Georgia man builds 9-foot drum for Mizzou

Gordon College music instructor Neil Boumpani tunes “Big Mo,” the name given to what he calls the largest bass drum ever manufactured in the United States. Built by Boumpani, at 9 feet in diameter, the instrument is an 800-pound gorilla that will soon take the field with the Tigers and Marching Mizzou at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Gordon College music instructor Neil Boumpani tunes “Big Mo,” the name given to what he calls the largest bass drum ever manufactured in the United States. Built by Boumpani, at 9 feet in diameter, the instrument is an 800-pound gorilla that will soon take the field with the Tigers and Marching Mizzou at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Photo by The Associated Press.

BARNESVILLE, Ga. (AP) — Last fall, the Southeastern Conference announced something that, in these parts anyway, amounted to a seismic shift. The sports league said it was expanding, inviting two schools to join the fold.

One of them, however, the University of Missouri, stands to make the most noise.

Think sonic boom.

Mizzou is about to get a bass drum the size of a hotel hot tub.

The 9-foot-tall, 800-plus-pound instrument, thought to be the largest in the country, was built at a Barnesville machine shop by a Gordon College music instructor. It took him four months.

The builder, Neil Boumpani, his last name befitting of a percussionist, got a call last winter from a fraternity at Missouri. The school already had a 6-foot bass drum named “Big MO,” but it wanted more “MO” to bang on at home football games.

Prominent drum companies turned them down. They found Boumpani on the Internet and saw he was a custom drum maker.

“We want a 9-foot base drum,” they told Boumpani, who said, “Whoa,” and then, “Let me think about it.”

Boumpani, 55, a New Jersey native who directed the marching and pep bands at Duke University from 1987 until 2005, figured, “why not?” Some of his mentors had told him long ago, “If you want to make a statement, take a job other people don’t want and do something with it.”

Purdue and Texas Tech have 8-foot drums, but as far as Boumpani knows, the only one larger is a 10-footer in China.

Could he conceivably build one even bigger? “Yes,” he said. “Do I want to? No, not right now.”

Boumpani’s creation, which has cost close to $50,000 to make, has a fiberglass shell that was made from a custom mold in Alabama. An auto-body shop in Griffin later painted it metallic-black.

The plastic, 108-inch drum heads on either side cost $1,500 apiece. They’re the largest made.

Boumpani said that when Purdue built its 8-footer decades ago, plastic wasn’t an option.

“They had to use cow skin,” he said. “And stretching a cowhide 8 feet at the time was unheard of. ... They had to fatten the cows up.”

At first, he thought he’d build “Big MO” in his garage.

“I didn’t realize it was going to weigh close to half a ton,” said Boumpani, who had to move the project into a machine-shop warehouse for more room.

So, what happens if a football player somehow plows into it?

“He would bounce off, probably,” Boumpani said.

He plans to ship the drum to Missouri soon. But not before he records its low boom to remember it by.

Even so, Boumpani said, “This is not something you make for sound. It’s more to make noise and aggravate the other team.”

Which is something he knows a little about.

In his 18 years at Duke, the pep band was famous for its subversive antics.

Boumpani once composed an arrangement with the Blue Devils’ rival, North Carolina, in mind — an out-of-tune version of the Tar Heels’ fight song.

“I don’t know if they caught on,” he said. “We did it a couple of times.”

Chances are, Boumpani’s bigger “Big MO” and its thump will grate the eardrums and nerves of Missouri foes’ for years to come.

“I hope so,” he said.

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