzi and I came down to make him on 24th September at Suzi’s – or rather “up” not “down” as I was coming up from a few days near Boscastle. Oh that was a good day!
Making a frame-drum is not precisely rocket-science but it does require focus and thought and understanding … and, of course, the willingness to work with the spirit who wishes to be embodied in the drum. That latter was not too much of a problem with Roebuck, he was all there and had been from the start. He and I had bonded before he was even born, even conceived I think because I knew I’d have him over three years ago, I just had to wait for hum to come. Well, wait and keep focused on him and do all I could to enable the opportunity for him to come as well. There were several times I thought I had him but it wasn’t. One time I was watching a grallocking done in a group of friends on the edge of Dartmoor and I thought that skin might be mine but it was a doe, not a buck, and so not for me. You really do have to work with this, not try to force things but also keep the pressure on so the energy has enough current, juice, to flow successfully. It’s a fine line, of course, but one you learn to walk (wobble, some of the time!) successfully so things can happen. That takes loads of on-the-job self-training!
When Roebuck arrived – and I really had no idea it was happening (often the best way!) I just knew, instantly, when Ben told me they had a roebuck, I knew he was my friend, my familiar, the skin for my drum. When I went down and saw him, cuddled and stroked and chatted with his head, and stroked his skin, it was like to old and dear friends meeting up again after being apart for a long time. Absolutely wonderful.
Roe, along with red, are one of our original deer species in Britain, And there used to be reindeer too – and are again now in the Cairngorms. Fallow deer came in later but are now very well established as one of our deer, the little muntjac is a very new arrival as is the sika, like only in the last hundred years. Now I have a red deer drum, a fallow drum and my little roebuck along with my lovely Spider-Lady from North America and my Irish bodran. I’d like a Dartmoor pony drum and this may happen next year and I would love a reindeer drum but that will take a bit more working out as I really feel the reindeer should have been born and lived in Britain and this is quite hard to find … however, The Lady says there’s a way so we’re working on it.
Making Roebuck was delightful and he was so involved in the whole process. I stained his ash-frame with dark red ochre from the Clearwell Caves in the Forest of Dean, just down the road from me. I love to use our own native stuff as much as possible. the ochres are really lovely and not expensive, I’d recommend anyone who wants native materials to use them.
At one point when I was punching the holes for his lacing he said, “I never guessed life after death would be such fun! It’s fabulous becoming a drum!” He then wanted to whiz off and tell all his friends and relations they should all be drums too! I dissuaded him, saying not everyone wanted to be a drum and it wasn’t everyone’s destiny … he’s a very young roebuck!
The tensioning, learning to hear the beginning of his voice in the wet drum-skin as you tighten the lacing is a journey in itself. You have to be focused on the drum, on the voice of the drum, on the spirit of the drum and, gradually, you hear it begin to come through. You can’t stop as soon as you hear it but you have to listen after each round of tightening. It’s like a voice that you hear very faintly in the huge darkness that begins to come towards you, a pinpoint of light coming closer and closer as you tension each round. And you have to know when to stop! The skin is sodden as you work with it and so it the hide you’re lacing with. It will dry and as it dries it shrinks so you have to know just the moment to stop the tensioning, when the voice has come as far as can that way and must now grow by drying.
You learn this by osmosis from your drum-making teacher – and Suzi is a brilliant one! – and from your own inner listening and, most of all, working with the spirit of your drum. You work together with this, you and the spirit, as you do with all spirit-crafting, you never impose your will but listen and discuss and work-with the spirit. I just so love that work, it does things to you, inside and out, and it works in all crafts and arts whatever they may be, painting, drawing, sculpture, textiles, wood, metal, writing … and in what we call the sciences too! Go and read about the way the big discoveries in science came about, you’ll find they all had what we call magic in them, knowing, intuition, focus, persistence in following the thread – all the things we know are part of the magical work and life we lead. In all these crafts you need to teacher who knows this too and doesn’t impose on you but enables you, leads you into enabling yourself. Suzi is such a one.
So, Roebuck is home now, sat on a shelf in the cool, dim scullery, growing his voice. He has a roe vertebra from Kai Seidr at Wild Wizard Crafts who also got me the roe shin-bone which will be his beater. And I’ve added a raven’s claw which was gifted me at Tarr Steps on Exmoor. He may also have another bone and a toe from Scottish roe again via Kai Seidr.
He got a bit scared when I told him it was time to go home from Dartmoor and said, “I don’t have to go back in the freezer, do I?” I had to laugh but reassured him that his life was certainly not in the freezer any more, that had just been a temporary time to keep him good before I could get him to Suzi. Like I said, he’s a very young Roebuck 🙂 but, Wow, is he going to be good and bright and show me lots of new stuff too! He wants to be painted as soon as he can too, and has the most amazing patterns on his skin for me to follow, looking forward to that!
I tapped him gently when I went down to make the first pot of tea this morning, saying hello. His voice is coming along beautifully, he’s going to be a lovely, handsome singer!
PS – update! two days on from writing this and Roebuck is singing beautifully. Still not fully dry so he’s staying in the scullery, but his voice is beeee-you-ti-fulllll !!!