Thursday, September 17, 2009

[Travelogue] Drumming up some enthusiasm

We were on Kodiak Island today. We were told that we were the last cruise ship of the season, and that the previous three had all cancelled because of heavy rain and high wind. But when we got there is was only partly cloudy, no wind, and no rain. And it's kind of creepy, but that sort of thing just happens to us again and again when we travel. The opposite extreme, where we get weather bad enough to affect our plans, has happened only once in ten years that I can remember.

Kodiak turned out to be vastly more interesting than I was expecting it to be. We took a tour called the "Kodiak city overview" (with "city" being rather a relative term here) thinking it would be sort of a pity tour where we politely ooh and aah over the native crafts. And it kind of started out that way, with our guide proudly pointing out the fact that they have a McDonalds and a Subway, and (OMIGOD!) a Wal Mart! But then it started to get more interesting, with a small but well stocked aquarium where we got up close and personal with some Alaskan king crabs, and a beautiful rain forest full of moss-covered trees (but for the fact that it was fifty degrees it would have been paradise). But the highlight of the trip was a concert given by the Kodiak Island Drummers. The venue was the high school (there is only one on the entire island) and just the auditorium was an interesting feature in and of itself. The room was perfectly cylindrical. It had to be because it was mounted on gimbals and it could rotate to convert from an auditorium into a classroom.

The start of the show was delayed by some technical difficulties with the lights. Someone apparently turned out the backstage lights before the house lights, and now they couldn't find the switch to turn out the house lights. I was thinking to myself that they should just leave them on -- how much of a difference would it make? They finally sorted out the problem. It turned out to be worth the wait.

The curtain rose on a black, silent stage. Then a dozen ghostly white-gloved hands and masked faces appeared out of nowhere, glowing blue, illuminated by an unseen black light, followed a split second later by a sudden frenzy of sound and disembodied motion as they began to beat on unseen drums. And they were good. Tight. Lively. Well rehearsed. Not quite as good as the Kodo drummers of Japan, who tour world-wide, but the potential is clearly there.

After about twenty minutes they finished and brought up the lights. They took their masks off and we were shocked at how young they were. I was expecting high school students, but their ages turned out to range from eight to fourteen. It is no coincidence that the acronym for Kodiak Island Drummers is KID. If you have a passion for seeking out talented musical acts that no one knows about you should come up to Kodiak (and stop off for barbecue at the Smoke Shack in Seward while you're at it).

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