Steel drumming is more than a musical outlet, according to Dr. Darren Duerden, a music professor at BYU–Hawaii. Although this art form originated in the Caribbean, Duerden said he has found it has a special place in Laie. Duerden’s wife, Jennifer Duerden, said drumming brought great opportunities and even influenced their marriage.
Darren said he sees music as more than a class or subject someone can teach, but rather a life enhancer that helps him and his wife live life to the fullest.
“You don’t have to be a music major to enjoy music. Music is a language. I like how it makes people feel. There is a discipline to it, yet people can enjoy it, work hard, and still have a great time,” Darren expressed. “Unlike some disciplines where you can miss out on the aspect of living life because you are stuck in a library with your head in a book.”
“Back in the late 1980s, the percussion director brought steel drums to BYU in Provo, Utah,” Darren said. “I just absolutely fell in love with the sound of it and the whole discipline of it. My wife did as well. We met in the steel band, so we have always had that as a commonality. We both love the world of steel drumming.”
Jennifer is a special instructor at BYUH who teaches music and piano classes. She also plays the piano for university events.
“I heard the steel band at BYU in Provo and I loved the sound. I talked to the professor and I got into the steel band. My husband was already in the steel band, of course, we weren’t married yet,” she said.
Jennifer said they were in the band for two years. In those two years, they would go on trips and performances together. Over time, they got to know each other better, which ultimately lead to their marriage.
Lifetime of drumming
Darren said there is a special power found within the drums. “The steel drum was an instrument developed in Trinidad back the 1930s. I fell in love with the sound and even the cultural aspect of the drums. It takes me to a different place when I play steel drums.”
Due to the impact of steel drumming, Darren said he wanted to pursue drumming as his career, but his passion was not always received positively from his peers. They mocked him, but he responded by continuing to explore his musical passion.
Throughout his career, he said everything was influenced by steel drumming. “When I taught at Florida State [and Mississippi], I taught the steel band.” Jennifer agreed with her husband. She said she felt steel drumming offered great opportunities.“ I started playing in college, and at BYU we got a scholarship to go with a smaller group and tour.”
Then the couple went to Florida State, and said more opportunities came through drumming.
Jennifer said her husband taught the college steel-drumming group while she taught the high school group. She and her husband even formed their own professional steel drum band.
“People would call us for a party or something, and neither group was exactly the right fit, so we actually formed our own group. A substantial amount of my income came from [our] steel band performances.”
Sharing the sound
Darren said they moved to BYUH because they didn't feel Mississippi, where they were living at the time, was the right fit for their family. “There were a lot of challenges in Mississippi I didn’t like. For example, I didn’t like the racial tension in Mississippi. I have always had an affinity for music from all around the world, and I specialize in music of the Caribbean, so it didn’t go over so well in Mississippi because people didn’t treat each other of equal par.”
Then the couple applied for positions at BYUH, and according to Darren, it was the right choice. “When we came out here, it was shocking to see people of so many races get along so well. It was great here. We lived next to the temple for 10 years, and we were finally able to buy a home. ”
Darren was able to bring his love of Caribbean music here to BYUH, and when he first applied to BYUH, he pitched his idea of a steel band because he thought it would be a perfect fit. From this passion, he created the only functioning steel band in Hawaii called Shaka Steel.
This group plays at various campus concerts, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and the Christmas devotional. He added they even tour neighboring Hawaiian islands, but he said he wished his group could travel internationally because he believes it would be more impactful.
Ninoy Kusuma, a senior from Indonesia majoring in music, explained how the Duerdens have made an unmeasurable impact to the music program at BYUH. Kusuma is a lead pan player in Shaka Steel and said there would be no show without the Duerdens.
“As teachers, they taught me to be a better musician. They help me to see more opportunities for me to grow in the music field. They taught me reach the best potential in me as a musician. As a friend and family, they taught me to always help each other, to care and listen.”