RUTLAND — The steel drum music of Trinidad is making its way to Rutland via Calypso Consulting, a new business set up by Jennifer Cohen.
Cohen, a classically trained pianist and violist with 30 years experience as a performer and educator, wanted to bring what she describes as a transformational experience to the workplace.
“Music has a way of connecting us like no other experience. I have seen how the transformative power of collaborative music-making can be used to achieve outstanding results,” she said.
Cohen taught herself how to play steel drums, and first introduced it into Clarendon Elementary School, where she taught. Her students gathered after school to play in the steel drum band. “One of the great things about steel drums is how easy it is to play. You don’t have to be a musician or have to read music to participate. There is no sheet music, everything is taught by rote. People of all ages can quickly learn the skill,” she said.
She started Calypso Consulting because she thought steel drums would be a useful tool in the workplace. Besides not needing any formal training to participate, the sound of steel drums is “relaxing and inviting,” like a tropical island breeze. Before offering Calypso Consulting to the corporate world, Cohen conducted focus groups at her home, to get feedback from volunteer participants. Six to 15 people participated at a time, playing steel drums together. Survey responses concluded the workshop was “very successful and fun,” “a good team-building activity” and provided a “sense of wellness, not just physically but mentally as well.”
“After a two-hour session, employees begin to see each other in a different way. There is laughter, fun, and barriers come down,” Cohen said. “I work with management and workers together in a way that transcends the actual industry. The intrinsic value happens when people bring what they’ve learned back to the workplace. People see colleagues in a new context, which expands team-building skills, problem solving, creative endeavors and marketing ideas,” She hopes employers allow their workers to participate in two-hour sessions four times a year. “It helps if people continue to use steel drums as a refresher course in the collaborative process of working together,” she said.
Cohen takes her course to retreats, trainings and individual groups. In September, she will represent Calypso Consulting as an exhibitor at the Vermont Human Resources Conference in Killington.
In September 2016, the Housing Trust of Rutland County was the first nonprofit to participate in a Calypso Consulting workshop. They held their workshop at the end of the annual retreat in the gazebo of the Stanislaus Gardens in West Ruland. Melissa Disorda, executive assistant director at the Housing Trust said, “It was a great opportunity for our staff to think outside of the box. Not only did they have fun and enjoy playing the steel drums, but the common experience broke down barriers amongst the employees.”
The workshop encourages people to work outside of their comfort zone. Disorda added, “If you learn and laugh together, then there is an increased camaraderie amongst individuals.”
“Employers are starting to invest more in the well-being of their employees, and Calypso Consulting is one way to do it,” Cohen said. “In the future, I want to work with such groups as the Mentor Connector and the Boys & Girls Club.” Her goal is to offer local business and nonprofits a chance to use steel drum workshops for team building, innovation, mental and physical wellness and fun.
An eight-week course will also be offered at her home on Piedmont Drive for individuals who want to play together. The course is also being offered to home schoolers. Cohen has left her position in the school system, but will continue to provide private piano lessons to students. She would like to expand her business throughout Vermont and beyond.
Her first trip out of state will be to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a workshop for a doctor who won Calypso Consulting as a prize at a fundraiser. Cohen’s husband Barry will accompany his wife on the trip. Barry Cohen, who is a professional bassoonist and a freelance court reporter, assists Cohen by helping to transport the instruments, promoting the new business through videos and photographs, and in designing activities to improve and practice listening skills. This helps people as they play music together and to frame issues quickly at their place of employment, she said.
Cohen recently formed a duo with Allie Griffiths, a musician and music teacher in the public school system she met at a gathering of the Rutland Young Professionals Group. The two quickly became friends and colleagues. The duo is called “October Hill,” and they play everything from Caribbean tunes to “Ava Maria,” with a program that includes the Beatles and Bob Marley. Because the steel drum uses a 12-tone chromatic scale, the duo can play any kind of music. Cohen uses a steel drum called the double when she travels.
Her downstairs is filled with a large collection of steel drums and other percussion instruments for use in her workshops. She is encouraging inquiry from the corporate world, nonprofits, individuals and groups.
“My vision for this new endeavor is that Calypso workshops provide an opportunity to create, relate and connect,” Cohen said.