York lecturer and student creates traditional Caymanian instruments

It’s amazing what a pail, drywall corner reinforcements and a few nails can be made into and it has nothing to do with buildings. In fact, Paul Ormandy, a lecturer in York’s Department of Music, is using these everyday items he sourced from his local hardware store to make traditional reconstructed Caymanian musical instruments.

Left: The finished Caymanian traditional drum and grater made by Paul Ormandy in his home workshop

It’s true he has some musical instrument design experience already tucked into his back pocket, but this takes instrument-making to a different level. So far, Ormandy has made several Caymanian drums and graters, which he has sent to the Cayman National Cultural Foundation (CNCF) and the University College of the Cayman Islands (UCCI) after receiving requests by them.

“The idea was to replicate the ‘homemade’ flavour that was common in Caymanian-style drum and grater construction in the past,” says Ormandy, a PhD candidate in York’s ethnomusicology program as well as a professional musician.

To that extent, Ormandy starts with a steel pail that once held epoxy resin to provide the basis for the drum. He removes the handles and base, forms hooks from nails, and rims the top and bottom with the drywall reinforcements.

“The other instrument pictured is actually a replication of a homemade coconut grater (kitchen implement), which doubles as a kind of ‘scratcher’ played with a dinner fork,” says Ormandy. “It was made of a piece of stove pipe material (galvanized tin) and each hole was individually punched with a hammer and sharpened nail used for concrete.”

Right: A grater in the works

The first thing Henry Muttoo, artistic director of the CNCF, did when the drum arrived was to take it to Aunt Julia Hydes so she could christen it with her playing. At 101, she is the Caymen Islands’ oldest living traditional-style drummer, singer and composer, and luckily for Ormandy, she quite liked the drum he made. The grater, still a bit sharp, will be given to a woman who makes and sells cassava cakes. She will grate cassava and coconut with it for a couple of weeks to take the edge off its teeth as in the old days, the musician would have grabbed the used grater hanging in the kitchen.

“The homemade drum, grater and maracas are the most common percussion instruments found in Caymanian traditional music. Maracas are readily available commercially so I focused on the construction of the drum and grater,” says Ormandy, who came across examples of traditional Caymanian instruments while doing research for his master’s degree in the Cayman Islands. “These are not available commercially, so replication/reconstruction is necessary.”

Left: Paul Ormandy making the rim for the Caymanian traditional drum

Although he says he did cheat a little, using power tools to speed up the process, he was cognizant that anything he did could be replicated using simple hand tools.

The CNCF and UCCI are planning to form a folkloric chorus/traditional music ensemble this fall using Ormandy’s instruments. Little did he know when he started his research in the Cayman Islands that he would support a resurgence of the islands’ traditional music through his research, design, construction and donation of musical instruments built at his home in Toronto.

Caymanians, as Ormandy discovered, have a unique style of drumming found in music developed during a period of isolation and not found elsewhere.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer