A celebration of the nation’s trailblazing land-grant mission would not feel right without West Virginia University.

It’d be like playing catch without your dad, or not singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” after a big Mountaineer win.

WVU embodies a quintessential land-grant institution: Every West Virginia resident is touched by what happens at this University.

Naturally, the Smithsonian Institution has invited WVU to participate in the 2012 Folklife Festival at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. this summer. The festival, titled “Campus and Community: Public and Land-grant Universities and the USDA at 150,” tips its hat to the 150th anniversary of the 1862 Morrill Act. The legislation paved the way for the founding of land-grand institutions such as WVU.

So who’s representing the gold-and-blue at this prestigious event?

Drum roll, please?

Ellie Mannette, the “father of the modern steel drum,” and the WVU Steel Drum Band.

The 40 WVU students in the Steel Drum Band will perform throughout the festival and Mannette will perform with the ensemble in a special concert on the first day. The University will have a tent, where visitors can learn about the history and manufacturing of the steel drums. The tent will also have an exhibition on the Steel Drum program at WVU, Mannette, the history and manufacture of drums and visitors can try their hand at playing a steel drum.

The steel drums are a perfect fit for the Folklife Festival.

These instruments make you move and feel the music. I cannot wait to show the people at the Folklife Festival how much fun we all have making music.”

-Cassie Nelson
Sophomore Music Education major

“WVU has contributed to the folklife of America with its World Music and Performance Center. Established in 1992, the World Music Center was one of the first of its kind in the country, founded to explore and share multicultural understanding,” said William J. Winsor, associate dean of the College of Creative Arts.

Smithsonian Folklife

“That same year, the College of Creative Arts brought Ellie Mannette to WVU, where he elevated the humble steel drum from something heard only on Caribbean vacations to a modern instrument embraced by musicians from classrooms to symphony halls.”

The festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. June 27-July 1 and from July 4-8 on the National Mall between Seventh and 14th streets. Mannette and the ensemble will perform a special evening concert at 6:30 p.m. June 27.

All events are free.

According to the Smithsonian, the festival will focus on four themes that reflect the current work of public and land-grant universities, such as WVU: reinventing agriculture, sustainable solutions, transforming communities and building on tradition.

WVU is among more than 25 land-grant and public universities participating in this year’s event.

Michael Vercelli, director of the World Music Performance Center, also directs the Steel Drum Band at WVU and will lead the students in the Folklife performances.

He said the band will perform at least one 45-minute concert each day.

WVU’s World Music Performance Center consists of various ensembles such as African Music and Dance, Brazilian, Balinese and Javanese Gamelans, Japanese Taiko Drum, and the Steel Drum. Any WVU student – undergraduate or graduate – can join an ensemble.

Shortly after the World Music Center’s founding, WVU welcomed Mannette, a native of Trinidad, as an artist-in-residence to show students how to build and play steel drums. He eventually became director of the University Tuning Project, a wide-scale steel drum initiative at WVU.

Cassie Nelson, a music education junior from Wheeling, joined the Steel Drum Band three years ago. At the time, there only were a few members.

“If you told me three years ago that the group would have more than 40 members, with most of our players having less than a year of experience, I would not have believed it,” Nelson said. “The music we play on the steel drums is as much fun to play as it is to listen to.

“These instruments make you move and feel the music. I cannot wait to show the people at the Folklife Festival how much fun we all have making music.”

Vercelli said the students will not only perform in Washington, D.C., but will tour the Smithsonian and participate in other cultural events. The ambassador of Trinidad has even invited the band to tour the embassy.

Above all, Vercelli said it will be a great honor for his students to represent WVU on a national stage.

“We were selected out of everything they could’ve selected from the University,” he said. “That’s a big honor in itself. The Folklife Festival attracts more than a million people every year. To have this recognition is really outstanding.”



CONTACT: University Relations/News

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