#51: Prose- Empty Steel Drums Make A Lot Of Noise

In my more contemplative years, I learned of the phrase “empty drums made a lot of noise”. Deaf, I was at the time, a bit too young to understand but I still hear it now.

Those solemn words still echo through the chambers of my memory. Sometimes they’d take the voice of Mr Manjawi, our music teacher, or Mr Mbuge our Deputy Principle. Other times it was Mrs Panapan or Ms Moghara. Never Mr Topal or Mr Nonu though, Rest In Peace.

As teachers, they must have heard those drums louder then I did though. Or maybe just another sound. I hope it was the latter.

Because I imagined the beating of a 40 gallon steel drum sounding like a room full of hormonal horny teenagers after recess on Friday when we knew senior sports was just around the corner. A caucophonous percussion ensemble with no regard for time or tempo.

That was until I ‘escaped’ from sports to seek refuge in the cool air conditioning of our library. Bidding to look busy, I opened up of the Britannica Encyclopedia book number 18. They stood regal on the back shelf lining the back wall of the extension to the library that was built over the old hall. We watched The Lion King on VCR in the old Library, we did. That was in Prep with Mrs Roai. Rest In Peace.

That, is a trivial piece of historical fact that I remember to place me in a time before the pink buildings, the massive quad, the waterpiece and the rotunda.

But, it was in the back of that small library when I first heard the percussion symphony of steelpan drums leaping loudly off of thin pages, I slammed the book shut coaxing Ms Rose, the assistant librarian, to peer over in annoyance. She would have to start her minesweep game again.

She kicked me out. But not before I learned that empty drums could be made into steelpan drums. And they came from Trinidad and Tobago and those people make time to find the tempo: to craft noise into music. And I heard words tell that to me in a symphony written out in Arial .5 font on too many pages.

Still I ponder what that phrase means today. But not because of the noise it made to their ears- but of the sounds it could have made if they only knew what to make of empty steel drums.

– Hans Lee

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