Friday, April 24, 2015

The Beating Heart of Music - By Kim Johnson

Anyone playing pan music will tell you that there is something special about it. For some, it is the love of the sound. Pans make some of the melodious music out there. For others, it is the ability to play music competitively. We all know Panorama is the crown jewel of pan competitions. Pan players are also notorious for wanting to be better each time we play. We compete against ourselves and others. There are those of us who just like being considered musicians and love creating music with others. There is a camaraderie - mainly because it is not something others do.

It wasn't until I heard Dr. Kim Johnson doing a TedTalk that I really felt a deeper affinity to steel pan. Johnson is the creator of the film Pan! Our Modern Odyssey.

On Fridays we usually find a great steel pan performance and plug that on one of our social media outlets. This Friday, I am offering up this video for your viewing pleasure. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Beating Heart of Music - By Kim Johnson (TedTalk, approximately 20 minutes)

Monday, April 13, 2015

2015 Pan People Music Festival Talent Set!!

                                                                                  Photo of Pan Jumbies

This year's 2015 Pan People Music Festival talent lineup is set This year's groups promises to deliver  some memorable performances.

1) Bison Pan Groove - Led by steel pan artist, Don Prorak, this band is made up of students from Second Creek Elementary in Commerce City, Colorado. It will be the youngest and one of the largest groups performing at the festival. Some of students' parents may also join in to perform with their kids. 

2) Rocky Mountain Steel Bands - RMSB is made up of several community groups and is led by Rick Henson. Those in this group vary in skill level and music experience. However, every player in the group is a lover of pan. RMSB have performed a numerous festival, fairs, farmers markets and charity runs along the Colorado front range. RMSB also offers summer camps for kids during the summer. 

3) The Pan Association - TPA and includes Steel Pan Collective board member Andrew Neldon. Several TPA members have played in Trinidad's Panorama competition. The group performs steel pan in various musical styles ranging from traditional Calypso to modern jazz. The Pan Association also holds a number of workshops, clinics, and lessons for those interested in steel pan.

4) Pan Nation - Pan Nation is led by Tom Miller and includes members and graduates of DUs Lamont School of Music. Several members in this group are accomplished composers and soloists. Pan Nation concerts are known for its artistry, innovation and incorporation of various music styles. The group's versatility has them playing everything from traditional steel pan compositions to pop tunes. 

5) Pan Jumbies - Led by Don Prorak, Pan Jumbies and is known throughout the area for its fun and entertaining shows. In addition to steel pan, marimba plays an important part of this group's lineup and makes for great sounding tunes. Pan Jumbies performances are guaranteed to get you up and dancing. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Can Steel Pan Programs Last?

                                                      Members of the Miami University Steel Band

The recent April Steel Pan Collective newsletter struck a nerve. After reading through the two Profiles in Pan (Jerry Lopatin and Chris Tanner), we realized that a common theme kept coming up - lack of resources. Could that be the problem in the troubled marriage between pan programs and schools?

We know for a fact that when a pan program gets up and running it is usually successful. Chris Tanner said that a new program was cropping up in southwest Ohio alone every 15 months. There are some very dedicated pan leaders and champions out there pushing to keep pan in the forefront.

But what happens when that instructor or champion moves on or retires? Are they leaving behind pan programs too vulnerable to budget cuts and a lack of pan educators to continue the program? We are starting to wonder if U.S. programs are centered too much around the instructor and not on the instrument.

Jerry Lopatin's story was one that got us thinking. He built what was and still is considered one of the more sustainable pan programs in the country. But when Jerry finally retired from teaching elementary students for 30 years, his replacement was not pan trained or familiar with running a pan program. Jerry even offered himself up to others in the district. No takers stepped up. So the kids' pan program died from neglect. The pan world lost another generation of future pan players.

So what are some possibilities to reducing the risk to pan programs?

1) More Pan Instructors - Clearly, there are not enough instructors trained in pan, running pan programs, or who understand the versatility of the instrument. More exposure to the instrument might help. We do our part by playing concerts/festivals in our local communities. Education and certification in pan is one such option for those with an interest in teaching pan. Who does it and where that happens still has to be figured out?

2) Music Education - Scanning the web will provide a listing of various music education programs. Few offer pan as a principal instrument. If steel pan is offered at all, it is likely lumped under percussion instruments. It might make sense on the surface. But consider this. A whole orchestra of sound can be formed with steel pans. Can the same be said for drum sets or congas? Maybe its time for pan to step out of that catch-all category of percussion and take its rightful place alongside piano as a special kind of "percussion" instrument.

There is still hope for pan in the U.S. The pan community can either work through the existing traditional university system or come up with an education alternative. Being the rebels we are at the Steel Pan Collective, we lean towards the latter.

There is no reason why pan can't live on in programs around the country. We don't have to rely completely on one person or champion to carry that burden. That may be too big of a risk to pan's future in the U.S. It is a solution we all need to solve together.