MONARCH — The only steel drum band in the Union County School District not only helps its members develop their musical skills, it also helps them improve academically, particularly in math.
“The Steel Blues Band” at Monarch Elementary School is the only steel drum band in the district and was established as a result of a suggestion by Principal Anita Maness who said she was inspired to do so by her experience at another school.
“We had one at the other school I was principal at,” Maness said. “The children became so involved and we were invited to perform at other fine arts festivals such as the Francis Marion University arts festival.”
Maness suggested her idea to Charis Murphy, the school’s music teacher, who began by doing research on what it would take to establish a steel drum band.
“I began doing some research and I have always loved the sound of Caribbean music,” Murphy said. “I started doing the research and I got in contact with a man named Kent Arnsberger, a professional steel drum player. He’s done several albums and CDs and he’s also part of a company that makes and sells steel drums. He helps schools that want to start steel drum bands and he helped us get a discount for our steel drums.”
With the discount Arnsberger helped secure for the school, its PTO was able to acquire nine steel drums and the materials that went with the drums, allowing MES to start The Steel Blues Band. The band, which started at the beginning of the current school year, has 16 members, including eight fourth grade students and eight fifth grade students. Membership, however, is contingent not only upon a student’s interest in and willingness to commit to the band, but also their behavior in school and the support of their parents.
“To join the band they had to show an interest and make a commitment to keep up their grades and maintain good behavior throughout the year,” Murphy said. “Their parents also had to sign a commitment to have them here each week at 7:30 in the morning for practice and be present at all performances. We’ve had great parent support. They are so excited to see their children involved. We couldn’t have done it without them, without the support of our PTO.”
While keeping their grades up is a requirement for membership in the band, Murphy said participation is helping the band members do that.
“The one thing about kids is that they love rhythm,” Murphy said. “You can hook them on rhythm and before too long they’re reading music. They’re also strengthening their necessary skills in the classroom and studies have shown that music helps students’ test scores.”
One area that learning and playing music has an especially strong impact on is mathematics.
“The connection between music and math is huge,” Murphy said. “Music stimulates the side of the brain that controls problem solving, logic, and reasoning which are critical skills for mathematical development.”
Since it was established, the band has performed during awards programs at the school and has also performed for the Union County School Board. The band performs only Caribbean music and during a Christmas singalong performed traditional Christmas songs in the Caribbean style.
The band will perform April 16 at the MES fine arts night which will begin with an art walk at 5:30 p.m. followed by performances by the steel drum band and and the Monarch Elementary Singers beginning at 6 p.m. The band has also been invited to perform for the Delta Kappa Gamma meeting at 6 p.m. May 6 in the MES cafeteria.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.