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Woodstock hosts pan festival

Potts & Pans Steelband entertains the audience in Chicago.
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Woodstock, New York is renowned for the rockfest held in 1969 that attracted thousands of music-lovers hankering for an outdoor communal gathering of like-minded rock and roll aficionados.

Last weekend, Woodstock, Illinois may have imprinted its own music legacy hosting the Great Lakes Steelpan Festival at Creekside Middle School.

Celebrating its fifth year, guest artists Gary Gibson, Kurry Seymour, Akinola Cennon and Potts & Pans Steel Band joined five bands from four states to present pannists ranging from middle school to college to herald the music of Trinidad & Tobago.

Partnering to promote T&T’s gift to the world, Canada-based, Caribbeantales-TV.com offered four poignant documentaries detailing the evolution of the instrument that fascinate audiences wherever it is showcased.

Among them: “Steel Pan: a spiritual journey” a short which explains how the only musical instrument invented in the 20th Century came into being. According to legend, Winston “Spree” Simon, invented the first steel pan in 1939. It is the national instrument of the twin-island. Developed in the back yards and streets of Port-of-Spain, the steelpan gave voice to generations of disenfranchised Black youth, and has been called a spiritual drum.

“Panomundo” is a documentary about the history of the steelpan and its global influence. The first section of the two-part film highlights the precursors of the steelpan and the creation of the instrument before it gained international recognition at the Festival of Britain in 1951. Interviews with steel pan legends, such as Ellie Mannette, Sterling Betancourt, Cliff Alexis and Ray Holman, explained the dynamics of the time in the 43-minutes feature.

Nine-year-old Atiba Williams is the focus of a seven-minute documentary focusing on the youngest person to arrange music for a steel band during the Panorama competition. This film looks at a day in his life, from home, to school, to rehearsal to performance.

Episode 9 of the “Heartbeat” series showcasing Canadian / Caribbean musicians shone the spotlight on Ian Jones, a legendary steel pan player and composer who uses his musical genius to teach marginalized young people to play the steel pan. Highlighting how he instils discipline and hope for the future offered an added attraction to the music-filled gathering. The 22-24 minute short illustrated how Jones is acclaimed as both an innovative musician and a social activist for the betterment of young people.

“Let’s Play Pan” offered a 28-minutes historical chronicle of the development of the steel pan in Trinidad and Tobago by examining the socio-economic conditions that gave birth in the 20th century to the only complete family of tuned, acoustic percussion steel instruments.

The GLSF presented an educational environment to promote steel pan performances while showcasing new techniques, compositions, artists, and the rich history from T&T.

Each band and artist featured individually throughout the performance.

The festival is the brainchild of Denette Lynch — who plays lead pan in Duluth, Minnesota and Matt Potts, owner and founder of The Steelpan Store from Crystal Lake, Illinois. Together in 2013, they pulled off the inaugural fest. The two met at the 2012 Panorama Caribbean Music Festival in Virginia Beach. Soon after, they both agreed that they would like to have a pan festival in the Midwest. Since they were unable to find any existing festivals they decided to start their own. The first year was a huge success and this has already become an event that bands in the Midwest look forward to. The goals of the festival are to provide a fun and educational event where everyone can not only play pan but also learn from and hear other pan groups and clinicians.

The festival concluded with an evening concert with all participants joining together to form an 80-plus steel pan mass band.

Updated 7:04 pm, April 12, 2017
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