Arguably Bates’ most hidden gem, the Steel Pan Orchestra now features 16 students who come together for three hours on Thursday nights to give their hearts to the steel pan. After slowly building momentum and gaining popularity over the past few years, the Steel Pan Orchestra is ready to take over Bates College this semester.
Originating in Trinidad and Tobago (and standing as the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago) steelpans are one of those easy-to-learn but hard-to-master instruments. For the Bates band, no previous experience is required. It is as if you are playing the drums, but the drum is made of steel and there are spots on the drums that make a specific note. And just like drums, there are different kinds that play different styles.
For steelpan, there is the tenor, double second, guitar, bass, tenor bass, cellos, and many others that big bands use. This semester the band has 16 members, more of the different kinds of steel drums will be used. The higher register drums, the tenors and the double seconds, are used for the melody while the lower register drums, the guitars, cellos, and basses, are used more for background loops.
Imagine Paul Rudd mixed with Jack Black from School of Rock and you will get Duncan Hardy, the unflappable leader of the Bates Steel Pan Orchestra and a guru in the world of steel pans. Duncan took over the orchestra a two years ago, completely changing the course of Steel Pan at Bates. Sure, playing steelpan is very fun, but playing steelpan for Duncan is next level. Duncan is a profession steel pannist, even traveling all the way to Trinidad and Tobago to compete in the World Steel Pan Festival! Currently, he is the band director of Sister Steel, a band he formed with friends from his high school. He is a pretty big deal in the steel pan world as he is the director of the New England Steel Pan Festival this year.
Steelpans can be used to play almost any song. A popular song is “Under the Sea”, but Bates’ band is not that basic. Even Nick Jonas has caught on to the steelpan trend, using steelpan in his song “Close”. Last year, the band played “Africa” by Toto to rave reviews. The band also regularly plays a song known as “AFC” (it has a real name, but is solely referred to as “AFC” because of the first three notes to the song) and more traditional steelpan songs from Trinidad and Tobago.
The next concert will February 3rd for the Bates Art Crawl. That performance will feature the smaller group of students who were in the band last semester. The end of the semester performance will be on April 7th, featuring all 16 band members. It will be unlike anything at Bates – or anything anywhere.
The students in the band range from musicians who love music so much they need more of it in their lives to those eager to try something new and unique. The three-hour rehearsals can be tough: it is a lot of standing, but it is a great bonding experience. The rewarding feeling of putting on the Hawaiian shirt right before going on stage makes it all worth it. The band might even participate in the New England Steel Pan Festival this year. With all the talent that the band holds, there is no limit to where they can go. Not all superheroes wear capes, but all steel pannists wear Hawaiian shirts and are superheroes.