Aug 242008
Authors: Shari Blackman

World-renowned composer Halim El-Dabh conducted hundreds of community members, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and featured drummers in a performance of his Symphony of 1,000 Drums Friday evening in Heritage Park, just north of downtown Fort Collins.

The event launched a weekend-long celebration of the Peace Corps, which concluded Sunday with a keynote address from Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director, and an afternoon concert featuring the bands Cadillac Sky and the Kingston Trio.

“I like to dance,” said the 87-year-old El-Dabh, who invited African, Native American and Egyptian drummers, as well as people of all ages, to be included in the experience.

The Symphony of 1,000 Drums was preceded by both a procession of flags from 140 nations and a ceremony to honor the three former CSU researchers — Maury Albertson, Pauline Birky-Kreutzer and Andrew Rice — who wrote the proposal that resulted in the development of the Peace Corps 47 years ago.

The events were hosted by RPCVs and Beet Street, a Fort Collins economic development initiative.

“It’s just a lot of excitement that we don’t normally have, certainly not on one weekend in Fort Collins,” said Elizabeth Hare, director of cultural arts programs for Beet Street.

Grant Marquit, producer of the symphony, and El-Dabh came from Ohio to conduct the piece for the Peace Corps celebration.

Marquit asked Eric Hollenbeck, CSU’s associate professor of music, to play timpani in the production. Hollenbeck was one of El-Dabh’s former students at Kent State University.

El-Dabh is a pioneer of electronic and world music.

“I’m a farmer originally. One day I wrote a music piece. Pshtt! Changed my life,” said El-Dabh, emeritus professor at Kent State University.

There was no official drum count on Friday evening, but Marquit pointed out that each marimba tone, cymbal and chime are counted individually. In the kit of one well-outfitted percussionist, there were 70 pieces.

“It all adds up,” Marquit said. “Everybody that’s even around us has rhythm in their heartbeat, so there’s always a thousand drums.”

Leslie Richardson and Sarah Cline, CSU graduate students in agricultural sciences, said the symphony was fun.

“It’s a great mix of people,” Cline said. “Young, old. I love seeing everybody dance together and really getting into it and enjoying it.”

Following the Symphony of 1,000 Drums, Fale, the Fort Collins West African dance and drumming troupe, performed a dance taught by Fara Tolno, a featured drummer from Boulder. The evening of free entertainment concluded with a concert by a Denver-based salsa band.

Abdoul Doumbia, a master drummer from Mali, West Africa, came to the event by invitation. The well-traveled Doumbia was impressed by the crowd, some of whom even spoke his native language.

“They did invite me to come to do this celebration. Then when I came, I see. No, this is like unbelievable. Look at it. Do you see any fighting here? No. It’s just for peace,” said Doumbia, a Boulder resident. “People came together. Play drum. Everybody’s happy.”

Staff writer Shari Blackman can be reached at

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