Real Skin

I’ve always known that the original drums were made with the skins of deer, but it wasn’t until a wet skin of a deer was placed on the floor in front of me that I ACTUALLY realised that drum skins were made from the skin of a deer.

It’s a little like the disassociation between children and chicken nuggets and those feathered creatures that peck and cluck and flap their red wings violently. The dots are rarely connected and realisations don’t often dawn.

I touched the skin with my finger tips and it reminded me of the skin you can chew around your nails when you’re nervous.

It was THAT sort of skin.

Thick, strong, damp and real.

Steve, the guide who was showing us how to “birth our drum” explained the process.

I’ll be honest, sitting here trying to write about the process, it turns out that I can’t remember what we did. But what I do know is that we had to cut the skin with scissors to make a thin skin cord with which we’d stich the hide over our wooden hoop frames.

I cut real skin with scissors.

It felt strange.

A bit … well … Silence of the Lambs.

Anyway, that afternoon, when our drums were finished, I took mine home to let it dry out. I was very proud of it.

I took it to show some people. “That’s deer skin,” I pointed out, brushing my finger tips over the now paper, dry surface.

“It’s lovely,” they said, not joining the dots between an animal’s covering to stop its blood and bones falling out, or chicken nuggets or sausages and bristly pig hairs that make up the tips of artist brushes.

“Real deer skin?” they asked.

“Real deer skin.”

The skin of my drum continued orbit my radar.



a) It’s from a real deer. That’s a REAL skin, you know.

b) Because if the air is damp or cold, the skin goes loose and when you play the drum the sound is dull and thuddy.

c) If the air is too dry, the skin becomes tight and the sound it produces is high and tinny.

d) If the air is just right, the skin is not to loose or flappy and then you can sit for a long time and let the drum do what drums are made to do.

Make beats.

Channel rhythms.

After my initial pride over the drum waned, summer peaked and life rolled on like a marching band of chaos. I put the drum in my room and left it there to sit.

There it stayed until November 2017, on our return from a stint in Sicily.

And guess what?

The marching band of life had continued to stamp, bold and chaotic through the landscape, smashing out the beats of time and hours and days and schedules and routines and deadlines and all that parlava.

Then, it had lulled into the soft lapping hush of a holiday, only to smash us with a cymbal style crescendo on our return.

Shit hit the fan! A truck smashed into the trombone. Life events screeched and pinged and jangled at a pitch that was unbearable.

My dear friend Clare called me.

“Join me tonight,” she said soothingly. “Come to Serenity Sounds.”

Serenity Sounds is the name of the travelling gong baths and drum journeys held by my original drum midwives, Steve and Maxine.

“Okay,” I said, “that sounds good.”

But to be honest I didn’t know what it sounded like as my ears were so deafened by life noise, shouting demands, chattering children, opera singing agendas.

I got in the car and we drove to a carpark, outside a business centre and rang to the bell to go in. I don’t remember much about that first session. I know I lay near the door and that the sky lights did a few rattles as the gongs began to drone. I know that at first my monkey brain was chattering like an 80’s chav on Phet and then eventually, the chattering became a white noise that faded into the background and I felt as though I was floating.

Then the gongs faded and Steve’s deep voice carried us gently back into the room.

The sound journey was over.

As I drove home that night, I felt re-tuned.

Like a guitar that had needed her string adjusted and now I was good to play again.

And with that harmonic alignment in place, I re-entered life.

Reality = The marching band hadn’t stopped. The chaos was still unfurling.

The following week I went back to the Sound Journey.

Again, I left feeling as though the hour long immersion in natural, rhythmic sound had restored me.

That week, I decided to try and use what I had at home to create my own “re-tuning sound journey”. I took down my dear deer-skin drum and I sat and played it daily until the next sound journey with Steve.

That week I discovered two things that I didn’t know about myself.

  1. That I can hold a rhythm. That I can let a rhythm move through my hands and if I do that I can play a drum for what feels like hours.
  2. By holding that rhythm for a length of time, I can sooth my mind, restore my zen and create a sense of increased vitality in my body.
  3. I can manage my state through the drumming; creating trance and relaxation, but also high level energetic enhanced clarity. I drummed every day throughout a month and wrote 20,000 words of a novel that had been eluding me for years.

Suddenly, I understood my drum.

I understood what it – a maple hoop and a deer skin – could do to me.

Since that time I have made drumming a major part of my personal self-care and creativity tool box.

I could write a whole load of stuff about why I think drumming has this effect on the human psyche. I could write about the way that rhythmic beats have been used since the dawn of time to alter the brain waves of human beings, allowing them to relax, deepen into themselves and indeed enter shamantic trance states. I could write about the scientific power of sound. I could write about my theories about the synthetic music produced by the music industry and its effect on the masses. I could also – and will at some point – write about my friend Kim and her company Nature Therapy CIC, who are taking drumming circles into residential homes for people with dementia.

But really … for now … I just want to tell you the story of my beloved drum.

And how I cut up a real skin and how I honour that skin by playing my drum often and giving frequent thanks to the little deer it came from.

Oh – and if you want to experience the impact of the drum beat or feel inspired to birth your own drum … go find Steve.

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