Yellow Springs High School student Rebecca Guest and her classmates
turned gourds into drums during a workshop earlier this month. See
story, page 12.
students make drums out of gourds
drum up music
On a recent chilly November afternoon, everything seemed warm and cozy
inside the art room at Yellow Springs High School, young people chatting
easily with each other as they worked on their projects.
Its a little bit like quilting, said teacher Carla Steiger-Meister.
We sit around and talk.
But the talking ceased as another sound began, softly at first, then louder.
A drumbeat, steady and firm, filled the room. The young people worked
silently as a young woman played her drum, the ancient sound somehow satisfying.
This is the coolest project Ive ever done in school,
the drummer, Zoe Hayes, said when she stopped playing her instrument.
I always wanted a drum but I didnt want to pay $200.
Now Zoe has her drum.
Better yet, she made it herself, right down to the tiny designs she created
first with pencil, then burned into the drum with a wood-burning instrument.
She was one of the first students to complete her drum, during Steiger-Meisters
recent two-week African musicology and drum-making workshop.
Its a teachers dream come true, said Steiger-Meister.
Its what I strive for. Its incredibly joyful for me
to see the students so totally involved.
Throughout the workshop, local African musicologist Geof Morgan taught
the students the ancient art of making drums from gourds.
Using bottle gourds from California, the students spent a few grueling
days cleaning their gourds, then created designs in pencil. Next, they
carefully burned the designs ranging from their names or the names
of their friends to intricate patterns of diamonds or squares into
the gourds before they fastened goatskins over the top.
Then it was time to start drumming.
Last week, the young people worked intently, knowing theyd perform
with their creations on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at an all-school assembly
on African musicology. The assembly featured lectures by Dayton artist
Bing Davis on gourd history and Morgan on African musicology and a brief
performance by the Ya-Ya Drum Band.
Steiger-Meisters interest in gourds grew from a workshop she attended
two years ago in Dayton.
To me the universality of gourds is amazing, she said. In
different cultures theyre used as musical instruments, or religious
artifacts, as bird houses, or as storage containers. Every culture has
its own use.
Gourd drums are some of the worlds oldest instruments, said Steiger-Meister,
who appreciates the drum-making workshop as an opportunity to focus on
When you address a different culture its eye-opening for all
the students, but it raises the self-esteem of those connected to that
culture, she said.
Making drums from gourds also offered her students an experiential experience
of art, which, Steiger-Meister said, is the sort she prefers. Her students
recently finished a lesson on action painting, during which students dropped
and splattered paint on a cloth, a la Jackson Pollock, using everything
but a brush to apply paint to canvas.
While she dreamed of offering her students an opportunity to create the
gourd drums, Steiger-Meister was daunted by the cost about $70
per student for all the gourds, hides and hardware. However, a grant from
the Yellow Springs Endowment for Education picked up the bill.
I can dream big dreams, said Steiger-Meister. But I
have to have someone else to make them come true.
An African musicologist for 20 years, Morgan said he values making drums
from gourds because the drums have more resonance than wood drums. Plus,
you dont have to cut down any trees, he said.
The gourds versatility of shape also suits drum-making, as illustrated
by the handmade instruments Morgan brought to class, including a hunters
harp, a bow harp, a lyre and a lute. The violins, all the string
instruments come from this, Morgan said of the lute, modeled on
one of the worlds most ancient instruments.
Morgan said he began drum-making out of necessity.
Whenever I decided I wanted an instrument and I couldnt find
it, I made it myself, he said.
Now, he teaches drum-making classes and sells some of his handmade instruments
at Gemini World Music & Art in Yellow Springs.
As the bell rang to announce the next class, several students moved out
of the room, but others stayed put as they continued to work on their
Ive noticed, said Steiger-Meister, that theyre
reluctant to leave.