The biggest challenge of teaching steel pan percussion was, “getting the students to the point where they don’t have to look at the drum to play it,” said Michael Horan, seven-year music instructor at Kekionga Middle School.
A former Marion, IN police detective, Michael applied for and obtained a Lilly Teacher Creativity Grant through the Lilly Foundation to go to Trinidad and study steel drums, finally making the long-awaited 13-day trip last June. However, he got his trial by fire years before going there.
“I’ve been teaching steel drums at Kekionga since 2003,” said Michael, who earned his B.S. and M.A. in music from Ball State University. “Prior to that, however, I’d heard steel drums but had no clue about actually teaching them and I knew Kekionga had a steel drum band which I would be expected to teach. Most of what I learned about playing steel pans came from observing other pan players and asking tons of questions and also listening to a steel drum band on YouTube, which sounded like a lot of fun!”
Asked if his students used sheet music while learning to play, Michael said up to a point – sheet music was used until the players get the piece memorized.
“Many of the Trinidad bands and those elsewhere learn their music by rote because they have never learned to read music,” explained Michael, who defines pan music as “exciting and happy music.”
“We currently have 35 members, 19 which meet everyday and 16 in the beginning group which meets after school every Tuesday. Kekionga received a grant to purchase the initial set of drums and we have added to them over the years.
“The equipment is costly – Solid Hoop lead pans cost approximately $5,200, a Trinidad import about $1,500. Double seconds run about $2,000 for a set; cellos about $2,500 for a set of four and a set of six basses will run about $3,500. A couple of students have their own instruments – Emilee Parke, for example, received a D lead as a Christmas present last Christmas.”
The Kekionga Steel Drumz band has performed for the International Pan Association Convention in 2006 and for the Indiana Music Educators Conference last year.
According to band mom Tammy Parke, “When Mr. Horan challenges the students with a new piece of music, they have so much fun that, before they realize it, they have learned a new song.”
Don your floppy straw hat and come thrill to the drums on February 6, 2010, at the KSD’s Caribbean Valentine’s Dinner Concert held in the school gym, 2929 Engle Road. Pulled pork is on the menu, and a special guest is the Steelin’ Hearts Duo with Steve & Angie Lawrie. Dinner will be from 4 pm-7 p.m., with the concert beginning at 7:30 p.m. Prices are $10 per person for the dinner and concert, $5 per person for the concert only, and $8 per person for the dinner only. Contact Tammy Parke for tickets at 260.478.7137.
The KSD’s first-ever CD will also be available for purchase ($12); contact Michael at 260.467.6618 to order the album.