It’s been two decades, and Ben Leggett can hardly believe it.
“It doesn’t seem like that long. It just seems like — it just seems a lot less,” the Richland music teacher said.
Turns out time really does fly when you’re having fun. And also making a difference.
The Tri-Cities Steel Band Association got its start in 1996 with one ensemble, called Bram Bratá, under Leggett’s direction.
It’s since grown to include a second steel drum band, called OK2Botay, as well as two marimba groups.
Combined, the four ensembles include about 100 young Tri-City area musicians.
A third grade teacher gets a kid for third grade. I start with a kid in kindergarten, and it’s conceivable that I’ll still be their music teacher when they’re 18 years old. It’s rewarding. I’m a lucky person to live this kind of life.
Ben Leggett, music teacher and founder of Tri-Cities Steel Band Association
They’ll perform Dec. 11 in the association’s annual Christmas concert. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. at Chief Joseph Middle School, 504 Wilson St., Richland.
Leggett said the concert will be especially meaningful because the association’s first performance was a Christmas show.
Some classical tunes — by Handel and Tchaikovsky — are on the set list, along with holiday favorites like Mele Kalikimaka and a fresh air version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. “We always finish it off with a candlelight rendition of a couple songs,” Leggett said. “The kids definitely look forward to that.”
Leggett directs Bram Bratá and OK2Botay, and Walt Hampton — the music teacher at Sunset View Elementary in Kennewick — directs the marimba groups ‘Bahuru and ‘Baduku. The educators also offer after-school and summer classes through the steel band association.
Throughout the years, students in the groups have played numerous Northwest gigs, as well as shows in spots from Hawaii to Disneyland.
And they’ve found in the association a place to belong, to be themselves.
The studio “is like a clubhouse,” Leggett said.
“I’ll get there after work and they’ll already be there. They do homework, practice, hang out. It’s very much a family thing. They love each other. They have been playing music together for many, many years. When you play music with people, you develop a heart connection,” Leggett said.
He’s been a music teacher for 30 years, largely in the Richland School District. He’s at White Bluffs Elementary now. Back when the association got its start, he was at Tapteal Elementary.
He led a steel drum band there, and some parents wanted to make sure their kids could keep playing once they moved onto middle and high school. Bram Bratá was formed, followed by OK2Botay in 1998, ‘Bahuru in 2008 and ‘Baduku in 2011.
The association is a nonprofit group independent from area school districts.
Leggett described his work with the group as “a joy.”
“I’m excited about working with the kids. I’m excited to see these kids grow up. There are kids who are seniors now who were hugging my leg as kindergartners. They have always been with me. I have always been their music teacher, for all these years,” he told the Herald.
“It’s something music teachers get to enjoy that other teachers don’t. A third grade teacher gets a kid for third grade. I start with a kid in kindergarten, and it’s conceivable that I’ll still be their music teacher when they’re 18 years old,” Leggett said. “It’s rewarding. I’m a lucky person to live this kind of life.”
Tickets to the Christmas concert are $5 per person. They’re available at www.tcsba.org and the door.
IF YOU GO
What: Tri-Cities Steel Band Association’s annual Christmas concert.
When: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11
Where: Chief Joseph Middle School, 504 Wilson St., Richland
Cost: $5 per person. Tickets are available at www.tcsba.org and the door.