Sunday, June 19, 2011

Playing The Steel Pan Drum - Tropical Sounds In Kentucky

Years ago I heard a steel pan band while vacationing with my parents, brother and sister in Myrtle Beach. I was just a kid and loved the sound from the first time I heard it. As I walked along the beach, I could hear the hypnotic sounds of calypso and reggae being played. I followed the sound to a nearby hotel where a steel band was playing poolside. I listened until they had finished playing that day and later came back every afternoon that week to hear more.

Recently the steel pan drum topic came up when I was talking to Jeff Bayerle, the assistant band director at Henry Clay High School. He told me that the school owned some quality pan drums and that he knew where to buy the good ones. I then talked with several percussionist friends of mine (David, Bryan, Teresa, and Andrew) and they all recommended the same instrument and dealer. Panyard, a company out of Akron, Ohio, imports the instruments from Trinidad, where master pan makers build the instruments to Panyard specifications. When finished, they are shipped to the Ohio factory for tuning and tweaking of the instrument. I ordered a pan made from a 55 gallon drum about a month ago and was excited to receive it this past Monday.

I took a week of vacation from Hurst Music so that I could get a good start on learning to play the instrument. I practiced along with background tracks all day long on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday I played until I had to leave for my night gig at Giuseppe's. By Thursday I was getting around suffiently on the instrument and had put together a twenty minute playlist.

A Trial Run Gig In The Howell's Backyard

As a trial run for a gig, I took the instrument to the a neighbor's house and played in their backyard by the pool. Though I did okay, I was not confident enough to bring the instrument to my Thursday night gig at Giuseppe's. After the Thursday night gig, I practiced all night long and throughout the day Friday. On Friday night, I brought the instrument with me to Giuseppe's and played a couple of tunes each set. I had fun playing and the audience liked it. I practiced again on Saturday and took the drum with me to my gig at Caproni's Restaurant that evening. Again, it went over well.

Playing At Giuseppe's

As time goes by I will get better and more fluent in my playing. I look forward to the time when I can relax and play the tunes easily using muscle memory instead of having to think about everything and working so hard the way I currently do. I want to be able to make it look easy. I have some nice tropical shirts and a cool Panama Jack straw hat. I'll be ready when that time comes.