Master percussionist making impact in midstate

alopez@macon.comJune 15, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- In March, HBO aired an episode of its documentary TV series “Vice,” which investigated the effects of drone strikes in Pakistan.

As clips of angry protestors holding anti-American signs and burning a flag flashed across the screen, vibrant drumming matched the dramatic scenes.

The percussionist behind the composition used in the sequence, Miguel Castro, 51, has been performing and teaching in Middle Georgia for about 20 years. Castro, who is Middle Georgia State College’s artist in residence, also works as the percussion coordinator for the school systems in Houston and Bleckley counties.

“Every single one of us has a hidden percussionist inside,” Castro said. “Our lives are ruled by time, by rhythm.”

From a child hearing his mother’s heartbeat in the womb to the rattles and first drums the child is given as early toys, it’s evident that humans are natural percussionists, he said.

In the basement of his house in Warner Robins, Castro stores hundreds of percussion instruments: drums, bells, chimes, tambourines, xylophones and gongs. Some of them are common enough, but many are exotic instruments collected over decades of performing around the world.

Among his more interesting pieces, there is a jaw bone from an unknown animal, cobra and fish skin drums, hand-carved West African drums and a washboard instrument used in Cajun music.

He has played in Latin America, Europe and Asia and said he has had no trouble connecting with the people he meets, even if they don’t share a common tongue with him.

“Music is definitely a universal language,” Castro said.

From the Dominican Republic to Middle Georgia

Odd as it may be, Castro traces his love of percussion back to his family home in the Dominican Republic, where as a young child he saw Micky Dolenz of the Monkees behind his drum kit on TV.

“My eyes as a 6-year-old gravitated to the drums, and I was like ‘Wow I really want to do this,’” Castro said.

His love deepened a few years later on a school field trip to a national theater performance of “Peter and the Wolf.” Again, Castro focused on the national symphony orchestra’s percussion section.

He told his friends he would one day join those musicians.

At age 20, Castro became the youngest member of the Dominican Republic symphony orchestra. From there, he was loaned to a symphony in Maracaibo, Venezuela, his first of many experiences performing in foreign lands.

It was in Germany years later where Alan Clark, Middle Georgia State College’s director of bands, first met Castro. Both worked with the U.S. Air Force band -- Castro’s wife at the time was active duty -- and both ended up in Georgia.

Since then, Clark has seen Castro mentor countless students.

“He’s one of those people who is extremely talented as a performer, but he is also talented in his ability to communicate with young people,” Clark said. “He is able to be honest with them about their progress without discouraging them.”

One of Castro’s former students is now the band director at Dodge County High School in Eastman. Castro’s impact in Middle Georgia has been huge, Clark said.

A current member of the Houston Latin American Philharmonic of Houston, Texas, Castro said he will continue to travel wherever he is needed. He also is working on new compositions he’d like to submit to ARC Music, a U.K. record label that has distributed his music since 1991.

“I wake up every morning always knowing that I will continue to be fascinated by (percussion), because I will find something that I didn’t know before that I will acquire as a musician,” he said.

And though his musical talent has taken him all over the world, Castro said his most rewarding work has been teaching in Middle Georgia.

Louis Foster, who hired Castro to work at Middle Georgia College (which has since merged with Macon State to become Middle Georgia State College) echoed Clark’s comments about Castro’s abilities as a musician and teacher.

“He’s like a pied piper,” Foster said. “He attracts kids to play. They love playing for him.”

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 478-256-9751.

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