No big band needed – the six steel pan orchestras that showcased their talent Sunday night were enough to have everyone in the Kelly “Pupa Kelly” Charleswell Village dancing, from the smaller school groups to the big bumping trolleys of the Rising Stars Youth Steel Pan Orchestra.
Francis Wenner, volunteer coordinator of the Ulla F. Muller Elementary School Panatics was jamming on the tambourine alongside her students as the group helped to kick off the event Sunday. The band’s numbers had decreased during the pandemic as families relocated but there was a resurgence this year, Wenner said, though the kids’ desire to play sports, join clubs and participate in as many extra-curricular activities as possible did conflict with the practice schedule.
“We anticipate having a more regular year next year, and we’ll be back to the regular numbers,” she said. The Panatics practice three days a week for an average of seven hours, plus Saturdays, and it’s all by ear – they don’t do sheet music, Wenner said.
“The group and the families, our arranger, everyone is very dedicated, so while sometimes the time was a challenge, we pulled together and did it,” she added.
It’s made of wood but still called a cow bell, and it was used by Love City Pan Dragons’ instructor and arranger Ikema Dyer to keep tune Sunday night as the band opened with steel pan version of the Burning Flames’ “Tout Moun Dance.” The group’s playlist ran the gamut from other classics such as Bob Marley’s “Jamming” to an original composition by Dyer himself, called “Pan in the Yard.”
Throughout the sets, the students’ energy was unrivaled, as they threw their bodies into the rhythm, closed their eyes and connected to the music.
“These kids work very hard and our instructor and arranger is incredibly talented,” Pan Dragons’ board president Andrea Milam said. “We all end up really bonding, and becoming a family – it’s very special.”
The Bertha C. Boschulte Burning Blazers steel pan orchestra is a combination of seventh and eighth graders, who instructor Le’Roi Simmonds said play at different levels – some read sheet music while others can simply listen to a melody and play it back. The mix seemed to be working Sunday, as all in the group transitioned seamlessly in between their seven-song playlist, which ranged from Beethoven to Tessanne Chin.
“We tried to cover all the genres,” said Simmonds, who shared that the seventh graders have been with him for the whole school year so far, while the eighth grade students picked up the Carnival music in February.
Asked how he got the students to learn the songs so quickly, Simmonds said, “repetition.”
“We just keep playing it over and over until they get it,” he added. “And we made sure they had a little fun along the way.”
Also performing Sunday were the Rising Stars, the Charlotte Amalie High School Mellow Hawks and Pan in Motion.