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Steel drums soothe busy students with mellow music

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Steel drums soothe busy students with mellow music

FALMOUTH — With the popularity of steel drum bands on the rise, Falmouth High School band director Jim Horwich said he used to hear, "how do we get one started at the high school?"

This year the question was answered with a $10,000 grant from the Falmouth Education Foundation. The money bought seven sets of drums, stands, mallets and music, and it gave students with and without musical experience a chance to jam with an island flair.

"This is probably the most fun music class I've ever taken," junior Josiah Feigleson said. "You can't be sad when you play the steel drums."

Horwich teaches two classes of steel drums, a total of 22 students. Since the school has only the seven sets, some fill in with other percussion instruments. The 55-gallon oil drums are fashioned into instruments by hand, with different notes pounded with precision into the metal. They come in different sizes – the smaller the drum, the higher-pitched the notes.

"The very first time I heard the steel drums, it didn't look like that sound could come out of it," Horwich said. "I've even had people ask me, 'What else is playing?'"

Though students generally master the instrument quickly, it's a bit tougher for some to learn to read music and to play the correct rhythms, he said. A relatively new instrument, the steel drums lend themselves to a variety of musical styles, from island to jazz and even to classical.

And, as senior Ali Coyne said, "It's so much fun. You can sit and relax; talk to cool people while you play."

After developing an interest in music during middle school, junior Carter Milliken decided to take steel drum class to try a new instrument. He described the sound of the steel drums as "exotic" and "different from a lot of other instruments."

Mathieu Naddeo, a junior exchange student from France, said he couldn't speak English and had no idea what he was signing up for.

"I knew nothing about steel drums," he said. But now that he's in the class, he's hooked.

Though senior Luke Barbour admitted he registered for the course because he "needed the art credit," he also discovered he likes it, too.

"I used to play the piano, but stopped in high school because it became so busy for me," Barbour said. "This is a fun way to bring music back."

Their reasons for joining the class may have been different, but their camaraderie, love of the music and desire to throw in a few dance moves while they play reflects a contagious enjoyment of the steel drums that they hope to share with the public during an upcoming performance.

As part of the spring percussion concert in the high school theater at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 14, they will be performing a half-dozen selections, including Jimmy Buffet's classic "Margaritaville." A $5 individual or $10 family donation is suggested to raise money for the Music Department.

"We just get to play fun, happy music," Coyne said.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.