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Band has pan-do spirit
The distinctive sound of steel drums emanates from Seven Springs Middle. The instrument is harder than it looks.
By MICHELE MILLER, Times Staff Writer
Published November 28, 2007
Samuel Beach, 13, an eighth-grader at Seven Springs Middle School, waits along with other members of the Seven Springs Middle School Steel Drum Band before a performance for students at the school recently.
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
Avi Hershkowitz, 13, an eighth-grader at Seven Springs Middle School, performs with the Seven Springs Middle School Steel Drum Band recently. His main instrument is the trumpet.
NEW PORT RICHEY
Some start out with a strong cup of coffee. But for Seven Springs Middle School band director Tom Viking, it's the 8:40 a.m. steel drum class that helps him get into the daily groove. "What a nice way to wake up every morning," Viking said as his 18-member Steel Drum Band gently pounded out a lilting version of Come Monday by Jimmy Buffett.
When it comes to set up for another tune, say, Changes in Latitudes or Blueberry Hill, the students scramble around a bit to find other drums to play, maybe switching to a bass pan or perhaps the trio pans.
"My advice was that they just stay with one pan and learn it. But they wanted to learn all the pans. They're like little bees," Viking said before reminding his students: "Don't play loud - play accurate."
Steel drumming, which has roots in Trinidad, started in a big way this school year at Seven Springs Middle.
In preparation for the class, Viking spent a good part of the summer refurbishing the school's 26 pans, as they are called, sanding them down and painting them canary yellow.
The pans, you see, have been around awhile.
They were bought when the school opened in 1996, Viking said. "Then they sat for about five or six years."
Viking started taking them out for students in his percussion class, who would get about two months of instruction. You may have heard them during the annual Chasco Parade, where the percussion students, dressed in their signature Hawaiian shirts, bang out Jimmy Buffett and the like.
Viking wanted to expose more students to the art of steel drumming, not just those who took percussion.
So this year, he got the go-ahead to offer a steel drum class for eighth-graders.
That piqued the interest of Avi Hershkowitz, 13, whose main instrument is the trumpet, and oboe player Samuel Beach, also 13.
"It's really cool to come to this class," Samuel said. "There's no class like this in any other school."
"It's just, like, fun," said Avi.
Potential steel drummers had to apply and write an essay about why they should be chosen. They also had to be able to read music in order to know when and where to play some of the 29 notes, or "dents," that have been hammered into the faces of the lead pans by their creators.
It takes a lot of practice to learn to play the pans, said Nick Goltz, 13, who also plays the tuba in the school band.
There is somewhat of a pattern to where the notes lay on the concave metal top, but not always.
"After a while you get used to it," Nick said.
It also helps to know when the pans are out of tune - which happens a lot, said Viking, who has to call in a tuner, who comes all the way from Sanford to hammer the pans back in tune.
The Seven Springs Steel Drum Band gets out and about on occasion. It recently performed for students at Seven Springs Elementary during the school Arts Festival.
That kind of performance is a great recruiting tool for the music programs, said Viking, who also takes the school band to area elementary schools.
The drummers will perform at a luncheon at the district office in mid December. After that, there's the Chasco Parade.
Viking hopes to one day take his students to one of the steel drum festivals in Orlando. And he plans to expand the program:
"In the future I envision singers, horns, whatever."
In a time when music and art programs face continuous cuts in schools across the nation, he'd like to keep the enthusiasm for these kinds of programs going.
That shouldn't be a problem, at least when it comes to students like Cori Williams, 13.
The steel drum class is cool, she said. "I just really enjoy coming to this room."
About the steel drum
Played with soft mallets, the drum sounds range from soprano to bass. The lead drum is usually soprano.