POINT PLEASANT — Far from the Island of Trinidad, steel drums have migrated across the globe, landing in places like Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School where students are filling the hallways with island beats.
Junior high students in Jeff Hilbert’s steel drums class have become so proficient, they’ve been invited to play at today’s West Virginia Music Educator’s Association Conference in Morgantown. The group of eight students is one of only two junior high groups invited to perform.
Hilbert’s students earned the right to play at the conference by receiving a superior rating at a recent solo and ensemble event in Huntington. Making the trek today are students Jayla Arnold, Alexis Thomas, Darrian Walker, Kelly Belcher, Jamin Layton, Cheyenne Fultz, Kyra Riffle and Jordan Muncy.
The seventh and eighth graders will be among older musicians chosen for the event from places like Clay County High School, Capital High School, Parkersburg South High School, Bridgeport High School, George Washington High School, Brooke High School, John Marshall High School, and Cabell Midland High School. Needless to say, being chosen for the exclusive event is quite the accomplishment for such a young group of musicians.
Hilbert said the music program at PPJ/SHS has offered steel drums for several years.
The instrument is said to trace its roots back to African slaves who were placed on Trinidad by the Spanish and French. With so many of the slaves separated from their families, they lost their native languages but music (and the knowledge of how to make it) maintained the link to Africa. The first drums made of steel were likely fashioned out of whatever was available and metallic, like tin pans. Eventually the drums were constructed out of 55-gallon barrels which were sunk down with precision in an attempt to achieve the perfect pitch.