If This Drum Could Talk

Faculty Artist Series Concert featuring
Darryl “Doc D” Singleton
Part of the Elson S Floyd Cultural Center Performance Series
with support from Artist Trust of Washington

Concert Presented February 9, 2024 at the Elson S Floyd Cultural Center in Pullman, WA


(notes below order)

Pre-Concert MusicCrimson Ties

If This Drum Could Talk: Part I – Darryl M Singleton (b. 1963)
Djembe Improvisations – Performers

All You Need – Darryl M Singleton
Samuel Singleton; interpretation
Baião para DomeniconiCésar Haas (b. 1985)

The Colored Band – Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906)
This Drum TalksDarryl M. Singleton & Kevin M. Lee (b. 1980)

If This Drum Could Talk: Part IIDarryl M Singleton

If This Drum Could Talk: Part III – Darryl M Singleton
Valencia Singleton; interpretation
Mambo Palouse – Darryl M Singleton

Samuel Dinkins, III; percussion, quints
Navin Chettri; percussion
César Haas; guitar
Xan Perkins; sousaphone, cymbals
Troy Bennefield; snare drum
Trevin Cassels; bass drum
Brayden Shultz; tenor drum
Alan Malfavon; vocals, percussion
Ricardo Acosta; vocals
David Turnbull; digeridoo, trumpet
Aaron Hill; saxophone
AJ Miller; trombone
David Bjur; bass

Squeak Meisel
Reza Safavi
Duyen Thi Mong Le

Samuel Singleton (All You Need)
Valencia Singleton (If This Drum Could Talk, Part III)


Amabel Zucker
Brayden Shultz
Emily Wessel
Lex Howard

Melanie Richardson
Rebecca Lommers
Rogan Tinsley
Zoe Zanke


From the Visual Artists
Graduate student Anna Le and professors Reza Safavi and Squeak Meisel of the Department of Art are excited to share the breadth of what new media at WSU is capable of. It is especially exciting to do so in a collaborative capacity with Doc D. The department of art stands in solidarity concerning issues of equality, social justice, historical awareness, visual literacy, and magic. We hope you enjoy tonight’s show.

About the Word Pieces
With the exception of “The Colored Band,” all of the pieces were written by Doc D for this performance.

About “If This Drum Could Talk”
“Sankofa” is a word from the Twi language spoken in Ghana. It is also the name of an Adinkra symbol. It represents the idea that it is good to use knowledge and experience from your past towards the benefit of your present and future. As a concept, If This Drum Could Talk embraces this idea of looking back, applying the implied interrogative to the diaspora of the African drum. The chosen waypoints, however, have significance in my own past, both recent and distant. Each landmark represents a point of learning and experience from my past that informs my fluid “now” and founds my continued growth as a musician and a spiritual being.

Program Notes


Djembe Improvisations is a collective improvisation utilizing African-style instruments. The first motif heard will be the first foundation, but further development or the presentation of new themes will occur in the moment as the musicians interact.


“Cajón,” is a Spanish word that essentially means “big box” (though it  another context it refers to a furniture drawer). As an instrument, the consensus is that it was “invented” in Peru, though “configured” may be a more accurate term. It may be presumptive to believe that “no one” anywhere else ever used a handy crate as a drum while on break at a warehouse, dock, market, or anywhere else that a box was handy when a drum was not. Regardless, it was in Peru that it proliferated into the culture, especially as enslaved Afroperuanos were prohibited from possessing or making drums. It was their use in “pagan” traditions equally as their use in long distance communication in music similar to American Negro spirituals that concerned their Catholic Church-influenced  owners. It is interesting to note the difference in how the drum was treated in Peru (and America) compared to places like Cuba, where, at least on some level, African cultural expression was encouraged, albeit in designated “cultural centers.”

The cajón became inseparable and indistinguishable from Peruvian culture itself, much like the pandeiro in Brazil or the conga and bongo in Cuba. Each year on August 2nd the nation celebrates El Día del Cajón Peruano (Peruvian Cajón Day), marking the anniversary of the instrument’s declaration as Patrimonio Cultural de la Nación – national heritage – by Peru’s Cultural Ministry.

For me, the cajón is a symbol of two related dynamics. The first is the irrepressibility of cultural expression, even in the face of institutions like chattel slavery.  I firmly believe that culture is as integral to being human as sentience and (presumed) intelligence. Thus, to selfishly repress, suppress, or oppress any of it is to do the same to part of our humanity. The second is the inventiveness of adaptation. I’m talking about the sort best understood by those who have had to do more with less, or with nothing. The cajón exemplifies the confidence needed to believe that not having what you’re looking for is not the same as not having what you need.

Baião para Domeniconi Baião is a traditional dance rhythm from Brazil and is part of the forro tradition. This piece was inspired by the work of Carl Domeniconi, Italian composer and guitarist.


My first exposure to HBCU showstyle marching band was viewing halftime performances by the Cardozo High School Marching Band. I only saw them two or three times but the left an indelible impression. I was fascinated by the drum major. It would be many years later before my own involvement in marching band began. At the end of my first semester at college, I saw a halftime performance by the Howard University Soulsteppers. Before the game was over, I told Mr. Richardson, the band director that I wanted to march the next year (he was nice enough to not ask me about my knee with the torn cartilage that I had used as an excuse to not march my first year!).

That moment lead to me working on band staffs at 3 universities from 1989 to 2021, just prior to beginning the “Northwest chapter” of my life. I wrote drill, taught dance routines, conducted music, and even announced for the shows. However, the gravitational center of it for me was always the drumline. I can trace much of who I am and how I see and do all the way back to “Thunder Machine,” the line I marched on, and “Funk Train,” the drumline I spent 23 years teaching and learning from.

Howard University’s “Thunder Machine” drumline, 1981
Texas Southern University’s “Funk Train” drumline, ca. 2005

This exciting style of band is at the center of my research and for hundreds of thousands of HBCU showstyle band members over the years; it is a place of cultural expression and resistance. Indeed the title of today’s concert comes from an indoor drum show I created in 2012 for the Percussive Arts Society marching competition. “This Drum Talks” was composed for this concert. My goal was to present the audience a glimpse of this style and honor a medium of expression that is so integral to who I am. I use this piece of my past .

“The Colored Band” was written by Paul Lawrence Dunbar near the beginning of the 20th century. It was written in dialect, a controversial concept and practice then as well as now. How we speak, and characteristics identifiable to a specific group, can be important to one’s sense of belonging. It can also be a point of resistance against norms that can be perceived as oppressive (just ask a teenager!). Regardless, the poem speaks to the distinct aesthetic of Black marching band, an exemplar of how Blacks have mediated the involuntary mass assimilation into American culture through cultural memory of Africa, as passed through the generations. Though reproduced in these notes in its original form, the dialectic effect will be “softened” in the live performance.

The Colored Band – Paul Lawrence Dunbar

W’EN de colo’ed ban’ comes ma’chin’ down de street,
Don’t you people stan’ daih starin’; lif’ yo’ feet!
Ain’t dey playin’? Hip, hooray!
Stir yo’ stumps an’ cleah de way,
Fu’ de music dat dey mekin’ can’t be beat.

Oh, de major man’s a-swingin’ of his stick,
An’ de pickaninnies crowdin’ roun’ him thick;
In his go’geous uniform,
He’s de lightnin’ of de sto’m,
An’ de little clouds erroun’ look mighty slick.

You kin hyeah a fine perfo’mance w’en de white ban’s serenade,
An’ dey play dey high-toned music mighty sweet,
But hit’s Sousa played in rag-time, an’ hit’s Rastus’on Parade,
W’en de colo’ed ban’ comes ma’chin’ down de street.

W’en de colo’ed ban’ comes ma’chin’ down de street
You kin hyeah de ladies all erroun’ repeat:
“Ain’t dey handsome? Ain’t dey gran’?
Ain’t dey splendid? Goodness, lan’!
W’y dey’s pu’fect f’om dey fo’heads to dey feet!”
An’ sich steppin’ to de music down de line,

‘T ain’t de music by itself dat meks it fine,
Hit’s de walkin’, step by step,
An’ de keepin’ time wid “Hep,”
Dat it mek a common ditty soun’ divine.

Oh, de white ban’ play hits music, an’ hit’s mighty good to hyeah,
An’ it sometimes leaves a ticklin’ in yo’ feet;
But de hea’t goes into bus’ness fu’ to he’p erlong de eah,
W’en de colo’ed ban’ goes marchin’ down de street

15th Regiment Band, WWI
From Timeline of African American Music
Grambling State College (now University) Band at Super Bowl I Halftime (1967). From Desert USA
Texas Southern University Drum Majors
TSU’s “Funk Train” Drumline backstage before performing opening act for Megan Thee Stallion. From TSU/edu/news

This Drum Talks was composed in an HBCU drumline style for this performance. As is my custom, I composed this “show cadence” from the bottom up. For the snare part, I turned to a former student of mine, Kevin M. Lee. Kevin has updated previous cadences I have written and is very familiar with my compositional approach and drumline aesthetic.


This segment is an expression of something I firmly believe to be true, that past skin color and cultural differences, we are one humanity from one source. The graphic on which the word piece below is presented speaks to that fact. The diverging sets of foot prints reference the various paths that people groups have taken in breaking off. Only four sets of steps are shown here, but they represent the myriad disparate paths of humanity that sometimes cross, briefly merge, or run parallel to each other.

Free Improvisations is configured as a space where the performers can express and dialog with no preconceptions or preparations, other than each musician choosing the instruments they would have available. Each participant will engage with musical ideas as simple or complex with techniques as rudimentary or advanced as the moment dictates.


Cuba, at only about 100 miles distance from the Florida coast, has had a continual impact on music in America. It began, perhaps, on Sunday afternoons in New Orlean’s Congo Square in the 1800s, the rhumba craze going into the 1930’s, the mambo craze into the 1950’s, the “Bo Diddley” beat of rock and roll, and of course, the Cuban music in New York of the 1960’s-70’s that was dubbed and continues to be known by the name “salsa.” As a hand drummer, I played “at” Cuban music for years. It was after finding myself in the “deep end of the pool” at a Latin Jazz jam session that I decided to find a way to become a more authentic player.

I recognize that, especially starting late in life, I will only get so far , but I purpose to continue accessing, exploring, and performing as much of this music as I can. Its “African-ness” is a call stronger than I could ever hope to, or would ever want to, resist.

Mambo Palouse is primarily a vehicle for improvisation by this evening’s bongocero, conguero, and timbalero. However, the melody played by the horn section when they enter should be familiar to many and makes the connection to the Palouse evident. The percussion begin under the spoken word with a mambo. However another rhythm, the Cuban mozambique, is the impetus for the first horn entrance, followed by a montuno section powered by the mambo rhythm.


Heather McPherson, manager – Elson S Floyd Cultural Center
Scott Vik, Multimedia Coordinator – Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI)
Shaun Sorenson, Stage Manager – WSU School of Music
Chris Wilson, CMB Drumline Director
Blaine Ross, Performing Arts Program Specialist – WSU School of Music
Nicholas Hendrix, Media Maintenance Supervisor – Compton Union Building (CUB)
Bryan Varner, Video Producer – AOI
Rob Baker, Collaborative Technology Support Coordinator – AOI
Spencer Desmarais, Associate Director, Event Services and Operations – CUB


God for all He put in me to express.
My wife Valencia who is the only reason I can do what I do.
My children in Pullman (Sam and Daniel), Los Angeles (Jasmin), and Nashville (Atiya) who are truly inspiring to me in all their endeavors.
My new(ish) home, the WSU School of Music including Keri McCarthy the current director, Dean Luethi the former director (who hired me!), the jazz faculty, the rest of the faculty and last but CERTAINLY not least the staff!
Aaron Agulay for working on the School of Music’s behalf up until the very last moment, including getting the concert on the Elson S Floyd Cultural Center Performance Series schedule.
Everyone who continues to support my artistic expressions and those of others with their presence at events in person whenever able!

Samuel Dinkins, III appeared thanks to a grant from Artist Trust. Artist Trust (artisttrust.org) supports the livelihoods of artists working in all disciplines to create a more vibrant and equitable Washington State.

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