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Published: Friday, 10/7/2005

Crash course: Percussionists and passers-by get lessons in the art and craftsmanship of creating cymbals

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Gordon Sharpe of Addison, Mich, who plays in the band Secret
Weapons, tries some cymbals during the display and demonstration
by the Sabian cymbal-making company at Peeler
Music and Drum Center in Toledo. Gordon Sharpe of Addison, Mich, who plays in the band Secret Weapons, tries some cymbals during the display and demonstration by the Sabian cymbal-making company at Peeler Music and Drum Center in Toledo.
Enlarge

Andrew Stewart stood with arms folded and intensely studied the precise and primitive hand-hammering technique of Allie Cougle as the artisan worked on creating a cymbal.

After donning safety glasses and workman's gloves, Mr. Cougle hammered from the center of an unlathed cymbal to its exterior, creating dotlike indentations with every blow. When he was finished, hundreds of marks made the cymbal look like a polka-dot disc.

A finished cymbal crafted in this ancient Turkish style can have from hundreds to more than 3,000 hammer hits.

"Wanna give it a try?" Mr. Cougle asked the 18-year-old Perrysburg High School senior.

"Just let the hammer drop and bounce off the cymbal," he coached the eager young man.

After a few attempts, Mr. Stewart looked at his uneven indentations and passed the tool back to the master. The young man rubbed his wrist from the heaviness of the hammer, and quickly realized that his seven years as a drummer had not prepared him for a skill that dates back some 5,000 years.

"I've seen videos on this, but real life is really amazing. It was hard to do. This is an art form," said Mr. Stewart, who took up drumming as a child, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

The art and appreciation of cymbal-making, which dates to Biblical times, was the topic for Mr. Stewart, other drummers, and curious passers-by last month as they watched Mr. Cougle and fellow artisan Mark Love hand-hammer and lathe cymbals at the 2005 Sabian Vault Tour at Peeler Music and Drum Center, 2025 South Byrne Rd.

Sabian was founded in 1981 in the village of Meductic, New Brunswick, in eastern Canada. The Sabian name is a combination of company founder Robert Zildjian's children's names: Sally, Billy, and Andy. Sabian's founder hails from a family of well-known cymbal-makers dating to 17th-century Turkey.

On this rainy afternoon, a tarp protected 200 cymbal prototypes of all shapes and sizes on display outside the front doors of the drum center. Stretched out before the percussion enthusiasts were ride, crash, high hat, Chinese, splash, medium, and crash/ride cymbals.

Mr. Love, also a product specialist for Sabian, where he's worked 25 years, says bringing the experience of cymbal-making directly to percussionists showcases the beauty and intricacy of the custom-made works.

"I'm not sure what it is about cymbals, but people are drawn to them," Mr. Love said. "For us as artisans, we have to put all those feelings together to create one-of-a-kind cymbals."

The tune and pitch of the instrument is created by the amount of hammering. Mr. Love says many percussionists prefer their cymbals to produce a unique sound.

"[Jojo] Mayer with the band Nerve wanted a cymbal designed to match the tone of a passing subway train," Mr. Love said. Mayer is a Swiss-born jazz-trained drummer.

Mr. Love said cymbals are traditionally fashioned of bronze alloys. Molten bronze is cooled with water, rolled and shaped, hammered out, and lathed.

"The cold water softens the metal," Mr. Love said.

Percussionist Rico Rosario, 44, a member of ALMA, an area African/Haitian hand drumming and dance group, said his appreciation of the instruments increased after watching artisans at work.

"When I sat down to try to hammer the cymbal, I had studied [the artisan's] technique and, because I hand-slap and hand-hit the drum and cymbals, I thought I could do this, but it's a lot harder than it looks," said Mr. Rosario, also a percussionist for Cornerstone Church, and member of the Toledo Hand Drum Co.

Contact Rhonda B. Sewell at: rsewell@theblade.com

or 419-724-6101.



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