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UA Steel uses Trinidad experience for performances

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona daily wildcat
"Steel drums" - Illustrations senior Michael Tierney practices on the steel drums last night in the Music building. He and 24 other students will be performing Sunday in a steel drum concert hosted by the music department.
By Lauren Hillery
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 21, 2005
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Remember when field trips in grade school consisted of touring milk factories, going to the park and visiting retirement homes? The UA steel drum's field trip in January make those grade school trips look, well, childish.

UA Steel, as they are called, is open to all UA students. The only requirement is that they have to love to play steel drums.

"They love the music. It's an escape from biology and chemistry classes all day, and they just want to come play music," said Gary Cook, director of percussion studies. "They love the energy and the style of music."

UA Steel made the trip to Trinidad, the birthplace of steel pan, in January to partake in Panorama, a steel drum competition. Although the group did not compete, their experience was enriched by following a Trinidadian group, The Invaders, as well as by playing at their Carnivale celebration.

"It was like a study abroad program, but all in one week," said director and music graduate student Mike Sammons.

For political science junior Erin Schillings this trip to Trinidad was her second. She said the trip was extremely helpful for the band's live performances.

"It was so amazing to go as a group, because we learned so much and we learned it together. The next gig after we got back was the best gig," Schilling said.

UA Steel is a group of variety, whatever its members backgrounds, musical abilities and reasons for joining.

Fox Felton, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, began playing steel drum in high school to honor the memory of a friend who had passed away. He says he loves steel drum because it allowed him to play an instrument without much of a music background.

"You don't have to know everything about music before getting into it. I mean I'm an English major, I'm worried about where commas go," Felton said. "It's an easy instrument to learn. It allows me to express myself."

A steel drum ensemble is much like a vocal or instrumental ensemble in that it consists of seven levels of musical ranges.

The highest part, called the lead pan, is one average 55-gallon drum with 29 notes. The second part is double tenor, then double second. The cell section consists of suspended quads. Thee bass section, which consists of six pans with three notes each, creates 18 notes. All drums are played with a handmade, rubber-ended mallet.

The class meets three hours a week, but students only receive one credit.

The program, which began in 1987 at the insistence of UA alumnus Janine Remy, was the first collegiate steel drum program in the state. There are now programs at high schools and grade schools throughout the city.

In addition to class rehearsals, the band generates revenue for the program by playing gigs about every other week.

"We'll play anything from rock to classical music. We will entertain with anything that works well with the instruments," Cook said.

Schilling said that one of the great things about steel drum is that it's so physical, which makes the songs easy to remember.

"It's the funnest experience you'll ever go through. It's like a party every night we rehearse," Schilling said.

UA Steel and Blue Band, the beginning steel drum band, will perform Sunday at 3 p.m. at Crowder Hall. For tickets call the music box office at 621-1162. Tickets cost $9, $7 for UA employees and seniors, and $5 for students.

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