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Coming to terms with my own limitations, or how I tried to re-head the tabla drum for Arabian Nights

posted by Heather Bradley on Sun, Dec 28, 2008
in From the booth

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The percussion instruments in The Arabian Nights are really taking a beating (pun intended). We've been replacing claves, tambourines, Djembes, and egg shakers left and right. There is a lot of action on stage and a lot of live music -- it's natural that this would be happening.

One of the recent casualties was the tabla drum -- specifically, what would normally be the larger drum in a pair of Indian tablas, called the Bayan. It had a small tear in the head. It was certainly still playable, but we anticipated that the problem would only get worse.

Heather - Tabla

I decided that it shouldn't be so hard to re-head the tabla myself. It really only involved lacing some animal hide "ribbon" through the holes in the braided portion of the drum head. I found some instructional videos on You Tube -- thanks to the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael. It did look like some elbow grease was involved, but the guy did it quickly and easily. I just needed to pay close attention to how the ribbon threads through the braid -- and the loop at the bottom of the drum.

Heather - threading 

I purchased a drum head from Mrs. Khanna at Bazaar of India (on University, right around the corner from the theatre). She talked me through the process and it seemed pretty straightforward. She said I just needed to be patient. It would probably take me an hour or so. I gave myself three hours. OK -- I can do this! 

Heather- instruments 

I got the tools together and began to pull out the current ribbon of animal hide

First I soaked the hide in warm water -- directly in the sink, and also wrapping the drum in a warm wet towel.

Heather - soaking 

The threading started out OK actually, but at a certain point, things got sort of twisted and I was forced to pull it all out. I realized that things were drying a bit quickly and the cold room I was in didn't seem to be helping, so I changed to a heated room and soaked the hide again. Now it was nice and pliable, but the width had increased and it was impossible to thread it through the braiding. I began getting quite frustrated (and losing patience). By this time (three hours later) my hands were getting a bit raw, even though I was wearing gloves. I gave it one more shot. No luck.

I then proceeded to visit my friend Mrs. Khanna at Bazaar of India. She sold me a lovely new set of tablas, and assured me that I was on the right track with the work I had been doing -- but that perhaps I needed an assistant.

So. now they have a drum to play in Arabian Nights again. And Robyn and I will be attempting this crazy task again -- together. I'll let you know how it goes!

Here's a pic of the tabla as it exists right now:

Heather - unfinished 

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