Bringing the Caribbean to Connecticut

 UConn's Steel Pan Ensemble performs energetic musical pieces at their spring concert in Von Der Mehden Auditorium on April 21st, 2018. (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

UConn's Steel Pan Ensemble performs energetic musical pieces at their spring concert in Von Der Mehden Auditorium on April 21st, 2018. (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

On Saturday night, UConn musicians joined in von der Mehden Recital Hall to perform the smooth styles of Latin Steel Pan rhythms. The ensemble played five numbers which showcased all of the main traditions in steel pan music. The show also presented a description of the history of this style of music and an overview of the various types of steel drums.

As Director Bob Stephens explained, the four categories of drum are the “tenor,” which plays the main melody of the song, “bass,” which provides the backbone to the piece and has the lowest pitch, and “guitar and cello,” which fills in the rest of the piece, providing harmonized melodies to support the tenors.

The pieces themselves each had a slightly different feel. According to drummer Gian Lombardo, the three main styles presented in the concert were “calypso, cha cha and soca.” The five songs that the ensemble played were “Take a Wine” by Ray Holman, “All’ Ah We” by Tom Miller, “Cha Cha Sandwich” by Phil Hawkins, “Red Beans and Rice,” arranged by Bob Stephens and Earl McDonald and “Birthday Party” by Lennox “Boogsie” Sharpe.

“Birthday Party” was a great choice for the finale, blending many rhythms together and building to a powerful ending. The best song of the night was “All’ Ah We,” which you may have heard if you attended the African American Cultural Center’s closing ceremony for Black History Month.

While most of the evening progressed fairly smoothly, the one exception was the fourth piece, “Red Beans and Rice.” Stephens cut the song short and ushered the brass section off the stage after the song became very jumbled and disorganized.

One student performer was asked what could have been done to avert this sort of problem.

“First of all, more planning. We had never rehearsed with the winds at all, and I believe there was some sort of error with their music that didn’t line up with our music,” the student said. “We tried to fix that in sound check, but there were just too many parts that had to be fixed and corrected last minute, so we weren’t able to put it all together. If things were planned better and we practiced all together a few times, I think it would have worked.” Hopefully this can serve as a lesson in preparation and help the ensemble to put on even better concerts in the future.

While not UConn’s most well known musical group, the sound of the Steel Pan ensemble is unique within UConn’s performing community. As Lombardo said, “It’s very unique. If you have any experience with percussion, definitely try it out. If you are into any Jamaican stuff or Calypso, it’s right up your alley.” I would recommend steel pan to any interested students. Even if you don’t typically listen to this style of music, it is a fun experience. The sound is very mellow and relaxing, with a beat that makes you want to move around and enjoy yourself.


Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at evan.burns@uconn.edu.