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Carmichael Times

Drumming up Harmony

Dec 20, 2023 02:58PM ● By Susan Maxwell Skinner

Martin Ross (second from right) presents a steel drum concert inc, Carmichael. Twin brother Mark plays percussion. Daughter Carmen (left), wife Tory and daughter Kirsten join the ensemble. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - When Martin Ross and his Twin brother Mark were children in Orangevale, they had a set of drums.

“Our mom took them away,” laments Ross, now 54. “She said we made too much noise,”

Fast forward 15 years: Ross was studying for his bachelor of science at UC Berkeley. “One day, I heard joyous, chiming music,” he recalls.  “I followed the sound across campus and saw musicians — I didn’t know what their instruments were. They told me they were playing steel drums. One guy said he’d been playing only six months.  Next semester, I joined them.”

Fast forward another 15 years: Ross was studying to be a Salvation Army pastor in Southern California.  “At Christmas, I was collecting money outside stores," he said. "People seemed to prefer hearing steel drums to bells. That’s how I got 10,000 hours of practice. And we raised a lot of money.”

Last week, Ross, his daughter Carmen and twin brother Mark performed a free concert at Willie’s burger restaurant, Carmichael. Fans heard jazzy Christmas tunes and cheered a musician who has dedicated much of his life to community.

Born to military parents, he learned service to others was part of life. “My mother took us to senior homes, to talk and share time with residents,” he said.  “At university, I learned to blend people skills with analytic skills for problem solving. I felt I could build bridges that way.”

He has been building bridges most of his career. Fluent in Spanish, he worked with Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles. He tutored Native American children in Arizona. With the Salvation Army in Lodi, he helped smooth paths for Pakistani and Hispanic newcomers.

He is now an executive for the nonprofit Health Education Council. As a volunteer, he sits on Carmichael Park District board; chairs Sacramento County’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee; he’s also a commissioner for the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency and boosts the Carmichael Kiwanis Club. The six ft.-plus taekwondo black belt teaches martial arts to kids and has coached basketball, track and race walking.

Carmichael residents, he and wife Tory were Salvation Army majors together. Tory is now a marriage and family therapist who runs Sacramento County’s Mental Health Access program. Along with his daughters Carmen, Alexandria and Kristen, and twin brother Mark, Tory shares the family flair for percussion.

Musician Martin Ross uses felt-covered mallets to coax melodies from his steel drum. Originating in the Caribbean islands, the instrument is a staple of calypso music. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner

“Music has done so much good in my life and career,” said her husband. “I’ve used it in tutoring for after-school programs and music camps, particularly with kids from underserved areas. The steel drum’s festive sound crosses many cultures. To me, it feels like music from heaven.  When I’m playing, I feel I am connecting with everyone.”

A career-long mentor, the musician has long pushed for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. “Now that the field includes arts and (has) been renamed STEAM,” he said, “I feel I am helping put the ‘A’ in STEAM by sharing my music.

“The arts, like sports, create a sense of belonging for some kids who don’t do so well academically. Both are an additional motivation for kids to stay in school and graduate.”

Martin Ross will appear on the November 2024 ballot as a candidate for San Juan Unified School Board. 

Contact him at