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Bang the Drum

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a drum-making workshop facilitated by Hwiemtun - Fred Roland from Quw’utsun First Nation. The entire experience was incredible, from the opening ceremony to the closing song when Hwiemtun had us hold our drums to our chests and close our eyes. As he and his wonderful helper, Leyhka, sang and drummed the closing prayer, I could feel the sound of their drum beats reverberating through my new drum and into my body. It was a deeply moving experience.

Following making the drum, I began to consider when I might use it. I sat down with Hwiemtun, and he shared a story about when he was learning to drum. He shared that one of his Elders directed him to “drum a rhythm until he returned”, and joked that he suspected that the Elder had gone to an event in another town, as he drummed for eight hours that day. The next day, the Elder instructed him to “drum again, but with the other hand”. Hwiemtun’s words made me realize that drumming is not as simple as it appears, and caused me further apprehension to play my drum in public.

I decided that I should reach out to my friend George Harris Jr. of Stz’uminus, and ask him how I could start practicing with my drum so that I might eventually be able to play it in public. George suggested that I could attend the children’s drumming and singing ‘jams’ that take place at the Stz’uminus Community School every week. The thought of playing my drum in public made me feel very nervous, so I decided I would sit with George’s wife, Rebecca, when I attended. I knew that having her next to me would help me to feel more comfortable.

On the morning of the jam session, George sent me a message to provide guidance on how to prepare my drum for drumming. I am so grateful that he did, as I had no idea that there were protocols to follow before using my drum! With permission, I share his words with you today:

“Make sure to put your drum in the sun to warm it up. The hide is a living thing, when it is cold it loosens up and doesn't sound as good - it might sound hollow. Heat it up and the hide will tighten, and your drum will sound fuller. You will often see people holding the face of their drum to their chest, this is to keep the face of the drum warm and sounding full.”

I thanked George for his guidance, and he replied, “No worries. I want your drum to sound good for its public debut. Plus, with you leading a song, it has to sound right.”

Very funny, George.

So, on that afternoon I placed my drum on the passenger seat of my car, where it soaked up the sunlight for the 35-minute drive to Stz’uminus. I packed it into the gym and found a seat next to Rebecca. I held my drum to my chest and wondered if I would find the courage to play it. I watched the children as they danced, sweet faces glistening with sweat, free of any traces of self-consciousness. I took note of how my friends drummed and finally looked over at Rebecca’s face. She smiled and nodded her head at me, and so I pulled out my drumstick – and I played my drum!

I am so grateful for the safety created for me as I learn to do new things, and for the opportunities to participate in culture in such an amazing way. Thank you to Hwiemtun, Leykha, George, Rebecca, and the kind people at the Stz’uminus Community School – for your teachings, your humour, your guidance, and your encouragement. Huy steep q’u.

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