Adrian Adams taps out a 3/4 beat with his director’s baton and suddenly the students in Room C-113 at Eau Claire High School explode with fierce intensity as they pound out rhythms on the steel pans that form the Mighty Shamrock Steel Band.
The innovative “Carol of the Bells” rises up in an intense cacophony of sound – front line lead pans tingly with high notes, mid-range double second pans smoothly filling in, the bass pans rumbling up in a deep rolling sound. In the back, drummer Terry Brown comes in with a frenetic beat and electric bass guitarist Phillip Burnett rounds the sound out.
Music teacher Adams grins widely and the students smile back, all caught up in the pure joy of making music.
Adams has been instrumental in creating that joy, taking the foundational steel band formed by his predecessor, Christopher Lee (now the band director at Dreher High), to new levels of performance.
“I just believe with my energy level and my charisma, this is where I am supposed to be,” said Adams, who joined the Eau Claire faculty in August fresh out of Benedict College. “This is my outlet.”
The band itself has expanded to 25 members, teenagers who are plucked from his four band classes and exhorted to keep up their grades and “conduct yourselves as young adults,” as they take their music to more and more venues.
The concert gigs have been “a real confidence booster,” said Vonterrious Craig, 16, who said he was skeptical of learning the music theory and music scores that he needed to master pieces.
So was Devon Dickens, a 17-year-old senior who has earned his chops as he first began to master the steel drums, reluctantly, under the previous band director.
“Honestly, I wanted to get out of the class,” he said. “Once we started playing with the instruments, it was good.”
This semester, the band has traveled to nearly three dozen community events, cultimating last week with a live performance on a local television station.
Adams reminded them that they likely would spend as much as four hours at the television studio getting the performances just right.
“Take this as a lesson. In the music industry, this is what happens,” Adams said. “Use this experience.”
Adams, a native of Marietta, Ga., with deep ties to Columbia, has tried to use every experience that has come his way.
At Benedict, he majored in instrumental music and studied the French horn under the direction of Herman Jones.
He was student conductor for the marching and concert band, amid a wealth of other extracurricular activities. He remains active in its faculty jazz band and serves as a band assistant for the Benedict College Marching Tiger Band of Distinction.
Adams was eager to settle into an urban school environment, where he believes he can influence students who struggle with economic and family pressures. He has a role model in his grandmother, Adelle Adams, a retired Richland 1 teacher and NAACP leader.
“The kids are a joy to work with,” he said. “They like to be in front of people. They are energetic all the time.”
Eboni Belton, a 15-year-old sophomore, has been immersed in music all her life. Her parents play instruments, and she took music lessons and participated in the USC Strings Project. She said Adams is approachable as a mentor and friend.
“He’ll come and talk to us about our grades,” Belton said. “He’ll help if you have a problem.”
But when the students get inside the band room, all problems seem to fade away as they prepare for their performances.
“This year we are definitely more energetic,” said Ashley Davis, 17, who’s also Eau Claire’s student body president. “Now we are getting respect. If you are good, you are in the band.”