Up and drumming young talent

At 9 years old, Logan Banning is one of the best African drummers in Steamboat Springs

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Logan Banning has a confidence you don't often see in boys his age. It only takes a few minutes of talking to him to realize why.

At 9 years old, Banning is one of the best African drummers in Steamboat Springs.

Banning discovered African drumming when he was 4. His mother, Beth Banning, had taken a job with the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, but with the stipulation that Logan be allowed in the Arts Council's summer arts immersion program as a way to solve her child-care issues. The Kaleidoscope program typically does not allow children youger than 6, so Logan Banning was the youngest in the room.

He didn't seem to mind, said Robin Getter, who was teaching African dance classes to the children that summer. Banning just sat in quiet amazement as he watched Getter dance.

He enjoyed the dancing, but his real fascination was with the music.

"I asked for a djembe for my fifth birthday," Banning said. His parents bought him a small djembe -- a West African hand drum -- and he hasn't stopped playing since.

"He just took to it," Getter said. "At first, it was just kind of cute, but he kept pursuing it, and we realized he had a talent. He understands the whole complexity of it -- the polyrhythms, the way it fits into the dancing. It seemed so easy for him."

Children notoriously lose interest in their toys. So everyone was surprised when Logan kept playing that drum.

When it came time to learn technique, and not just enjoy the fun of pounding on a drum, he took lessons from African drummers whom Getter invited to town.

And he practiced.

Banning now plays with a group of African drummers that plays every Thursday night at The Center for Movement Arts' African dance class. His fellow drummers are twice his age and more.

"But he's our equal," said group leader and drumming instructor Sam Caston. "He picks up everything really fast. There's not a part I show him that he can't play.

"Because he learned it at such a young age, he doesn't have to think about it. He doesn't make it complicated. It just flows out of the kid. He's the best drummer we have. I give him all the hardest parts."

Caston has seen several children try to play the African drums, but they don't have the discipline that is needed to play the same rhythm over and over again for sometimes a half-hour or longer.

"They can do it for 10 minutes," Caston said. "Then their mind wanders. But we don't have to babysit Logan. He's there for two hours straight without flinching."

Drumming is often about endurance. It is exhausting and energizing at the same time, Getter said. "You are part of a group and alone with your own drum. To be able to maintain that and for a small child to be able to embody that and stick with it and keep coming to class and being a showman is pretty amazing."

Steamboat audiences may have seen Banning play in the latest Steamboat Dance Theatre production during the African dance piece. The piece has been repeated several times at events across town -- at the International Evening, at Robin Getter's studio and at the Easter celebration at Howelsen Hill.

The secret to being a good drummer, Logan said, is that "you need hard hands, fast hands and fast arms. You need good eye and hand coordination and a good memory."

Those things come naturally to good drummers, but their development is the benefit of introducing children to drumming, Beth Banning said.

"And there is the cultural aspect," Beth Banning said. "Drumming has given us the opportunity to expose him to ethnic diversity that doesn't exist in Steamboat."

Beth Banning suggests that any parent with a child interested in drumming should try the djembe first because it is smaller and easier to handle than a regular drum kit.

"I have always tried to introduce my kids to art and music," she said. "I directed Cloe into flute because I had one, but I wasn't sure how I was going to direct Logan.

"I thought he could take piano lessons."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210 or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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