The Percussion Spectacular held this past Sunday led by Dr. Dan Moore, was nothing short of that, spectacular. As I drove to the Riverside Recital Hall, it occurred to me that I had no idea what to expect from a Percussion Spectacular, as I had not done any research into the concert before getting into the car. I like to live dangerously.
The Recital Hall was sprinkled with a diverse audience of children, grandparents, and students all supporting their favorite percussion ensemble performer. As the lights dimmed, we were introduced to Steel Band #3 under the direction of Jenny Armstrong. The group is comprised mostly of non-percussion majors and is a class that Armstrong describes as fun, relaxing, and “a class that doesn’t make your brain explode.” This band played three tunes, the first of which was called, “Saxophone #2”. I know what you’re thinking, saxophones in a steel band? The horns actually provided an interesting timbral characterist that was quite nice. Second, they played an arrangement of Fleetwood Mac’s “Could You Ever Love Me?” featuring Dr. Moore on the marimba with two exciting solo sections. Leaving smiles on the audience’s faces, they ended their portion of the concert with a medley of the Muppet Show Movie that featured a rogue percussionist during the “Mahna-mahna” portion of the piece.
Next, Steel Band #2 burst onto the stage with a lively, fast-paced, and exciting calypso by Superblue. The piece had a few solo sections that featured the performers, with arms flying to keep up with the quick tempo. Steel Band #2 consists of percussion majors and is directed by graduate student, Aaron Ziegler. The audience was treated to a student arrangement of a selection from the Lion King, followed by one of my favorite pieces – “Mambo #8”. The piece was fast, in a Latin groove, minor, and loud – all things I enjoy. Mr. Ziegler treated the audience to some amazing conga action, his hands rapidly grazing the instrument with style and finesse as he and his ensemble grooved on stage. The audience was in awe, some were fascinated, some were scared, and others, like me, were just jiving along with them.
The concert was moving along swiftly as the PanAmerican Steel Band took the stage. While they set up, Dr. Moore gave a brief history on the steel pan. Developed after WWII, the steel pan is one of the only acoustic instruments invented in the 20th century. Preferring to call it “pan” over “drum”, as “drum” has a negative connotation; the residents of Trinidad and Tobago developed a love for the instrument and began a popular competition called Panorama that encouraged friendly competition between neighborhood steel bands. The competition takes place during Carneval, with many competitors and a cash prize to the victor – not to mention a year of bragging rights.
Starting off their portion of the concert with a burst of excitement, PanAmerican Steel Band’s “Queen of the Bands” by Mighty Sparrow had the audience grooving in their seats. Coming down to a quieter mood, their second piece was a soft calypso that featured laid back soloists in “Caroline” by Roaring Lion. Throughout their set, Dr. Moore told the audience a little tidbit about each piece and its history, mentioning their third selection as another from Mighty Sparrow, who is a Calypsonian Rockstar; the piece was about choosing between two women – Mighty Sparrow chose both. The fourth piece was an arrangement by Aaron Ziegler and David Solomon of an American steelpanner’s jazzy piece ‘Kalinda’. The band switched it up for their penultimate piece and played a classical work by Eric Satie, “Gymnopedie #2”. It was bizarre to hear a classical piece, such as this, played in a steel pan band arrangement, because it was so quiet, calming, and sounded almost harp-like – a very different sound than I had been hearing previously during the concert. And their finale blew me away. A modern piece by Montano Machel titled, “Jumbie” was very fast, upbeat, and exciting. The whole ensemble was grooving and dancing while the audience listened with big, wide smiles. When it was all over, Dr. Moore said, “Oh, we can’t end a concert like that – you all have to stand up!” As they reprised the last few bars, the audience members looked at each other, a little puzzled, but I knew what he meant – when music like that gets into your body and soul, you just have to dance…