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Maroon Steel performs the Aggie War Hymn at First Friday in Bryan, Texas. | Video: Courtesy of Maroon Steel and Jack Bahmer

Jack Bahmer’s high school did not have a marching band. But it did have a steel pan ensemble.

Now a junior in the Department of Ocean Engineering, as well as a Brown Scholar, Bahmer is president and a percussionist in Maroon Steel, the steel pan ensemble at Texas A&M University.

With an interest in nautical archeology, Bahmer was drawn to Texas A&M largely for the ocean engineering department, which he got to visit firsthand prior to attending as part of his scholarship.

“I knew I wanted to do something unique that would put me either outside or doing research,” he said. “I’d taken archeology courses in high school and figured that ocean engineering, where I could learn about offshore structures or submersible systems, would be the best avenue to get into ocean exploration or a super technical side of nautical archeology.”

Bahmer’s interests naturally led him to join the Human Powered Submarine team within the department — which tasks students with designing, building, testing and racing a one- or two-person “wet” submarine.

But it was his previous experience with music that inspired him to tap into his creativity and open new doors outside of the E-Quad.

“I actually played steel pan all through high school,” Bahmer said. “And, in my later years of high school, a friend and I both bought our own sets of steel pans and we would play professionally at music festivals, wedding receptions, graduations, stuff like that.”

Founded in 2013, Maroon Steel aspires to spread the appreciation of the music associated with the Caribbean through performance. They hold rehearsals each week with an ensemble consisting of about 20 sets of steel pans and other percussion instruments, including a drum kit.

As Bahmer explained, the group learns a host of songs from traditional steel pan or island music all the way to adaptations of popular songs. At the end of semesters, they perform off-campus at events like First Friday in Bryan, Texas.

“It's a lot of fun,” he said. “And, it's definitely nice to branch off toward different areas, rather than just focusing on the same thing the whole time you’re in school. But there is a lot of overlap. Like, for both the Human Powered Submarine team and Maroon Steel, I have to do a lot of prep work and think about how to solve the problems we're facing, especially with COVID-19.

“For example, with Maroon Steel, I'm in charge of rehearsals and making sure everyone knows how to play their part,” Bahmer said. “But not everyone knows how to read sheet music because that’s not a requirement. So I have to come up with things like getting an audio recording so they can listen to it and play along with that.”

From finding new ways to problem solve and having an outlet for his creativity, to being able to simply talk with people outside of his classes, Bahmer said his participation in student organizations has enhanced his time at Texas A&M.

“There's not really a lot of opportunities to talk in a lecture, so it's nice being able to go to a team and just talk and hang out with my peers, as well as work together to apply the stuff we're learning in class directly to a project that we can see results from,” he said.