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CSULB musical group to drum up history in ‘Panomundo’

The Steel Drum Orchestra will be featured in an international documentary on the impact of the steel drum.

Jackson+Lai+performs+with+the+Steel+Drum+Orchestra+during+a+March+16+concert+at+the+University+Theater.+
Jackson Lai performs with the Steel Drum Orchestra during a March 16 concert at the University Theater.

Jackson Lai performs with the Steel Drum Orchestra during a March 16 concert at the University Theater.

Courtesy of Kim Long Vo

Courtesy of Kim Long Vo

Jackson Lai performs with the Steel Drum Orchestra during a March 16 concert at the University Theater.

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From the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago to Cal State Long Beach’s Carpenter Center, the power of steel pan music has come full circle.

The CSULB Steel Drum Orchestra has brought the historical island music to Long Beach since 1987. Now, the ensemble will be featured in an international documentary, titled “Panomundo,” on the impact and history of the steel drum.

“The goal of the documentary is to trace the history of the steel drum and show its reach outside of Trinidad and Tobago,” said Dave Gerhart, director of the percussion group.

Traditional steel drums, or pans, were the only acoustic instrument invented in the 20th century and were used in island music, such as calypso and soca, according to Gerhart.

Gerhart said that with the pans, the Steel Drum Orchestra is able to play other music genres as well and that the group performs a little bit of everything, ranging from holiday music to classical pieces.

“I think people are finally realizing the versatility of the instrument,” Gerhart said.

Percussion graduate student Tyler Hunt said that when he traveled to the Caribbean, he experienced the music in its place of origin. He said he feels the ensemble does the art form justice, considering its size.

“We are playing some great contemporary and traditional music,” he said.

According to Gerhart, the 25-member ensemble practices weekly and embodies the cultural reach of the steel drum beyond its roots. He said this is what earned the orchestra the chance to be a part of the documentary.

Gerhart, who discovered the ongoing documentary through social networking, was invited to join the project after sharing a video of the orchestra with its creators.

Footage shot at an October concert, including interviews with the musicians and Gerhart, will be in the documentary. The Steel Drum Orchestra will be featured alongside several other bands from around the world as a representation of the international influence of the steel drum, Gerhart said.

Gerhart said the ensemble was ready to represent the U.S. as a new cultural front for steel drum music.

“Our preparation for the concert didn’t change for the documentary,” said Kan Adachi, senior music performance major. “We simply want to do the music justice, and everything else falls into place.”

Gerhart said the goal of the orchestra is synonymous with the intentions of “Panomundo” and that the ensemble continues to share this instrument with the local community.

“The music is so unique because it was such a passionate music from the Caribbean, but [it can be] indigenous of whatever culture,” he said. “The instrument can adapt to any culture’s music.”

The Steel Drum Orchestra will bring island roots to Long Beach in a performance at the Carpenter Center on Dec. 6.

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