Master of Drum Making

Xiangrenhe Drum Museum in Xinzhuang

王錫坤

Xi-kun Wang, Master of Drum Making

Mr. Xi-kung Wang is the second generation owner of  Xiangrenhe Drum Workshop in Xinzhuang. He took over this family business after the death of his father A-Tu Master. Mr. Wang has been keeping the tradition his father created alive. In fact, he took a step further with innovations and creative approaches. He is the master of drum making in Taiwan.

 

 

Interview with Xi-kun Wang

Q1:
How do you select the materials to produce the best drums for different purposes?
A1:
There are many types of drums. Our first question to buyers is always the purposes required. Lion dance drums need high pitches. Temple drums should produce softer and soothing beats. Different sounds are needed for drums on different occasions.
   
Q2:
You say that drum making consists of three steps, binding, tightening and stomping. Which procedure is the most important?
A2:
Each step is equally important. It is important to keep the wood dry. The gradient for connecting wooden pieces is critical. The leather should be cut properly, ideally at the thickness of 0.25-0.55 centimeters. Finally, the control of the membrane is the last but not the least step. If the tightness is not managed properly, all the prior efforts will be in vain. Stomping on the membrane is to make it soft. We jump before we stomp in a rhythmic manner. It does not matter how much we weigh. Safety is the key.
   
Q3:
What do you think is the biggest difference in drum making between Taiwan and China?
A3:
There is not much difference in the tradition of the craftsmanship. Skills are important but work attitude matters the most.
   
Q4:
You became the master in drum making from a stranger to this folk art. What made you jump into this business?

A4:

I knew nothing in the beginning but I learned gradually. I believe that persistence will lead to success. When I tried to cut the leather for the first time, I paired off the whole piece. It looks easy but it is not. Although it seemed like an uphill battle, I knew that I could make it if I tried.

   
Q5:
Does U-Theatre have particular requirements?
A5:
Actually my clients tend not to demand much, but I always think in what kind of drum sound does this group require. I design the vibrations they need. U-Theatre produces solid and powerful drum beats, but they also practice Zen. It is important that they perform empowering but not noisy drum notes.
   
Q6:
What are the determinants to the sound quality of drums?
A6:
Drums do not inspire just because they are made in the traditional way. The drum making techniques are the key. It is important to select dry wooden pieces. I always feel that work attitude matters more than skills. For example, it takes two to three years to dry the wood properly, but you use the six-month dried wood to make the shell. The wood will crack in a few years and the leather will be affected. The drum beats will sound muffled and dead.
   
Q7:
Does Xiang Ren He Drum Workshop process drums differently for overseas clients by taking into account the temperature and humidity in foreign countries?
A7:
The best humidity for drums is 60%. Good drums are made with skills and work attitude. Humidity alone is not a key factor. I have been studying three things: the effects of humidity on the membrane, the use of non-animal hides and music therapy with drum beats.
   
Q8:
What does it take to become a professional drum maker? How can we pass on this heritage?
A8:
It is necessary to learn to become a carpenter, an ironsmith and a leather worker. All these three skillsets and a good work attitude are the prerequisites to the making of good drums. We give training to young people so that they see potential in this trade. We design a troupe of drums in the temple or facilitate group practices in drumming so that people love drums. This creates business opportunities and attracts youngsters to learn about drum making.
   
Q9:
What do you try to convey to the public with the establishment of is your message to the Xiangrenhe Drum Museum? Which drum is your favorite?
A9:
People cared about business reputation in the past. The drums from Xiangrenhe Drum Workshop can last ten years. If the drums become damaged within the ten years, we take care of the repairmen. This demonstrates the persistence and dedication of a drum-making master. My favorite drum in the collection is the big drum crafted by my father. It is 71 years old.
   

   

Conclusions


Conclusions with Mr. Wang

We learned about Mr. Wang’s commitment and passion for drum making. His devotion and persistence give life to the drums he makes. There are no gains without pains in any profession. We believe that unwavering tenacity and relentless efforts will enable us to pass on the heritage of drum making as a folk art.

Photo credit: Thunder King of Drums