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Steelpan educators in US hold first convention
In 2016, a new national organisation of steelpan educators formed in the United States. The organisation is called the National Society of Steel Band Educators (NSSBE) and recently held their inaugural conference this past March 10 on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The conference was hosted by the organisation’s president Dr Chris Tanner, who is Interim Chair of the Music Department at Miami University and has been teaching steelpan for over 20 years.
Tanner, who studied under Ellie Mannette at West Virginia University, is an active steelpan clinician leading workshops across the United States from Alaska to Florida. Tanner is a dedicated pedagogue and has also brought a number of his students down to play for Trinidad Panorama.
The inaugural NSSBE conference drew over 50 participants from across the United States. Participants boasted a wide range of experience, from educators with decades of experience to others beginning their steelband journey. Conference features included hands-on sessions on rehearsing Trinidadian Engine Room percussion and integrating Brazilian percussion instruments into the Engine Room.
Internationally acclaimed jazz pannist Victor Provost was a guest artist and performed with the Miami University Steel Band in concert in addition to leading a workshop on the practical aspects of steelpan performance. The conference expo included a modest set of vendors, sheet music publishers, tuners, steelpan stand makers, and wellness professionals such as massage therapy for musicians.
The conference also featured a roundtable discussion on the subjects of teaching practices, resource needs, and how to deal with different situations lead by professor Brandon Haskett, of Saginaw Valley State University. Haskett is a member of the NSSBE’s Board of Directors and who has himself played with both Birdsong and Silver Stars in past Panoramas.
The roundtable further discussed the balance of rote teaching with classical music training, single pan steelbands recently started in the United States, and how to reach out to people who are suddenly teaching steelpan and who have no experience or background on the instrument or its origins. For Haskett, “It was a great time for sharing and talking with people who you had never met. It also put people of like interests in position to network for the rest of the day.”
Obe Quarless, who is a teacher, volunteer with the Seattle Women’s Steelpan Project, and nephew of arranger Eddie Quarless, felt the conference was “an exceptional opportunity to connect with people that are not only pan players, but also, educators who are promoting exemplary pan pedagogy while critically thinking about the instrument in broader contexts of academia and music education.”
Ted Goslin, editor of Pan Magazine, appreciated the networking. “It was so great to meet people I had only been in touch with on social media. I loved the flow of workshops and breaks to meet and connect with folks I had only met on line and everybody focused on how to move pan forward.”
The National Society of Steel Band Educators was founded in August 2016 by several likeminded educators who believed in connecting steelpan educators at every level, including, primary, secondary, and tertiary education as well as community and church steelbands in the United States. Haskett estimates that there are over 1,000 steelbands in the United States and the number is growing. Although the national organisation of percussionists (Percussive Arts Society) occasionally features steelpan at its convention, and to a lesser extent their publications, the NSSBE is dedicated solely to issues of steelpan education.
The NSSBE has several resources for steelpan educators including a website (weteachpan.org) and a steelband director’s facebook page where they share information and respond to questions. The resource portion of their website lists builder/tuners in the United States, sources for sheet music, mallets, stands, and cases, notices for steelpan camps, and a directory of steelbands. The NSSBE website also offers indexes of books on Steelpan, Carnival, Engine Room, and jazz improvisation as well as an index of dissertations and master’s theses on steelpan and steelbands.
According to Haskett, the NSSBE has big plans for adding a great deal to the resource section of the website and has set an ambitious goal of expanding it every month.
The organisation’s first newsletter was issued in January with pieces by Andy Narell and Victor Provost among others. In addition to the release of his new CD and induction into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame this past fall, Narell is a highly sought-after clinician who has led workshops at more schools in the United States than perhaps anyone else. He will be a regular contributor to the NSSBE newsletter.
Next year the NSSBE is planning another one-day conference at Miami University in the spring, with plans are to eventually move to other locations around the United States. Tanner was quite pleased and looks forward to the organisation filling a need as steelpan education continues to grow across the United States.
Ray Funk is a retired Alaskan judge and a Fulbright scholar who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas. Dr Andrew Martin is an ethnomusicologist, percussionist, pannist, and Professor of Music at Inver Hills College in St Paul, Minnesota.
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