Beating His Drum Off the Beaten Path: Meet James Canning
The end of high school is an important transition for many people as they begin the process of exploring the world, embracing the trials and tribulations of the “real world.” For most this is usually embodied by living away from home for the first time, doing your own laundry, and learning that cooking is an art and you are (metaphorically) only ready to finger paint. For James Canning, “exploring the world” means taking a gap year to conduct a cultural study thousands of miles from home! Enlace Project is proud to welcome him as a visiting scholar and volunteer in El Sauce. We recently had a chance to sit down with him and ask him a few questions.
Q: What made you want to come down to Nicaragua?
A: Ever since my freshman year of high school I have dreamed of a full immersion experience by spending a gap year abroad, and Nicaragua is a great place to do that. Due to the connections between SUNY Geneseo and El Sauce, there are many opportunities and existing projects for me to get involved in, as well as people to help me carry out my own projects and ideas.
Q: What are your first impressions about Nicaragua and El Sauce?
A: The very first thing I noticed about Nicaragua was the heat; however, it was not that hard to become accustomed to. More importantly, I noticed the overwhelming amount of hospitality that people have here, especially in El Sauce. I can’t remember how many times I have been told “My house is your house.” I love the sense of community that creates, and I am incredibly grateful for everyone who has accepted me into their family.
Q: What will you be doing while you are here?
A: For part of my time I will be working with the Casa de Cultura to help them realize some of their goals. I will teaching percussion lessons, supporting local music events and concerts, and documenting the ensembles, musicians, and overall work of the arts center. In addition to my work with the Casa de Cultura, I will be carrying out a project focused on recording and documenting traditional Nicaraguan music. As I begin to meet and play with local musicians and artists, I hope to start conducting interviews and recording their songs and stories.
Q: What are you hoping your project accomplishes?
A: With the Casa de Cultura, besides expanding their work within the community, I would like to increase the opportunities for Geneseo students who come to El Sauce as well. Through the service learning program, two groups of students come every year to volunteer their time and talents. So far, the students have been involved in the business and education aspects of service learning, such as teaching English classes and promoting ecotourism. However, I would like to include the arts into this program, from traditional music to dance and theatre, allowing students to explore deeper into Nicaraguan culture. For my musical fieldwork project, I hope to provide a valuable resource to the Kimball Global Music Institute in SUNY Geneseo, which might teach students and faculty about music in Nicaragua, and perhaps encourage them to visit and experience it for themselves.
Q: We heard you play a mean steel drum, tell us a little about that.
A: My dad, who plays the steel drums professionally, first taught me to play when I was six. Since then I have been playing the pan, as it’s called in Trinidad and Tobago, in both community and professional steel bands. In 2010 I played with a band in the Brooklyn Labor Day Carnival, the second largest steelpan competition in the world. Last summer, also I had to opportunity to go to the Mannette Festival of Steel in Morgantown, West Virginia. During this weeklong workshop, I played with master steelpan musicians, and learned from one of the original inventors of the instrument. Playing the steel drums has been a huge part of my life, and I hope to be able to play in the panorama competition in Trinidad someday.