Jun 20, 2012 06:37 AM WV Sound
Keeping a beat in the Mountain State
WVU’s Steel Drum Band Takes On D.C.
You might not expect that tropical sounding steel drum to be part of West Virginia music culture, but West Virginia University is considered the United States’ home of the steel drum. In June 2012, WVU’s 40-member steel drum band will bring that sound to life in front of more than one million people at the Smithsonian’s Annual Folklife Festival.
Every year, the festival is held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This year, WVU was invited to attend in conjunction with the theme, “Campus and Community: Public and Land-Grant Universities and the USDA at 150.” This year’s theme honors the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which allowed the creation of land-grant universities such as WVU. “Each university that was invited sends a piece of itself,” says Chris Nichter, assistant director of the WVU Marching Band and trip coordinator.
The steel drum band, accompanied by the inventor of the steel drum, Elliot “Ellie” Mannette, will represent WVU. “We are proud to send them to Washington as they represent an important part of the university’s art and history,” says Becky Lofstead, assistant vice president of University Communications.
Mannette is known globally as “The Father of the Steel Drum.” As a youngster in Trinidad, he discovered the steel drum by beating on a 55-gallon container, says Kaethe George, his assistant. He was invited to WVU in the early 1990s for a semester-long apprenticeship to teach students how to build and play steel drums. What was meant to be a guest-semester turned into a 20-year relationship called the University Tuning Project, and later, the Mannette Musical Instruments Company. “Mannette established the Steel Drum Program at the university, and I think it’s safe to say WVU expressed a special interest in us and have been a wonderful partner,” she says.
The band will perform each day of the festival, which takes place June 27 to July 1, and again from July 4 to 8, on the National Mall between Seventh and 14th streets. “All events are free, and Mountaineers far and wide are encouraged to attend and show pride in our land-grant university,” says Chris. “We are more than thrilled and privileged to participate in such a prestigious event.”
WVU will have a tent set up so visitors can learn about the history and manufacturing of steel drums—or even try their hand at them. Visitors can learn more about WVU’s Steel Drum Program as well as its’ World Music Center.