When I ask myself: “Why did I put so much time and effort into building such a crazy, big drum?” it is important to first set the context: we teach at a school that is committed to the Arts as well as to Global Education. Our school’s mission statement reads: “Preparing students for ethical leadership in a diverse and global society.”
With this in mind, our Arts faculty has always looked for memorable and creative educational experiences to provide our students (for example, our recent bridge project which was also covered by Make:). As you can see, over-the-top projects are something that we simply love to do with our students!
Oak Hall School is also proud to maintain the only high school Taiko drumming ensemble in the Southeastern United States. Taiko is a dynamic Japanese art form played on large drums. In support of this program, Music Director Jason Stahl and I attended the World Taiko Gathering in Los Angeles last summer. This conference featured the world’s greatest Taiko players and offered a variety of workshops, classes, and amazing performances.
The centerpiece of a Taiko ensemble is typically a huge Odaiko drum, and this was one of the only instruments our school’s group, “Tsubasa,” did not have. After meeting professional drum makers at the conference, and examining their works, the idea of constructing a drum was born. As a professionally constructed drum this scale can cost more that $25,000, we figured the only way we would be able to obtain a drum this size would be to make one ourselves.
We did a lot of research, and when the school year started, we jumped in and started building (with the help of my Creative Design class). The focus of the Creative Design course can be described as: part art and part engineering. So, they were the perfect group to help with the design and construction of the drum. Over the next few months, however, numerous music and other student volunteers were able to get their hands dirty working on the drum.
The Odaiko drum is constructed out of about $400 worth of simple pine 2×4s. Our class began by building a drum form out of plywood, then slowly but surely constructing the barrel of the drum, screwing, gluing, and dowelling the 2×4s together piece by piece by piece. Many mistakes were made along the way; most commonly it was not cutting or lining up each 2×4 perfectly. This caused us a lot of extra work towards the end, but nothing that a good ‘Sawzall’ couldn’t fix!
Once it was constructed, sanded, and stained, we soaked and stretched two Florida Buffalo hides across the frame of the drum to use as the drumheads. When they dried, we used 1″ upholstery tacks to hold the hides in place; it took 665 tacks! It was messy work, and was a learning process for all of us, but, ultimately, we were pleased at how well it turned out. Our materials budget was around $1,500. We were fortunate that one of the most expensive part of the project, a gantry crane, which was used to lift the behemoth drum, was donated by a student alumnus!
The drum has affectionately been given the name ‘TONKA.” This comes from the Lakota word ‘Tatanca’ which means buffalo. The drum measures 55″ wide and 44″ deep, and we estimate that it weighs about 500lbs. When mounted on its stand, Tonka tops out at nine feet tall! The technique behind playing this drum is extremely athletic and requires not only musical prowess, but endurance and tenacity. It sounds Thunderous!
“This project exemplifies everything we are trying to do in terms of a 21st century education,” says Oak Hall Headmaster, Richard Gehman. “It is multi-disciplinary, problem-solving oriented, cross-cultural, creative, and technical. The result is a blend of all of those things.”
“Tonka” made its debut on May 9, 2015 at the “Silk Road and Beyond” concert to a packed house and much acclaim. We look forward to many more exciting years of hearing this Tonka sing!
To learn more about Oak Hall’s “Tsubasa” check out this short video.
Watch “Tsubasa’s” full performance at the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) conference below!