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Steelpan Instrument Captivates Taiwan Students

Taipei International Percussion Summer Camp

Taiwan - Mat Britain, Director of the Vanderbilt University Steel Band Program in Nashville Tennessee, recently returned from teaching steel pan at the Taipei International Percussion Summer Camp (TIPSC) held at the Taipei National University School of the Arts in Taiwan. The ten-day percussion intensive camp has grown over the past nine years to include 200+ students ranging from 10 to 21 years of age.  Multiculturalism and diversity are the themes of TIPSC with classes in marimba, vibraphone improvisation, marching percussion, drum set, three forms of traditional Chinese percussion, and steel band.

Founder of the TIPSC and President of the Taipei National University School of the Arts (TNUA), Professor Tzong-Ching Ju says “It is our goal with the camp to expose our students to the differences between Eastern and Western percussion techniques and to introduce them to the percussive skills utilized in other cultures.”  The Taipei National University also has the only set of steeldrums on the island of Taiwan so it is a new and exciting experience for the students to be exposed to the steelband art form and the rhythms of Calypso music. “For many of these Asian students it was their first experience with the steel pan and it was a thrill to see their excitement and enthusiasm towards the instrument” says Britain.

In 1988 Professor Ju brought noted tuner Cliff Alexis and founder of the Northern Illinois University Steel Band - Professor G. Allan O’Connor - to TNUA for a residency.  During that time Alexis built a set of pans for the university and Professor O’Connor helped to get the steel band started with instruction and arrangements. Professor Ju feels that it is extremely important for the students at TNUA and the students of the percussion summer camp to experience the steel pan.

Teaching through an interpreter, Britain says the students were quick learners when it came to steelband music. “The Asian percussion students at this camp read music (Western notation) very well so once they became familiar with the layout of the notes on the pans they did great. We worked a lot on the interlocking strum rhythms in the guitar and double second pans as well as the engine room rhythms.”  Some of the students attend this camp each summer but for many it was their first time to see and hear, much less play, a steel pan. “It was amazing to see their faces, especially the younger students, when they first played the instruments. Huge smiles would appear on their faces and you could just tell they loved the sound of the steel band,” says Britain.

Class time was also spent sharing the culture and music of Trinidad and Tobago. The birthplace of the steel band was pointed out on a map since many of the younger students were not exactly sure where Trinidad is located. “We also listened to some musical examples like Kitchener, David Rudder, and Machel Montano so the students could hear music from the source.”  But what really blew them away was watching a DVD from the 2007 Panorama Finals. “They couldn’t believe the size of the bands, the complexity of the arrangements, and the energy and precision of the pannists.  After watching the DVD many of the students were inspired to ‘jump up’ a bit while playing their pans!”

At the conclusion of the ten-day camp the students performed what they had learned for an audience of 500+ very enthusiastic family and friends. The percussionists left the summer camp with a newly acquired percussion skill and an appreciation and awareness of the national instrument and music of Trinidad and Tobago. The student’s were also given a list of steelband websites for future reference and of course at the top of the list was www.panonthenet.com.

Asked what he liked best about his first trip to Taiwan, without hesitation Britain says, “The people. The students were respectful, attentive, and very good musicians, and it was a thrill to share the music of the steelband with the students at the Taipei International Percussion Summer Camp.”

To see pictures of the TIPSC visit www.myspace.com/matbritain 


Britain, Mathew R
Vanderbilt University
Blair School of Music
Director, Vanderbilt Commodore Steel Bands
Email: mathew.r.britain@Vanderbilt.Edu


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