While taking a break from trying to understand the music publishing industry, I watched one of my favorite YouTube Channels, "First We Feast," which has a reoccurring show titled "Hot Ones," a show that has celebrities taste the entire spectrum of hot sauces from table hot sauce to mirco-batch-taste-bud-murderers. Today, it became incredibly clear that the hot sauce industry has the same battle of appeal versus individuality that composers and arrangers fight each time they put pen to paper.
Writing this was a great exercise in admitting what's wrong with my own arrangements and compositions.
I have charts that fall into each of these categories, which of course was never the intention. Composers don't open up Finale (or Sibelius for you circus animals) with the intention of writing a flop, but it still happens. The cure for missing your target audience is communicating with those who work closest to the age of students you're hoping to engage and figuring out what they're not getting from their current library.
"What do you need this semester?"
"What style do you want more of?"
"What pop tune are you students asking to play?"
"Is one section doing better than another? Let me write a challenging cello part in this next tune."
What are your favorite steel band charts and what hot sauce are they?
It's easy for all musicians to end the year and wonder what will come next. What will my next concert sound like, who will be in my ensembles and will PASIC 18 live up to the awesomeness that was PASIC 17? Before I furiously start planning out the events of 2018, I want to reflect on 2017 to understand that some of the coolest things to happen were not planned at all.
Sure enough, I ran into Matt in the bathroom just before his clinic and had a not-as-awkward-as-you'd-think-that'd-be, oh-yeah-I-remember-you "Hey!" The clinic went off perfectly and I hope to see him again in the future.
February, I was in full swing back at my elementary school, but got a great tip to use Shel Silverstein poems as topics for children's songs. I chose "Magic Eraser" which is a parable about if you had a magic pencil to draw whatever you wanted, you would also have an eraser, which could lead to you erasing things you wish you hadn't. I polled classes of 5 to 10 year-olds about what they'd erase and sure enough, "school" and "teachers" were pretty popular. The song was also our first use of my Donor's Choose ukuleles and was a hit as the finale to our Spring concert.
April was a big month for Jumbie pans! My elementary school has a dedicated Jumbie pan ensemble that is solely meant to prepare for performances other than our semester concerts. We only had our drums for 2 months but we were able to scrap together 4 of my tunes for public performances. We played in a local taco shop for the students' families, boasting enough business that they had to call more staff to handle the crowd. Later that month, the neighboring high school hosted a culture fair and we got to represent Trinidad and Tobago while performing in their gym. To end the month out, we played at the Las Vegas Day of Percussion, becoming the first elementary school to do so!
The Las Vegas concert combined 2 elementary schools, a high school and the College of Southern Nevada. We played a mixture of Thornton, Narell and my own tunes to one of the biggest audiences the college has ever pulled. Tracy taught the combined band a tune by rote hours before the concert and of course it was a crowd favorite.
In June, a steel pan group on Facebook had a post calling for new steel band charts for a possible PASIC concert. I emailed in 5 of my charts and crossed my fingers.
July was a month of travel as I hit Chicago, Cincinnati and Lexington. My first ever pan duo partner invited me to be the musical entertainment during cocktail hour at his wedding, which was followed just a week later by seeing Jimmy Buffett at Riverbend in Cincinnati and then Lexington to see old friends.
Why four lead pans?
My first takes on this concept (Quartet No. 1 & 2) involved the SATB voices of the steel band so that a member of each section could showcase their pan abilities during a chamber performance. Having bass and cello pans in the ensemble allowed me to create chords properly voiced over the ranges and then have percussion ensemble happen all around. My third go at this genre involves 4 lead pans because as I've learned, more players are familiar with the melodic lead pan than any other pan. Performances of the first two quartets involved lead players learning seconds, cellos or bass in order to have a full ensemble, so this is my homage to them.
How do you pick the instruments that surround the pans?
There are limitations to what any composer can ask their performers to have. The more exotic the instrumentation, the smaller percentage of musicians that possess the ability to program it on a concert. Colleges are ideal for new music because they have some of the largest collections instruments in any given state. When I write the score, I list instruments like snares, toms, cymbals and classic auxiliary percussion because I'm confident that any studio would possess these things. It's my personal opinion that any of those instruments could be swapped out for a different sound in the same range. For instance, replacing a snare drum with a sharp metallic sound or quick-attack wood plank. As for the low toms and bass drums, it gets more difficult to get the same effect with a found object. Those low tones are hard to replace when it comes to the type of punch we love to hear.
In the final week of November, I have 2 more exciting adventures before closing out and looking forward to December. McDonald's has a "Make Activities Count" grant that funds teachers who are trying to give unique and creative experiences in the classroom, encouraging them to use the funding to go beyond what is expected.
My proposal in September was to purchase a midi drum interface and all of the supplies it takes to create 10 midi triggers that have very long cables in order to reach every corner of the room.
The USB port allows me to map any appropriate sounds on my laptop, so that students can go from playing a cardboard box drum set to a xylophone that takes up the whole room. Whether we use our hands or rhythm sticks, the students would be able to trigger electronic sounds by striking whatever object the piezo sensor is attached to.
The paper thin sensor can be taped or glued to any object that vibrates and will send a signal back to the interface and then back to the laptop and send a sound through the classroom sound system. For instance, a long 2x4 piece of wood that 10 students can drum on at the same time could sound like a bass drum while another 2x4 could sound like a snare drum. On a smaller scale, a hand puppet could have the sensor in its mouth and signal a funny sound effect every time it talks.
I received an email earlier this month that I was selected by the MAC McDonald's Foundation to fund my idea and put these applications in front of my students as soon as possible. I'll have more to show after I attend the ceremony on Wednesday.
Every year after PASIC, I come home energized about what direction to head in, whether it was get better at drum set in high school, get better at 4 mallets in college or get better at everything after college. Now that I'm set in my professional career of teaching and lecturing, PASIC is more about enjoying the experience and figuring out how to best impact my community in a positive way. My main goal when talking other steel band directors was to figure out what problems they're having and if there is any way to tackle them in my compositions.
Is it possible to have tunes in your library that are never meant to see the stage? But are used to teach a scale or technique? Band and orchestra directors across the country have access to sight reading booklets, chorales for tuning and composed scales exercises. The same tools, if used in conjunction with preparing for a concert, could create a longer lasting skill for the pan as opposed to learned 5 songs every semester. As well as learning steel band literature, what about the budding soloist or chamber group?
It is accepted that the steel pan community does not have a standardized progression of solo, ensemble or band pieces even though college level percussion ensemble has a steady progression of popular works. Is "Pan in A Minor" the same right of passage as the contructions or ritmicas of the percussion ensemble world? Maybe the rebellious spirit behind pan is the reason we enjoy constantly looking for new literature or creating our own. An homage to the bands of Trinidad that truly represented the neighborhood they were rooted in, avoiding similarities to their neighbors in order to maintain their identity.
Regardless of our steel band intentions, I get excited about the prospect of a high schooler taking a pan solo to All-State or solo and ensemble. The same way many of us began with snare drum or marimba.
Above is the greatest meeting of the minds involved in steel pan that I have ever witnessed, which is largely because I missed the last PASIC this occured. Though this isn't everyone who is currently making the pan community proud, the picture above contains some of the most influential performers and composers of my lifetime. Composers whose names have been on my sheet music since the beginning were now casually standing around, cracking jokes and telling stories between runs of their own pieces.
A committee (some pictured) was created to curate a diverse concert that could speak to all pan lovers. One committee member said they had about 50 pieces to choose from and had to make sure that similar music wasn't programmed, which I'm sure was no easy task. Though popular, it was also important to avoid an all Soca program to keep interest with the audience. Programmed pieces included bossa novas, cha cha, waltz and even a non-secular holiday tune. The concert closed with a performance of Las' Lap which was the perfect send off for everyone involved.
The concert received a standing ovation and created a pan hang that lasted long enough to get kicked out of the hall for the next concert. Many comments were made about wishing this could happen every year!
I was very fortunate to spend 3 days with Dr. Floyd and the Campbellsville University percussion studio.
Dr. Floyd has built quite a pan community around his city, utilizing Jumbie Jams for a youth ensemble and his own private steel band studio, both of which are under the title of Steel Appeal. The concert Dr. Floyd programmed combined the members of Steal Appeal with the Campbellsville University studio for a massive display of diverse talents for a packed theater.
Steel Appeal students between grades K - 5 played Fast One, Lazer Racer and Coconut Crazy. Though the young ones practiced along with the backing tracks in rehearsal, the students were treated a live band playing behind them on the concert!
The Steel Appeal group that is 6th grade and older played Major Scale Mambo, Waiting in Vain and then was joined by the college students for Use Somebody.
Campbellsville University undergraduates and grad students performed Four Leads, Halfa Sun, Pop'n and then concluded with Andy Narell's Coffee Street.
All of the performers on this concert participated in a recording session the night before in order to produce quality audio and video of this landmark event. Even though our session went well into the night, the humor never left the stage. Jokes about Bb's being "live this time" and comparing solos to throwing darts at a target kept everyone laughing between takes and all the way to the last hang after the concert. I can't say enough about the level of professionalism and positivity that surrounds Dr. Floyd's students and I look forward to seeing them again in the future.
Thursday, November 2nd is Campbellsville University's steel band concert and it is jam packed with ensembles from the surrounding area. Jumbies, community bands and the college will combine together to play my arrangements and compositions, leading up the world premiere of Four Leads, a follow up to the award winning Quartet No. 1. Dr. Floyd and his studio have been a huge source of motivation for me to push forward in the pan and multi-percussion realm, performing every piece I've been able to finish and some before they were done!
I look forward to meeting members of the studio as well as the community band who are equally enthusiastic about steel band! Photos and videos to come!
6 months and 8 days ago, I posted about wanting to make this website my complete online hub. The ending of my contract with Tin Can Publishing.com got me back into gear, especially going into PASIC season.
I've spent my holiday weekend finding, fixing and uploading compositions from over the last 4 years. It really is a labor of love. It's the equivalent to scrap booking old photos together. Instead of pictures, I see pieces that I wrote while living in Kentucky or Iowa and think about what I was experiencing to make me write such a thing.
I think it's clear to see that my music has tamed down quite a bit since moving back to Las Vegas and working my way in to a predictable schedule. I've finally started listening to those professors who advised to write music everyone can play and it seems to be working out, as they predicted.
I am very fortunate to be a part of the 2017 PASIC Mass Steel Band that is going to play "undiscovered" or new works for a listening audience. Las' Lap was selected to be a part of the concert as well. I can't wait to hear what that will sound like with such a large and experienced band. I have chills already. I mentioned undiscovered in quotes because I think it is so easy for literature to go under the radar for years. For every steel band that needs 10 charts a year, there are probably 100 charts sitting on a hard drive looking for a band to play them. I am grateful to have some momentum building in the last couple of months, which will definitely peak with PASIC this year.
I'm glad you've made it to my website!
I've wanted to consolidate my online presence to one place for a while now and I'm happy to be able to lock down my own name as a domain. My next move is to get all of my compositions in one place!
By summer my goal is to have the live music page filled with information and videos!