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Profile: Chris Bertin

by Leslie E. Sprague

Chris Burtin

I think anybody can do it. You just have to have a drum that's your own and spend time with it, you form a relationship with the drum," says twenty-four year old Chris Bertin of Summerside of his passion for Hand Drums and drum-making. "It's kind of like it's a trinity. There's the wood and then there's the skin. So, it's the tree and then it's the animal and then it's you and it all comes together. It's like three aspects of nature. I find there's the voice of the animal in the skin. If you touch it certain ways you can hear it talk. It might sound kind of hokey but I think there's a lot to it."

Herein lies Bertins' conflict. He is vegetarian. "I've considered synthetic skins but it's not the same. They don't have the right sound." Most of his deer hide comers from natives who have hunted the animals for food. One of his favorite drums used the hide of a deer killed on the road. Reflectively he says, " I Could never part with that drum, it has a beautiful voice to it."

To get closer to his art Chris wants to learn how to process the skin right off the animal. "It will be a gruesome thing but, I want to go through this once so I can really understand what's involved. Mabe then I won't want to use deer hide anymore."

Bertin started making drums during a trip last year with his friend Megan Aho. They circled North America, spending two months backpacking from Prince Edward Island to Vancouver Island where they bought a $600 Chevy van and drove 20,000 km down the west coast through California and Mexico then back up the east coast to Prince Edward Island.

While helping to set up a drum-making program for street kids in Victoria, B.C., Bertin experimented with shapes and sizes until he found the best balance of sounds. "We figured out the math first, then went to a table saw and tried one and it worked so we kept making them that way." He makes it sound easy, but two years of engineering at Mount Allison probably helped him figure out the formulas for the width of each piece and the cutting angles.

"I taught myself. I've always been good with my hands so I decided to dive in and give it a try. I didn't have any books. I just start out with a pile of wood and some cord and a piece of skin. I bend the metal rings and do all the lacing and woodworking myself. I feel good about it, because I made that whole drum. It's a good feeling."

Bertin puts in a lot of extra time to make the finish as perfect as possible. "It's not so much a business for me. I like to make them and I like to provide music for people." He really enjoys it when people join in or ask questions while he is showing his wares. "I want to introduce [people] to how good they can feel just by playing a drum. Especially those who lead a hectic life. It helps you take control of your rhythm. I find I learn the most when I play for extended periods of time, I find I make huge steps forward in body and mind and it's nice."

"My goal is to learn as much as I can about playing drums and making them and then to some day have a huge garden of percussion instruments and be able to bring people together who might be interested in playing drums but don't have access to them and have huge drum circles to introduce as many people as possible to magic."

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