Turpin's got timing - School of Music head compliments first degreed female drummer
November 19, 2016, graduation day at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA), 1 Arthur Wint Drive, St Andrew, was extra special for School of Music student Shalisha Turpin. She became the college's first female to graduate with a degree in drumming.
"It wasn't easy," the soft-spoken 27 year-old told me in an interview which began in the music room at Holy Trinity High School, Kingston, where she has been teaching music for more than a year. It later continued under a mango tree at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Swallowfield, where Turpin has been drumming with the church band since she was 12 years old.
"A lot of people told me I couldn't make it, including two of my lecturers at Edna Manley. At times I got very depressed and felt like giving up," Turpin said. Then, smiling, she added "some persons said I should take up modelling." Tall and slim, she does have the look of a runway model.
She continued, " but my parents, my family and my teacher (at EMCVPA), Mr Derrick Stewart, encouraged me and helped me to overcome all the negativity. Now here I am with my bachelor's degree in Music Education (BME) and a trained teacher."
Turpin's evident pride in her accomplishment reflected the admiration of School of Music director Roger Williams, who told me just hours before that "Shalisha is a very good drummer, very talented, rhythmically steady and exciting to listen to. She has an excellent sense of time and that separates her from some of the flashier drummers. She's a good musician."
He added that Turpin was the only female percussionist in her contemporary degree cohort, although women had previously graduated from the school in percussion at the lower levels.
Commenting on Williams' praise, Turpin said that she always gave her all in performances at the school."Once I went on stage on a bicycle with the drum set. At my third year show, I came on stage from the roof," she said.
Her musical journey began when, in obedience to her father, pastor of the AME church, she started playing drums in the church. For a long time she was not really interested, she said, even after her father hired a School of Music student to coach the group she was in. But Turpin's attitude changed when she was the only one able to play a particular rhythm the tutor gave the group.
"From then I wanted to do drumming," said Turpin.
Her career path proved long, winding and fraught with challenges. It included studying for two years in Excelsior Community College's (ECC) Performing Arts Department, passing the School of Music's entrance test and getting into the pre-qualifying year but then failing the end-of-year exam and having to enrol in the school's evening programme for another year. After that, she got into the degree lane - and faced another four years of study.
Happily, Turpin's time at ECC gave her the opportunity to do not only music, but also dance and drama. "That helped me a lot as a performer. That's why I think I stand out at Edna Manley. It opened my creativity," she said.
At the School of Music, where Turpin thought she would be concentrating on drumming, she was faced with a lot of other subjects. She rattled off some - music theory, aurals, sight reading, singing, English, Spanish and Psychology. And Turpin had to acquire a working knowledge of numerous instruments apart from the drums, including guitar, keyboard and wind instruments (recorders, saxophone, trumpet, flute).
And that was not all. "As I am a drummer I also had to do all the percussion instruments - tambourines, shakers, congas, timpani, xylophone and marimba. You had to know how to tune them, too," she said.
Turpin managed to get employed to Holy Trinity before she graduated as she did teaching practise there and, according to the principal, did "a marvellous job." That job included obtaining (with the help of her colleague from the School of Music) J$1.3 million from the U.S. Embassy to start a drum line at the school.
Holy Trinity's principal was happy to hire Turpin last September when a music teacher was needed, even though she still needed a subject to complete the programme.
Since Turpin has been at the school, she has founded a school band and started both a monthly lunch hour concert series and an annual concert called My Dream. That name, also the title of a popular song by deejay Nesbeth, undoubtedly references her long-held dream of getting her music degree.
"It was tough but I'm glad I didn't give up," Turpin said.