Bringing The Music Of The Islands To The Academy

Steel pan on island

Posted on January 25, 2019 by Matt Geske

This Spring, we are thrilled to bring you a new Steel (Pan) Band Percussion Ensemble for high school and middle school students, led by Academy percussion faculty and Mason School of Music Graduate candidate David Singhaus. Repertoire will focus on the traditional “music of the islands” such as calypso and soca, but will also explore jazz, pop and classical arrangements!

David Singhaus, who is currently studying under Mason School of Music Steel Pan Faculty Victor Provost,  brings a wealth of passion and experience to the classroom.

“I have a rich experience with the Steel Pan instrument,” explained Mr. Singhaus, “having learned how to play in my high school steel band at Dover High School (in Ohio), continuing to master the instrument at The University of Akron, and now studying and performing at George Mason University as part of my Graduate program. I have also traveled to the island of Trinidad to perform with the group known as the Nutrien Silver Stars Steel Orchestra to learn from the best of the best in the field. It was there that I performed for Panorama, the National Steel Band Festival, and also during Carnival. The positivity and pride I experienced gave me a new insight and mindset in how I approach the instrument, and I try honor those who helped the instrument become the success is has become today!”


View an example of steel pan performance from the University’s Steel Pan Ensemble:


The types of music associated with the steel pan are calypso and soca. Calypso is the folk music of Trinidad and Tobago, and it’s style comes from West African Kaiso rhythms and Western European harmonies from the French. Many of the singers, known as calypsonians, would often use the music as social commentary, singing about a wide variety of subjects such as the government, international events, or most often about Carnival. Carnival, known in the US as Mardi Gras, is a religious celebration that takes place before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Out of Calypso came the music of soca, which is short for “Soul of Calypso.” Created by Lord Shorty in the 1970’s, it was created to bring together the African and Indian populations on the island by using musical rhythms from their respective cultures. It was also meant to bring the younger generations back to listening to traditional calypso music.

“Students can expect to experience something that is totally different from their usual music programs at their schools,” said Mr. Singhaus. “Steel pan has a magic that brings about the most positive emotions and attracts everyone around it. Whether it’s the signature sound of the instrument or it’s look, I have never seen a person who doesn’t have a smile on their face when listening or playing. There is nothing like it in the world today, and it’s a one of kind experience that will positively impact students for years to come, as it did for me all those years ago!”


Steel pan ensemble performing


While calypso and soca are most often associated with steel pan, the instrument is capable of performing multiple genres of music. One of the most popular genres pan has crossed over into is jazz, thanks to the likes of Andy Narell and George Mason’s own Victor Provost. They can perform funk tunes, rock and roll, and the steel band is also capable of performing full arrangements of classical music by Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven.

The Spring 2019 class will meet on Sundays, beginning in March, at the Performing Arts Building on the Mason Fairfax campus. The ensemble will present a festive performance at the end of the session for all to enjoy. Grab your mallets and sign up today!