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A band without a budget

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A band without a budget

Ann Bailey

Ann Bailey

Ann Bailey

By Ann Bailey, Summerville High School

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In early 20th Century Trinidad, slaves of the Spanish and French used music as a form of expression and communication. It was around this time that it was discovered that dents in steel produce distinct musical tones, and from that discovery, steel drums were born. African rhythms derived from slave music would soon be heard from the new instruments. It wouldn’t be until the 1940’s and 50’s that the instrument would be refined with deliberate tuning and precise construction. Now, the contemporary art form is a Summerville High School class, but with a catch: there is no district budget.

“I think because we’re a fairly young program compared to band and football and stuff, we don’t get very much recognition,” Andrew Padgett, a senior and a member of the school’s advanced band, explained. “In the future… hopefully more people will know who we are and we’ll actually receive a budget from the school.”

Illustrating the program’s financial situation is its use of Padgett’s amplifier. He has to bring his personal equipment to and from school each week for bass guitar because their original no longer works.

Despite the program’s money situation being different from other programs, the work they put in is just the same. Padgett has been playing steel drums since he was in seventh grade, making his senior year his sixth year of playing. He performs bass guitar and bass drums (referred to as six bass) with the band.

“There is a lot of repetition of the more challenging parts at varying tempos to ensure we really know our parts…Sections where we play many notes very quickly can get challenging and dizzy,” Padgett described, referring to the movements required of six bass players who must swivel between different drums at precise intervals to properly play along. The band plays the same songs over many times to attain perfection, just like marching band going over steps or football practicing plays. However, practice is not the program’s only challenge.

“It’s not natural for most high school students to show emotion when performing. In steel band, the musicians are expected to express the music through movement. Getting students to come out of their shells and perform can be challenging” John Willmarth, steel drums teacher, explained.

A steel pan player since high school, Willmarth has experienced the challenges and rewards firsthand. He illustrated that although performing can sometimes be a challenge, it is also one of the many benefits of the music style is performing.

“Performing is a blast! It’s why we do what we do—to share our art form with the world. Music has the ability to impact people emotionally. It can make you laugh, cry, and experience life on a level that cannot be expressed in words” said Willmarth.

The group’s practice and willingness to open up onstage has lead to two Superior Ratings at the South Carolina Day of Percussion Steel Band Festival and a third place award at PanFest in Virginia Beach. Steel drums has also gained recognition within the school over time.

“I’m very thankful that we have administrators at the high school and district level that support this program as well as the other diverse arts programs that are offered in DD2” Willmarth voiced his gratitude for the district’s support of the arts.

In addition to yielding school support and competitive awards, the program has performed at community events and venues such as Third Thursday, Coastal Coffee Roasters, The Flowertown Festival, The Summerville Kitchen Tour, Second Sunday, and a River Dogs game.

“We play many styles like calypso, soca, and rock…I get to show people what we’ve learned and be proud of the skills I have. It’s just really fun” Padgett elaborated.

Despite lack of space in the classroom, an absence of a budget, and the need to use student equipment, the program has flourished since its beginning in 2010. Some programs, especially new ones, do not receive budgets because older and more prestigious programs take precedence. However, Willmarth disclosed that he is thankful for his superiors and the support from the school that has presented itself in other forms besides money.

Nevertheless, funds are still a necessity, so the band uses a GoFundMe page, sells CD’s, hosts raffles, and gathers donations from their admirers in the community. Willmarth and his students find their lack of a budget to be an opportunity instead of a disadvantage.

Read the original story here.

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