Community steelbands are steelbands set up with the intention of benefitting the local community and continuing the tradition of ‘playing pan’.
They are usually formed by
- steelpan teachers who use the schools where they are employed as feeder schools for their community steelbands. The more proficient pannists get the opportunity to extend their skills while the less proficient can continue playing steelpan and develop at their own pace.
Some Local Authorities inform the schools that have steelbands of community steelbands so that their pupils can join after leaving primary or secondary school. Pantonic All Stars from Stockport in Cheshire was formed in 1988, after an English family who was based in Trinidad returned to England. When the band took form, they enlisted Arthur Culpeper to teach the steelband. Soon the steelband gained immense popularity throughout Cheshire. Pantonic offers tuition to children across a 35 mile radius, and currently perform almost every weekend during March and December.
- people interested in learning how to play steelbands. Steel Pantastics, the University of the Third Age (U3A) Steelband based in Nottingham was formed specifically for retired and semi-retired people to come together and learn for the ‘sheer joy of discovery’. Steel Pantastics meet every week for two hours and boasts more than 20 members. They perform regularly throughout the year and are regular performers at Sherwood Forest Visitor’s Centre and Rufford Country Park.
- small steelbands with the aim of broadening their opportunities. Metronomes Steel Orchestra (MSO) is based in West London, the home of UK Panorama. It shares its name with Metronomes Steel Orchestra, Laventille, Trinidad which was led by Bertram Marshall in the 1950s. MSO was formed in 1973 by two families. After performing at various venues in the UK and Europe they formed a youth steel orchestra to offer steelpan lessons in their local community. Some of their notable achievements include appearing on the television programme Songs of Praise, performing at the opening of the Channel Tunnel and winning the UK Panorama on four occasions.
- established organisations wanting to add a new dynamic. SV2G, an organisation based in Buckinghamshire was set up to raise the awareness of Caribbean Heritage and Culture. SV2G formed Wycombe Steel Orchestra (WSO) to promote steelpan culture and give their steelpan players the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability. The members of the orchestra were chosen from SV2G’s School of Steelpan which was set up for young people between the ages 10 and 25 to learn how to play steelpans. SV2G is recognised as a legacy project of the ‘Inspired by 2012’ brand initiative led by DCMS and the Cabinet Office for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee.
Most groups are taught by a steelpan teacher or experience pannist. The music they learn to play will in part be chosen so that they are stretched musically. This will also prepare those who want to go further so as to enter into the realms of semi-professional performance. Alternatively some groups are self-taught, simply wanting to enjoy the merriment of playing a musical instrument and maintaining their playing skills.
The experiences gained by being a part of and performing in a community steelband has helped to strengthen many community relationships and allows the steelband members to share valuable life experiences as well as forge long term friendships.
Community steelband members get the opportunity to
- learn to play a new instrument
- perform in public
- become ambassadors for their community
- promote the steelband as a family of instruments
- encourage other people to play a musical instrument
- meet new people
- have fun
The rise in the number of schools that include steelpan as a part of their music education has had a direct impact on the increase of community steelbands. This extended family steelbands coupled with the community steelbands has seen many communities benefit from the allure of Caribbean Heritage to the interest of other cultures. This has created a musical experience that is as unique as the steelpan instrument itself.