The Adventure – Drum-making Workshop

to the beat of my own drum

I lifted the drum high above my head and proceeded to whack it with all my might.

Faster and faster…


With each beat of my drum, the anger and tension started to ease up.

And the more noise I made, the more a smile started to tug at my lips, gradually replacing the scowl on my face.

Revenge is sweet.

Life is good.

My grandpa at the Banff Indian Days

A stranger in a strange land…

Growing up in a series of small communities across western Canada, it was a familiar feeling to be nestled within the First Nations culture.

In some places I was considered to be a minority, even with my multi-cultural Heinz-57 status – Scottish, English, and half Croatian.

So when I moved to Vancouver in 2003, I found myself in an alien world – a land overflowing with different cultures from all over the planet.

An amazingly diverse city.

I loved it. Still do.

But that being said, I found the city to be lacking a certain First Nations influence. Sure, there were the art galleries and museums…but truly, it seemed as though the culture or spirit was missing from the city.

I felt as though I was a stranger in a strange land.

Something smells kinda funny…

It was the excruciating smell of rotting flesh emanating from the trunk of my car which got my attention…after a period of time.

No…it wasn’t exactly a dead body in my trunk.

Not an entire one anyways…

It was the excess sinew from my drum I  carrying around with me. I had meant to bury in the forest somewhere, but after 3 months, well…I guess it would, of course, explain the smell.

Spirit Drum…

It is customary to offer a pouch of loose tobacco to the elder as a sign of respect for sharing the teachings in making a traditional Native North American Drum and drumstick.

The drum is central to the First Nations culture. In certain respects, it has become a method to connect with a higher power and is used in ceremonies, celebrations and spiritual festivals. They are also recognized as a ‘living entity’ with close connections to the creator.

With elk hides and hoops prepared in advance by local Native Elder Sandra LaFramboise (Dancing to Eagle Spirit) and Jennifer Lundin-Ritchie (Spotted Firefly), it was an all day affair filled with elements of First Nations spirituality and ceremony. I gave thanks to the beautiful animal that gave up its life, offering up its ‘medicine’ to the drum I was about to make, bonding with the drum that represented both the earth and life.

Over the following week, I was to watch how the elk hide of the drum dried as it would reveal patterns within patterns, representing animal totems, or perhaps even, messages from beyond.

Little did I know I would receive the message…loud and clear.


The horrifying screeching sounds from the apartment above were apparently supposed to resemble singing.

Added to this cacophony were the people in boots and high-heels jumping up and down to the beat of the music, with an unfortunate few, moving to a rhythm of their own.

But really, what can one expect at 4 am?

Hide & go seek…

Rusty, family friend out hunting

I found myself wondering where the hide for my drum came from, but then I was reminded of my childhood. My father would hunt for moose and venison or even grouse to feed our family. He would tell us of the thanks he would give to the mighty animal that gave its life to feed our family by saying a prayer.

A few days later, he would return to the forest with the remains that could not be used. It was so that others, who lived in the forest, might eat as well. Many times, the hides would go to whoever wanted them in the community where we lived.

They say what goes around will eventually come around…so perhaps this was a gift that kept on giving, even years later.

The Majestic Elk

Taking your medicine…

Elk medicine is representative of survival, strength, stamina, pride and nobility.

Sandra (Dancing to Eagle Spirit) and Jennifer (Spotted Firefly) warned of how I might go into ‘process’ during and after the workshop, particularly when connecting with the drum’s unique ‘song’…which would be my drum’s message or gift to both me and the world.

And my drum did indeed work it’s medicine on my soul that one fateful day…delivering it’s unique song to the world, or in this case, my neighbour.

A sign from high above?

That morning, a rather ‘unhappy sort of Patricia’ woke up, moving about the apartment feeling rather…displeased.

ANGER was in my every step, in every action. The house-wrecking party in the apartment above just ended a few hours before and it left me swallowing down a dark drink of bitterness.

Then I heard something thunk in the other room.

That ‘something’ sounded an awful lot like a beat on my drum. I had heard that the beating of the drum is compared to the beating of a human heart and that drums are believed to ‘speak’ to the drummer. So if I did in fact bond with the drum as indicated, then perhaps the drum was speaking to me, playing my song – the song of my heart.

The second I picked up the newly-made drum in my hands, the Gods rained blessings on me inspiration struck. I lifted the drum high over my head and started wailing on it, pounding it for all it was worth.

The pounding of my heart.

Directly under my neighbour’s bedroom.

And the more I walloped that beautiful singing drum, the more a smile started to tug at the corner of my lips. With a shit-eating grin on my face, the anger and resentment that ate at my insides began to dissipate as I worked out my raw emotions on this amazing new drum.

My new heartbeat.

Who would have thought that whacking a drum could give me such joy?

Minutes later, I heard the sound of someone staggering about upstairs.


Revenge is sweet.

Life is good.

The remains of the day…

It was the snowball filled with the sinew of an elk smashing and scattering its contents across the lake’s frozen surface that took us most by surprise.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go down.

Meandering about the snow-capped mountain top of Mt. Seymour, my friend Wendy and I went off in search of the perfect location to celebrate the first snow fall of the season.  But more importantly, it was to have a ‘drumming’ ceremony honouring the elk drum and leftover sinew that had been ‘accidentally’ left decomposing in my vehicle.

Snowshoes in hand, we made the merry trek into the darkened forest, finding an ideal spot near a secluded little lake nestled within the winter wonderland.

It was the first snow of the season and I felt like a kid in a candy store!!

I felt compelled to return the leftover elk sinew back to the land, much like my father did when he returned the remains back into the forest. The reality of the situation was such that I should have buried it months before because the smell was becoming rather bothersome (vile beyond all belief) in my vehicle.

Sinew Snowball

As luck would have it (or extremely unfortunate planning on my part), I completely forgot to bring a digging instrument to bury the smelly bundle. However, upon seeing the darkened lake, I thought it would be a brilliant plan of action to make a sinew snowball – and just simply toss it in.

Everything was going according to plan (sort of) until I threw the snowball.

It somehow seemed to escape our notice that the lake was covered by a thick layer of ice. It could have had something to do with the fact that our only light source was from the headlamps on our heads. The camera flash doesn’t count.

Tossing the sinew snowball into the lake…

Now, in our defense, how were we to know that the lake would freeze before it snowed? [please don’t bring up my forestry background, don’t bring up my forestry background…]

Needless to say, we sure didn’t notice any ice in the pitch black. But then again, it could also be said that the whole situation fell under the brilliant plan of action to meander about a forest after the sun had set without said shovel.

Regardless, I still believe that tossing the snowball into the lake was nothing short of brilliant. It was that spontaneous ‘MacGyver’ moment where I had to make due with what I had at my disposal. Simply put, no shovel, therefore make snowball and toss it on top of the frozen lake.

Apparently the lake was frozen…

After letting go of my ‘discombobulation,’ I proceeded to beat my drum. I would sporadically stop so that my partner-in-adventure, Wendy, could say something ultra-deep (she’s good at that), before I would continue on with the beating the drum, singing it’s song, my heartbeat. After our pseudo-ceremony, we elegantly dined on banana bread that contained chocolate chips followed by a superb chocolate mint rooibos chaser, delicately held within two thermal tea cups with said matching thermos (seriously awesome planning!!!).

Workin’ it…

Overall, I would claim it to be a successful celebration regardless of the few debacles. After all, we didn’t get lost in the forest. We did manage to release the sinew back into the wilds. And we did manage to get cell phone reception so Wendy could let her husband know our location. If I recall correctly, he wasn’t too impressed by the fact that no one else knew where we were…but even more so, because he was out of town and couldn’t rescue us if things went a little awry.

Yes…it could be determined that common sense played absolutely no part in this night-time adventure.

But I could feel my heart beating, pounding in my chest. I felt so amazingly alive…

Now…I’m not entirely certain what became of the sinew. Did any of the forest creatures make the foray onto the ice and retrieve the 3 month old smelly sinew? Or did it sink to the bottom of the lake five months later?

Only the land knows.

To the beat of my heart

Lost & Found…

After a period of time, I discovered something interesting. It wasn’t that the First Nations culture or spirit was missing, it was just that it was a little bit more difficult to see in a city filled with every type of ethnic background.

It was subtle, but it’s heartbeat was there.  I just needed to take a closer look.

Interesting Factoids about Drumming

  • Physiological effects of drumming includes increased heart rate and blood flow, similar in design what you’d expect after aerobic exercise.
  • By playing the drum, you can reconnect with that little kid inside of you who drummed, having  fun and re-experiencing the joy and wonder once experienced as children.
  • Drumming also creates a hemispheric synchronization effect where the left and right side of the brain become ‘synchronized’, thus creating feelings of expanded consciousness, increased creativity, and deep meditation. I like the sound of that.
  • It is considered to be a form of self-expression and creativity.

Why should you build your own drum?

  • You can whack it any time you want in order to disturb your neighbours while they sleep after they partied all night above your head while you tried to sleep.
  • It can be used in a sweat lodge ceremony, resembling the pounding of your heart.
  • It’s fun because you can be a kid all over again…!
  • You can make music and jam with your friends.
  • It sometimes sounds good.


© Monthly Adventure, Patricia Taylor, August 2008

Photo credits: Elk by Viking 10

For more information on taking a drum making workshop, contact Jennifer Lundin-Ritchie through her website ‘Power of Intentions.