Uniqueness

The distinctiveness of sound can be further enhanced by means of the type of beater used. Drumsticks vary considerably as to shape, whether padded or not. Sometimes carved drumsticks are prepared that have in addition a rattling sound. Sometimes this is done by means of carved balls within the stick, or in other cases a drummer may use a form of rattle as a drumstick.  Depending on what substance has been placed within that rattle such as pebbles, pits, seeds, corn kernels, gun shot, etc.  the sounds produced hitting against the resonator casing will come into play with contact against the membrane of the drum.

The materials placed inside these drumsticks/rattles depend on what is available in the maker’s environment. For example, dried corn kernels would not be available in ecozones where the climate is not conducive for the growing of corn. The membranes used to make various musical instruments vary according to what is available within a certain region. The voice of the drum is shaped by whether its membrane comes from deer, moose, buffalo, or caribou skin. Thin fish or bird skin can give a very distinctive sound quality as a rattle resonating body.  Turtle carapaces are the basis for the most revered musical instruments of the Haudenosaunee, not only for the sound that can be produced, but by their symbolism in representing the origin myth of Turtle Island, known usually as North America. Ingenuity certainly plays a role as well. The northern Nehiyaw produced a  type of fiddle using a caribou shoulder blade and stringing a sinew across its arc (Diamond, Cronk, von Rosen 1994: 194). This fiddle played with a bow strung with sinew was dependent on caribou being available in the area. This animal had a large enough bone for the purpose. Similarly the moose-hoof rattle (shinaueshikan) of the Algonquin in northern Ontario could not have been created in an area without moose.

As yet, researchers of soundscape have not systematically explored the sounds produced by Indigenous musical instruments created within certain regions. It is likely that many of the desired sounds produced by drums, rattles, wind and string instruments deliberately mimic effects heard in the environment including calls of animals and bird songs. In a study of the sound preferred by the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea, Steven Feld discovered that their aesthetic preferences were deeply rooted in the sounds of the natural world around them (1990: 268).

Sounds produced by objects from the region and possibly imitating naturally occurring situations are desired by dancers as they move to the beat of the drum or melodic line of the voice.  Inuit would attach small bones to fringes on their clothing to make soft swishing sounds as  they moved. Claws, shells, bones, beads, are just some of the objects chosen carefully to be attached  to aprons, or other articles of regalia used in dancing.

In the powwow one of the women’s dances is the jingle dance that requires an outfit made of cut cloth, decorated with tin cone jingles fastened in line or chevron patterns. For an adult woman’s outfit, there are normally 365 tin cones and the maker will carefully select the metal from which to make the cones.  Sometimes the lids of certain tin cans can be rolled in such a way that  the resultant tinkling sound while dancing will give the desired effect. That sound will be influenced by the cultural norm for the region as well as individual taste.

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Native Drum