Steel Drums 1

Students who are part of the Elgin High School Calypso band prepare Tuesday during class for The Observer's upcoming Holiday Music Festival at Eastern Oregon University.

ELGIN — The sounds of Trinidad and Tobago can be heard in the Elgin High School’s music room as the Calypso band prepares for its winter concert. As special guests at the Observer’s 28th Annual Holiday Music Festival the first weekend in December, the EHS students will show off their talents on the steel drums.

The band began two years ago when the music teacher for Elgin’s third- through 12th-grade students, Tucker Murphey, founded a group of youth interested in that style of percussion. What started with grade school classroom instruments and a small xylophone is now a full steel drum ensemble with various sizes of steelpans and drums to create the sounds of the Caribbean. The school district invested about $28,000 to purchase the collection of instruments last year.

“(The district) could see the progress of the program and what we were doing without the instruments,” Murphey said. “They were excited to have something unique that no other school district has, and the school board had faith in me.”

Elgin High School is the only high school in the state with a Calypso band. For some students, this was one of the reasons they joined. While many students had previous music experience, the steel drums offered a new kind of sound and an opportunity to learn something new.

Senior Dawson Larman said he has been part of the Calypso band since it began because he wanted to be part of the new improvements that are going on at the school.

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Elgin High School students will perform holiday music in Caribbean style as part of The Observer's Holiday Music Festival the first weekend of December at Eastern Oregon University.

“My favorite part of the band is that you don’t have to be really skilled to do it, and it’s a really open place to come and learn stuff,” Larman said.

Many of the students said the exciting and uplifting style of music is part of the fun of the group. While traditional bands often focuses on classical music, the students said the songs they play in the Calypso band are more modern and uplifting.

“I can come in here, and even if I am having the worst day, this type of music is so upbeat, it just brings my mood up,” senior Ian Adams said.

Not all of the instruments in the band are steel drums. Senior Kenneth Mattson plays a tradition drum set with the group for the current set of songs. Mattson has played drums for the last six years and has been part of the Calypso band since its first year. He said the different type of rhythm needed for this band’s music is what provides him a new opportunity to learn.

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Students practice playing steelpan drums as a part of the Calypso band, the only steel drum band offered at a public school in Oregon. 

“It can be a challenge, but I really enjoy it,” he said. “Plus it is nice to broaden my horizons.”

Mattson said his favorite moments are when everyone comes together and their sounds blend to make a song.

“Every now and then I look up from my music and realize, this isn’t a recording, this isn’t in a studio, it is live,” the Elgin senior said. “It is pretty amazing when that happens.”

The Elgin Calypso band will perform three numbers independently and accompany the chamber and community choirs for another number during the Dec. 7 and 8 performances at Eastern Oregon University’s McKenzie Theatre. Concert tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors and are available now online at www.eou.edu/music/ and at Red Cross Drug Store and the EOU Bookstore.

Among the selections is an arrangement of “Santa Baby.” According to a news release from Eastern Oregon University, Murphey created his song selection with the intent of representing the holidays while staying true to the feel of the Caribbean.

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