OTTAWA — Ottawa University’s pep band is marching to the beat of a different drum.
But to simply describe the new bass drum as different is a bit of a misnomer.
The handcrafted, rope-tension, wood-shell drum is massive. Standing at 8 feet tall, the monster percussion instrument is not only the largest, but the only collegiate drum of its kind in the nation.
The idea for the new bass drum was sparked after OU President Reggies Wenyika saw a similar drum while attending a football game. Eventually last spring, Wenyika spoke with Kevin Maret, the university’s director of bands, about the idea of having a huge, custom-made drum for the university. Maret took it from there.
“I was excited about the idea, and felt it would be a great way to make the game experience better,” he said. “And (I) wanted to help create a new tradition at OU.”
After finding only a handful of U.S. drum makers willing and able to take on a project of that caliber, Maret reached out. After explaining what officials envisioned, Maret had several conversations back and forth with crafters describing what they could build. That’s when Maret found Bill Whitney, owner of Calderwood Percussion, a small, custom musical instrument company in Boston.
“Bill talked with some shipbuilder friends about how to make such a large drum,” he said. “Bill has a great reputation as a creative drum maker and ended up with the winning design. Throughout the summer, ideas on head design and the specifics of the color of the drum were discussed. A special large bass drum mallet had to be made for this as well.”
After eventually agreeing on a design details, Whitney said it took three to four months to construct the massive drum. Its shell measures 36 inches deep by 90 inches in diameter. With the hoops, the drum stands 8 feet tall. Counting the trailer the drum is mounted on, its height grows to nearly 10 feet tall.
“This is, by far, the largest drum we’ve ever built,” Whitney said.
Once the drum was built, and the logistics figured out, Whitney and his parents made the journey from Boston. After four days on the road, they arrived in Ottawa on Oct. 30.
“My parents, who very much enjoy road trips, drove the instrument 1,560 miles from Boston to Kansas,” he said. “I flew to meet them, as I couldn't afford taking a full week away from the shop. We did a bunch of modifications to a utility trailer for the drum to fit inside, then, after delivering the drum, totally dismantled it so the drive home would be much easier.”
The drum, which was unveiled during the final weeks of the Braves’ football season, is expected to become a fixture at athletic and other school events, officials said. The university has also featured its newest addition in several Facebook posts and even a few videos.
“The plan is for the drum to be at other events,” Maret said. “We are working out those details. There are a handful of musical selections that call for a very large drum, but in reality, this is a really cool drum and now part of a new tradition at OU.”