While we were up in Auckland for Taikofest we had the opportunity to take two taiko drums to their original maker, Brian Grove from Tamashii Taiko, to get the skins replaced. One skin had been scheduled for repair for some time as it had warped and turned flabby. The other drumskin had broken a week prior when hit during practice, earning one team member the nickname “The Drumbreaker”! Luckily Brian had two skins available to repair them with, so Jessie and Joseph drove both taiko up to Auckland and I joined them on Sunday to learn how to reskin them.
Brian had already prepared the skins so that they were ready to go on, but he did talk us through the process. The skins arrive dried from the tannery, and he then soaks the skins for a few days in a big tub of water and bleach. Holes are punched around the edges of the wet skin and bolts threaded through so that there is something to attach ropes to later to pull the skins into shape. This forms the mimi, or ears, that are often left on the edges of the skins on Japanese-made taiko. The skin is then placed on top of something slightly larger in diameter than your drum barrel, in this case a pot plant container. Sat on top of a purpose-built platform, ropes are wound around the bolts to pull the skin down into shape and then the platform is raised with a jack to pull the skin taut. The skin is then allowed to dry into the right shape, and left until you’re ready to skin the taiko.
To reskin the taiko we started by prying the byou (tacks) out of the old skins, a time consuming process of first loosening them with a chisel and then pulling them out with a hammer. The old skin was then lifted off, the holes from the tacks plugged with matchsticks and glue, everything sanded down and waxed with a bit of old candle. We had a bit of a break while the glue dried, and it was great to chat to Brian and his wife Sayuri. Brian was one of the founders of Tamashii Taiko back in 2007, has built all of the team’s drums, and now focuses on playing the shamisen. Brian and Sayuri gave a wonderful shamisen performance during the TaikoFest concert and had taught one of our team members in a shamisen workshop that morning.
Then came the fun part! We placed the pre-shaped skin, which had been soaked through in preparation, on top of the drum on the wooden platform. Brian threaded a rope around the bolts in the edges of the skin and down around the base of the wooden platform, and started pumping the carjack to raise the top of the platform as far as was possible, stretching the skin. Jessie then climbed up and jumped up and down on the skin to stretch it further, Brian hammered the bolts down further and tightened it with the jack again, and then it was my turn to jump on the skin! After trying to treat Jessie’s hard-earned taiko respectfully and not do anything that might damage them while playing, it is hard to feel comfortable pounding on them with your feet, but it is quite fun! We repeated this a few times until the skin was really tight and resonating well, and then Brian marked a line around the edge for us to nail the tacks in place. This bit is harder than it looks, the wood is quite tough to nail into and more than a few tacks went flying! The mimi (ears formed where the bolts were placed) and the excess skin was then cut off, and voila, you have a newly skinned taiko!
It was really interesting to learn how taiko is made. I feel like I’ve gained a new sense of respect for our team’s taiko and the effort that goes into making them, and a greater understanding of the spirit of taiko. I hope I have the opportunity to skin drums again soon. Thank you Jessie and Joseph for letting me accompany you and Brian for being so welcoming
and sharing his art with us!