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.