We recently discovered the work of Nicola Smalley who has been crafting shamanic drums for a decade. When we had the opportunity to review one of her drums, we were excited to see the result of her artful hard work, which took several weeks.
Birthing Shamanic Drums
When Nicola embarked upon this path, she had to make a decision: what kinds of hide would they use? In her case, she wanted to make sure that the welfare of the animals was taken into account. In the end, Nicola opted for two kinds of hide: red deer and reindeer. The red deer are from Scotland and are culled as part of a wildlife management program to control the population numbers, as deer no longer have any natural predators in the UK. The hides are a by-product of this process. Their reindeer hides come from the Lappland area in Finland. The reindeer graze on the tundra throughout the year and are managed using traditional methods dating back thousands of years. Together with her husband Jason, they make drums from their natural hide color, which is pale cream, as well as from hides that have been dyed. Because each drum is dyed, no two drums are the same.
A Beautiful Story
I was touched by her history and what led Nicola to start making drums for she doesn’t do this alone. Her husband Jason first introduced her to the idea of making my own drum on a date early on in their courtship. Yes, really. If you’re saying “awww,” it’s okay because it’s how I felt too when I first heard their story. And so, Nicola and Jason’s first drum was a fourteen-inch red deer drum, guided by Carolyn Hiller from Seventh Wave Music.
The experience transformed their lives so much that Nicola ended a fifteen-year career in sustainability the very same month. She became a full-time shamanic practitioner and making drums was an integral part of that transition. They continue to make them for others (we are absolutely thrilled with ours) in the northwest of England.
Behind the Scenes
As it is often said, “the devil is in the details.” I have always found that to be a strange term, so perhaps we can change it to “the beauty is in the details.” When they dove into this business, they wanted to make sure that the materials were ethnically sourced and also as locally sourced as possible. At the time, the majority of shamanic drum hoops in the UK were imported from Pakistan. In the end, they found a local supplier who agreed to sustainable practices. As a result, they use Ash from the UK in their drums, which is apparently both strong and bendy, making it perfect for drum hoops. Who knew? We learned a lot in this process although we’ve yet to make our own drum.
So, how long does it take? First of all, we had to select the style, the hide and the color tones we liked. You also have the option to choose what size you want of course and then in our case, it had to be shipped from England to the states. The process is quite detailed and laborious but so worth the wait. We all know that great things take time.
Once they get the rawhide in, they soak it overnight so its soft and stretchy. They then have to prepare the wooden hoop, which requires applying beeswax on the inside of the hoop to bring out the grain in the wood. It turns out that they buy the wax from a charity that rescues swarmed bees and finds them permanent homes. We love that they’re so cognizant of the environment and supporting local businesses. After that, they wrap the steel ring in pig suede and use a local blacksmith who makes the rings.
Once the hide is fully soaked, they cut out the circle for the drum head and the lacing. Then, the final stage is a bit more time consuming. They have to punch twenty-four holes and thread the lacing through each hole in turn, carefully twisting the lacing along the way. Then the tensioning process begins, which requires strong hands.
The drying process takes up to a week, depending on the weather. If the air moisture is high, the drums take longer to dry, which is the case where they live. The drum handle is the last part of the drum to dry after which, they fix the crystal and fluffy handle. Voila – the drum is ready.
If you’ve ever drummed before or met a shamanic practitioner, you’ve probably heard stories about how the drum is a very alive instrument – in other words, you and the drum become one. It’s a relationship when you drum, so how you bring it into the world is important. In Nicola’s case, they welcome the drum into the world in a ceremony using either sage or a special ‘awakening’ smudge incense. They make the drum beater from hazel coppiced from local woodlands. I personally love hazel but the reason she opted for it versus another wood is that it is a great option for a beater because it grows long and straight. They stuff the beater head with wool from local sheep and then secure it with a good blob of glue and some artificial sinew.
As we mentioned earlier, every drum they make is truly unique. Nicola says, “I love to watch their character unfold as I create them.” How do Nicola and Jason use drums in their own lives? Primarily, they use them in their spiritual practice, such as for shamanic journeying. Nicola and Jason teach shamanism, so they use drums in their work online as well as “out in the wilds,” as she says.
“It is special to think that our drums are out there in all corners of the world doing their work, helping people connect with the Otherworlds and each other.” -Nicola Smalley
So, have we used our drum? Absolutely. What I find interesting is that this is the fourth drum we’ve had made for us over the years as we have reviewed drums a couple of times over the last three or four years. Each time has been unique. We have even reviewed Djembe drums although Shamanic drums are a personal favorite. In one case (the drum came from Finland), the artist said that she was internally guided what to paint on the front (their style was to draw pictures on each of their drums) and out came Gaia, one of my nicknames. To top it off, it was in my favorite earthy colors: browns, blues and greens.
When I opened the box from England to see what Nicola and Jason had created for me, at first I was dumbstruck. Red? I have very little in red in my life. Most of my clothing, art, jewelry, dishes, pottery, art, rugs – you name it – are in earth tones, because these are the colors I’ve always gravitated to and yet…here was this red drum on my doorstep. I failed to mention of course that I’ve been told by guides and advisors to bring more red into my life over the last couple of years which I’ve resisted. More fire, they said. More strength. More feminine power. More regality. Ironically, four weeks before the drum arrived, I began to wear a red garnet ring on my right hand.
After I pulled my new red (and black) drum out of the box, I sat it down in front of me and looked at it and wouldn’t you know that it began to speak to me. Drums are alive in this way. They truly do become you and you become them. A relationship forms when it arrives in your hands, which is what happened with me.
Within fifteen minutes, I knew the drum knew somehow as did Nicola and Jason– even if they wouldn’t have voiced it this way — that this was the type and style I needed at this stage in my life. Why? Trust the process. We don’t always need to know, we just need to embrace the journey. The energy of the drum spoke to me even before I started beating it and we became one together.
Alas, I encourage you to embark upon your own drum experience. With Nicola and Jason from Anglezarke Drums, you can co-create your drum as it is both a physical process and a personal journey. Talk to them about what you want but be okay with a little unknowing and a little letting go as the birthing of you drum begins. When it arrives, know that unspoken voices from another dimension and world we may not always understand, are involved in that birthing process as well. And then enjoy the ride.
For more information about Nicola and Jason’s work, including how to order a drum, you can visit Anglezarke Drums, their shaminism and nature site: The Way of the Buzzard and their Etsy shop.
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