Three high school steel drum bands join for annual concert

Three high school steel drum bands join for annual concert tonight @hcpss_wlhs

Wilde Lake High School's Steel Drum Panorama will have the audience closing their eyes and traveling to the islands on Feb. 14.

The Steel Drum Panorama features the school's steel drum band along with bands from Centennial and Howard high schools for an evening that will be a "wonderful island experience," according to organizers.

"At the concert with everybody's drums on stage at the same time, it is a fantastic thing to see," said Lou Dutrow, band director at Wilde Lake High School. "They all wear floral shirts. It is very 'islandy.'"

Wilde Lake High School's steel drum band formed seven years ago, when the school inherited a set of steel drums from another school. It had been a dream of Dutrow's to start a steel drum band since taking a summer class years before.

"I always thought it would be a great idea," Dutrow said. "A lot of schools in Baltimore County have steel drums. I'm trying to get more exposure to steel drum playing across Howard County."

Made from 55-gallon barrels, steel drums are cut to different sizes to create distinct sounds. A basic set includes several types of steel drums, or pans, including lead, guitar and bass drums, Dutrow said. All are needed to create the unique sound of a steel drum band.

"You have to have all of them," Dutrow said. "It is not an inexpensive thing to do."

A basic steel drum set can cost between $10,000 and $12,000, Dutrow said. After that initial expense, the drums have to be tuned once a year by a professional. Fortunately, an expert tuner and maker of steel drums — Ellie Mannette — is located near Morgantown, W.Va., Dutrow said.

Howard and Centennial both have drums made by Mannette's company, Dutrow said.

"Each year, a Mannette tuner comes," Dutrow said. "He goes from school to school. It is kind of cool."

The cost of the drums limits the number of students in the steel drum band. When Caroline Boone, 17, joined the group her freshman year at Wilde Lake, there were seven members. With the purchase of another steel drum set, the group grew to 11 members.

"It is a much fuller sound," Boone said.

Now a senior, Boone says the group has grown in its ability to play steel drum music, too.

"Some of the songs we play now I wouldn't have dreamed of playing my freshman year," Boone said. "Your first couple years, you're still in the learning process. It is a little confusing at first."

"Playing a steel drum is like nothing else you've ever done," Dutrow said. "It is all about learning and memorizing where notes are in your pan."

Some pans may have only six notes, Boone said, while others have 20.

"The biggest difference is learning where all the notes are. You need to know where your hands go," said Boone, who is a percussionist. "Once you get the hang of it, it gets easier."

Wilde Lake's steel drum band practices together once a week after school. Students in the group are all members of school ensembles as well, though not all are percussionists.

"We have a bassoon player, an alto sax player, a trumpet player, an oboe player and a string bass player who plays the bass drum," Dutrow said. "They are very motivated."

All of the student performers are welcome to practice on their own, Dutrow said, whether it is during the school day or after school.

"I try to keep the music at a level to be successful," Dutrow said. "These last two years have been really great ones."

Dutrow would love to see his group grow even larger, but he is limited in space.

"I have no more room to store the drums," Dutrow said. "It is never a problem to get kids to want to do this. It's finding the instruments for everyone."

With Centennial starting a steel drum band last year and Howard this winter, Dutrow is excited to see what the future holds.

"It has been a great privilege to have [a steel drum band]," Dutrow said. "We've gotten other schools interested. We want to let people know here is another musical opportunity."

HoCo Steel Drum Panorama is Tuesday, will take place on Feb. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the Jim Rouse Theatre, Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Admission is free. For more information call 410-313-6965.

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