NEW BRITAIN - A steel drum performance was an exciting summer treat for a large crowd at the New Britain Museum of American Art Sunday.
It was also an unusual and enjoyable experience for the musicians themselves, who typically perform classical scores. A quintet from the New Britain Symphony Orchestra wearing tropical shirts swung along to the Caribbean sounds of their instruments.
Percussionist James Walker invited members of the audience to get up and dance if the vibes compelled them.
“This is not Vivaldi,” he said with a laugh. “You are allowed to get up from your chairs.”
Kaitlyn Stewart was the first to do so, swinging her hips and spinning to the sounds of “Soca Evelyn,” a song from Trinidad.
“This is just amazing,” said the Atlanta resident, who was visiting relatives in the area.
She was thrilled to hear the steel drums Sunday, as part of the museum’s Sunday Music Series.
“My uncle is Jamaican,” Stewart exclaimed. “All the songs are so lively. It sounds very communal and uplifting. I just couldn’t stay in my seat.”
An older woman from the crowd joined her dancing and the pair twirled happily for a few minutes before returning to their seats.
The musicians provided insight on the music between songs.
Walker explained that the drums were made from recycled 55-gallon oil barrels, hammered into a bowl shape. Each note comes from a separate indentation.
“It’s the size and shape of the grooves that gives the pitch and tone,” he said.
Questions were answered and people invited to come up and take a closer look at the instruments after the performance.
“If you’re a classically trained percussionist, you do end up playing in ethnic ensembles from time to time,” pointed out Christopher Swist, the symphony’s principal percussionist.
He played a bass drum set as two fellow orchestra members played the steel variety in front of him.
“This is a good source of work for us in the summertime, when people like hearing Caribbean music,” Swist added.
NBSO Secretary Cynthia Carlson and immediate Past President Nancy Judd sat in the back row.
“Our mini concert series offers six or seven events each year,” Judd said. “It’s a way to introduce people to the symphony.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.