Purely Rhythmic creates tropical dream in steel pan performance

Saniya Koppikar, Entertainment Editor

As blue and purple lighting and the majestic swells of Akanksha Subbarao’s arrangement of “Merry-Go-Round of Life” from Howl’s Moving Castle fade onstage, the voices of Coppell Percussion’s seniors envelop Coppell High School Auditorium.

“I think the biggest thing Percussion has taught me is that I don’t have to wait to do the things I want to do,” senior Caleb Brooks said on the recording. “I can choose what I want to get out of this program.”

Coppell Percussion presented its annual Purely Rhythmic show at CHS Auditorium on Saturday, marking an end to a long tradition for the program’s large senior class and a beginning for the percussionists of the Class of 2029. Students begin performing at Purely Rhythmic in sixth grade, united as a class for one piece and as a school for another, then begin to branch off into smaller ensemble pieces in high school. 

This year, the show opened with “Joaquin on Sunshine,” a 14-person strong ensemble piece composed entirely of seniors. As the curtains swept open and the audience fell into a hush, the piece’s mysterious Afro-Cuban-inspired rhythm set the standard for the rest of the night. 

“It didn’t hit me that playing ‘Joaquin on Sunshine’ would be the last time we played as a class until right before the curtains went up,” senior Destiny Wang said. “Before that it felt like any normal rehearsal, and before the show started we were just making jokes backstage. Although our class is really big, we are also really close. It was special that we got to open our last Purely Rhythmic.”

Quickly following was “Escape Route,” performed on the stage left wing. The loud, percussive piece ended with sophomore Insaf Singh’s fist, clutching a stick, raised in the air. With other pieces such as “Madera Hueso Sangre,” performed on the cajón by varsity bass line members, and both “Stealing Souls” and “Pillar I,” which utilized violin bows drawn across vibraphone keys to create an eerie whine, the musical variety between performances was quickly demonstrated. 

Also interspersed throughout the 23 pieces that followed were performances by each middle school percussion program: “Toboggan” by Coppell Middle School North, “In The Sky” by Coppell Middle School East and “Free Rider” by Coppell Middle School West, conducted by assistant percussion directors Lindsey Hartfelder and Nestor Mercado-Garcia. 

Each year, Purely Rhythmic presents the opportunity for high school students to compose a piece to be performed. This year’s event premiered “Liz On Top Of The World” by Dario Marianelli arr. senior Nivi Anandaraj and a “Howl’s Moving Castle” medley by Joe Hisaishi arr. junior Akanksha Subbarao, as well as four pieces composed by percussion instructors Doug Bush and Patricia Islas, who seniors recognized for being consistent since their sixth grade amidst heavy staffing changes. 

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned has been from our battery coordinator, Mr. Bush,” senior Zarek Morshed said. “He’s told us that every night when your head hits the pillow, you want to be a better person than when you started the day.”

When the main performance concluded, seniors recognized and honored CISD director of percussion Randall Nguyen, then presented him and each of the other percussion staff with a tiny Nike sneaker, “because they love their Nike shoes,” Wang explained to the laughing audience. In fact, Mercado-Garcia wore sneakers with his tuxedo throughout the event. 

“Our percussion staff always has the best shoes at competitions,” Wang said. “They all have gigantic shoe collections, so we wanted to add to it. We did baby shoes because we feel like we are like their kids, and we wanted it to be meaningful for them. Inside the shoes, we added little stars with notes on them from all the seniors.”

But as the seniors retreated backstage, the full force of Coppell Percussion made its appearance, setting up for the finale performance. A large row of steel pan drums lined the front of the stage, and large red barrels stood in the middle. After hours of smaller ensembles, the stage was now packed full of students clad in black. 

One, not dressed in black, stood out: featured artist CJ Menge, professional steel pannist and executive director of Inside Out Steelband, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization promoting the art and tradition of the Trinidadian instrument. 

Three pieces followed, each reminiscent of the beach with the shimmering sound of the steel pans. Menge counted the ensemble off with four quick clicks on his sticks, and students swayed from right to left with the beat as the concert came to a joyful end.

“These are not beginner level pieces, and these students started learning how to play the steel pan this week,” Menge said. “I trusted the directors and the students to put these together, and it’s amazing it came together in such a short amount of time. This is an amazing program.”

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