city noise no. 6: massanutten regional library with jmu steel drum band.

“You don’t look like hell.” Those were Brandy’s words to me when we met at the library on a recent Saturday. Ha.

That’s okay—it’s compliment enough for me. I’ll take it. Then she made me search her bangs for the one strand of hair that had flopped over her part. I couldn’t find it. I didn’t have my glasses.

On this day, we were at the Massanutten Regional Library to (check out forty pounds of books and) see the James Madison University Steel Drum Band perform. The event was organized by MRL’s Clare Eakin, who serves as the Youth Services Coordinator and has an awesome haircut. Brandy and I took the kids (this time we both had our kids with us) into the meeting room and sat in some chairs that had been arranged in a semicircle. The kids plopped on the floor, and as other kids arrived, they started making cute conversation, such as “What are your guys’s names?” “I like your shirt,” and “Smell my hand.”

The JMU Steel Drum Band, comprised of six female and four male students, is led by Michael Overman, who before starting the concert, gave the kids some steel drum history. He asked the group, “Where do steel drums come from?” and one kid shouted, “Trash cans!” (Actually, he explained, they are oil barrels.) Alas, he was really asking a geographical question, so he tried again: “Where in the world were steel drums first made?” Another kid answered, “A factory!” Ha! I LOVE that kid. (Really, it’s Trinidad.) Anyway, then he talked about the hammers and pounding and dents required to make the instrument, and he explained that the steel drum is the only instrument which, when you hit it, vibrates as a whole—the entire drum contributes to the sound.

Then he went back further, before the steel drum, and talked about the primitive instruments of an oppressed culture—how they were not allowed to possess instruments, so they made what they could, usually bamboo sticks they’d beat against various surfaces… but that they also used the sticks for “nefarious purposes,” often sharpening the ends of their “instruments” (you have to picture Michael’s air-quotes here), like Roger in Lord of the Flies. It’s all fun and dancing until someone sharpens his bamboo stick….

Anyway, the bamboo sticks evolved into biscuit tins and then, at the end of WWII, oil barrels left behind at the base in Trinidad. Cool, huh?

So they played several numbers. The first was called “Steel Drum Paradise,” and this adorable kid in an orange shirt started breakdancing. I LOVE that kid. The kids kept on wiggling through “Zombie Jamboree”–they must have happy zombies in Trinidad because the tune was NOT scary at all. Next was “Island in the Sun,” which Michael said would sound familiar if we were Harry Belafonte fans. Well, I had to research that, and sure enough, click here.

Everyone loved it when they played “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”–the kids danced, the grown-ups sang…. Brandy asked her daughter, “Would it embarrass you if I got up and started dancing?” Ella shook her head “no,” but inside she was, “HELL, YES.” Brandy refrained. At this point I was longing for flip flops and a drink that’s served in a coconut, and I thought if I ever have another, ahem, “big event” in my life, I’d hire these people so they could play “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” all night.

The fifth number was “Everybody Loves a Saturday Night” (yes), which we all sang once we learned the lyrics, and you know? You have to sing really loudly to hear yourself over those drums.

Between songs, the instructor let the children walk through and touch the drums, except for the one kid who was asleep. Who falls asleep during a steel drum performance? That kid. I LOVE that kid. Anyway, the kids had a chance to play the drums and interact with the musicians, which they loved.

Kudos to Clare Eakin for another great kids’ event at the library (we’ve also attended events involving horses and llamas). Click here to see more about children’s activities at the library. And many thanks to Michael Overman and his steel drum band for their educational performance. You can find a schedule of performances by the JMU percussion ensemble here. Be sure to catch them before the semester ends!