WADSWORTH — Snow was on the ground outside, but the steel drum performance by Akron resident Joe Leaman put a tropical sound in the air at Wadsworth Public Library.
The roughly 45-minute performance by Leaman, 30, served as the first in a series of concerts at the library presented by the Ohio Regional Music Arts and Cultural Outreach this year.
“There will probably be just as much talking, maybe a little bit more than playing, this afternoon and that is because a lot of people may not know a lot about this particular instrument here,” Leaman said during his presentation Sunday.
Leaman said the idea behind the presentation was to provide some background on steel drums and, “how it found its way to tropical Northeast Ohio.”
After playing a tropical-sounding introduction, Leaman explained the birth of the instrument, and how it gained popularity in the years after World War II.
“In the 1940s, a lot was changing, especially in the country of Trinidad,” Leaman said of the Caribbean island.
Leaman said the dual island nation known as Trinidad and Tobago was under British Rule, and a law was imposed that banned traditional drumming on the islands, forcing natives to find alternative ways to play their music.
“These folks they weren’t going to give up their music, so they decided to play their rhythms on other things,” Leaman said.
“So they went to places like the junkyard, they went into the rain forest and cut down stalks of bamboo and would play on bamboo and pieces of junk,” he added.
Leaman said that because the U.S. Navy had had a such a presence in the area, there was a large supply of oil drums. Before long, the drums were fashioned into steel drums for music.
“When the steel bands started to develop, some of the songs they would learn very early on, they wanted to learn songs and play songs that everybody recognized and that people knew,” Leaman said.
Religious songs and melodies were a popular choice at the time, Leaman said before drumming out the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
Leaman said that despite originating so far away from Northeast Ohio, it is a popular instrument in the area, with a strong program offered by the University of Akron.
“You can throw a rock in Northeast Ohio and hit a steel drummer, even if you don’t know it,” he said. “There are so many people here in this area who play.”
ORMACO founder and Executive Director Thomas Sigel said the Sunday program will be a precursor to a performance by the Akron Steel Drum Band on Jan. 23 at the Chippewa High School Auditorium, 100 Valley View Road, Doylestown.
“We are a mostly volunteer nonprofit with the mission of making music, arts and culture accessible for everybody and then we focus on programs for underserved, disadvantaged and rural populations,” Sigel said Sunday. “We started out doing a couple programs a year in Medina County, we are now doing over 75 programs in six counties, so we are pretty proud of what we achieved in the first eight years.”
Sigel said 2019 will be the second full year for the concert series at Wadsworth Public Library. The next library concert will be Feb. 10 featuring violin and cello duets of Duo Mercury.
For information regarding upcoming ORMACO events, visit ormaco.org.