The drummaker's art spans generations
Cochiti Pueblo, N.M. — Although Helen Cordero gained the fame in the family (see accompanying article), her husband, Fernando, has reaped plaudits of his own. For years, he was a leading drummaker at Cochiti Pueblo. He's now retired from the craft, but before backing away, he made sure the tradition was passed to good hands - his foster son, Gabriel Trujillo.
The two men are quite a pair when they're talking drums. Each is an expert, but each has his own style. Fortunately, Mr. Trujillo and his family live just a beat away from the Corderos - around a corner and down a dusty road.
Cochiti has long been lauded for its drums, a crucial element at pueblo religious ceremonies and feast days. Today, the drums also are made for Anglo buyers, who mesh them into their eclectic d'ecor as coffee tables or conversation-piece accessories.
``Mostly I made them for ceremonies,'' says Mr. Cordero, ``and whatever I got for the drums, it was always for the children's sake.''
He places his last drum, a smaller version than usual, on the kitchen table and thumps one end. A low sound laments. ``That's the thicker hide that gives a low tone,'' he explains. Then he points to the drum's other end, where the hide is thinner. ``Not too thin, but thin enough to make a higher tone. During the ceremonial, a drummer knows when to switch to the higher side,'' explains Cordero, who served three times as governor of his pueblo.
Asked to play the drum, he hesitates. Momentarily, he leaves the kitchen, returning with a blue bandana tied in traditional fashion around his head.
With sun-bronzed hands, he begins to beat.
And above the rhythms rises his voice, thinned by the years. He sings a melody, high and haunting, that takes you to places you've never been before, but you're not sure where. Then the music stops. The drummer has drummed.
He beckons you through the back door where he picks up his hoe and idly hacks at straggly weeds as the conversation continues.
Back in the '40s, Cordero bumped along in a horse-drawn wagon, up into the hills to hunt for fallen logs suitable for drums. As time went on, he began taking his foster son, Trujillo, on these three-day junkets. ``During fall and winter I was in school, so he didn't take me with him then,'' says Trujillo, who came to live with his Cordero parents when he was 10.
Now, standing outside his home, Trujillo hammers on a log. ``Hear that low pitch? That's a good one,'' he says. Some logs are rotted too deep in the middle and must be discarded; others have just a bit of rot, and the hollowing-out process becomes much harder. The trick is to pick them just right. And Trujillo can do it.
Dozens of tree trunks pyramid behind him, and hides hang on the clothesline.
Generally, cottonwood and aspen are popular for the small and middle-size drums, while ponderosa is reserved for the biggies. For the drum heads, Trujillo uses deer, elk, buffalo, and cow hides.
Although he makes drums in his backyard, Trujillo hasn't remained in his backyard. He graduated from Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kan., and learned heavy equipment operation outside Chicago. He served as a junior high school coach at Santa Fe Indian School, and is now on the school's dorm staff.
While on a cultural exchange in Japan, Trujillo watched Japanese dancers perform with shields, swords, and drums.
I picked up their rhythms, and I carry them here,'' he say, tapping his forehead. Yes, Trujillo learned his early lessons well. Like his foster father, he has drumbeats in his blood.