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Look closely at the image above and you will discover a human figure illuminated in the doorway of a steel drum grinding room. The room itself is of concrete block construction and, in total, not much larger than a moderately wealthy person’s walk-in closet. Strewn about inside the cinderblock squares one finds a few choice tools and hand-made construction tables all covered in a chalk-fine dark gray dust, the remains of hard steel dissolved on a grinding wheel. It is within these humble confines that Kevin Martin, the steel-pan-man of Severna Park, MD, conducts his sonic alchemy.

For the past twenty years, Martin has dedicated himself to the difficult art of making steel drums, both traditional as well as “tongue drums.” When Kevin asked me to help him make a set of these tongue drums, I knew I had stumbled upon the opportunity to work closely with a truly skilled artisan instrument maker.

The work is hard and requires a variety of cutting and grinding tools along with a healthy dose of raw force. In the picture above, you can see a tongue drum being prepped for notes. Once I had the drum ready, I would leave the now bald metal dome near the closed door of the grinding room and begin the prep process anew. I never heard the grinding room door open, but the domes inevitably disappeared into that dark room from which emanated the harsh squeal of metal and the lush tones of a newly birthed drum.

The video below gives you a rough estimate of the sound of a tongue drum. Visit Rock Creek Steel Drums for more on Mr. Martin’s passion.

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About The Author

Max is a professional beatboxer and teaching artist. He enjoys teaching and performing for audiences of all ages.