Novelist & Playwright  

 How I made my Brummtopp

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I have made a Brummtopp that works.

After the workshop in July I made a trip to Neubergthal to see the Brummtopp in the heritage centre there. Menno Kehler, the famous Leigh-Anne Kehler's father, showed me the instrument and explained how it was made from a wooden apple barrel and the hide of an aborted calf. Unfortunately, he couldn't show me what it sounded like because the horse hair swatch need to be wetted with liquid rosin. He also said it was played horizontally. I did learn enough to think that my prototype was on the right track.

I restretched the hide on my crude model and then shampooed the horsehair. Being impatient I tried playing with the wet horsehair swatch. Sure enough, I did get something like the brumming sound I was after.

After some scouting of home winemaking shops for a barrel, Lionel Ditz at Brewers Direct in Transcona suggested I try this landscaping place on McPhillips that had lots of old stuff and sure enough they had lots of old wooden barrels, so I selected one that had been rented for a movie shoot. I took it out to the cottage where after the barrel dried out, I cut my deerskin drum hide to size, put in grommets, soaked it in water and laced it to the barrel. After the hide dried and stretched somewhat I tried out the horsehair swatch, but nothing much happened--just like the one in Neubergthal. Now Menno Kehler had talked about liquid rosin and such, but I haven't found any yet. But a Wiebe has never been stopped by small obstacles so I wet the horsehair, and sure enough, I got a good brumming going. The problem was that the hair dried out after thirty seconds of rubbing. After much experimenting I hit upon the idea of wetting my hands. This helped to prolong the staying power of the rubbing action (a bit like those diamond-shaped pills the old farts use, I guess).

So my Brummtopp doesn't use the hide of an aborted calf, nor does it use liquid rosin, and my barrel is heavy enough so I can play it upright, which is much sexier anyway, don't you think?

Then Dennis, my friend who knows everything, told me that to get serious rosin on the horsehair I should break it into bits and crush it before applying it. That really extends the playing power of the Brummtopp.

Many thanks to Larry Scanlon and his Canadian horse Dal and to Karon Sackney and her remuda for donating horsetail hair to the cause.