Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music
IOWA CITY — When her kids attended West High, Barbara DeGroot discovered the school’s steel drum band.
From that day forward, every time she saw Ginny Armstrong, the band’s instructor, DeGroot would ask her when a community band would launch.
Last summer, it finally happened, and the group has grown to 10 dedicated members.
“It’s just kind of the sound that draws you in,” said DeGroot, an Iowa City resident. “That’s what it was for me.”
Armstrong, who also teaches a steel drum course at the University of Iowa, said she decided a community group would be well-received after taking note of the number of people expressing interest. This summer’s session is the fourth she has led.
The group is called PanIC, and Armstrong said they are very aware that it looks like the word panic.
“We kept calling it the adult band, but they didn’t like that name,” she said. “It’s funny because they do tend to panic because most of them ... aren’t trained musicians so performing is sometimes a little bit stressful.”
The band is open to anyone in Iowa City or the surrounding areas. Armstrong said the average age is around 55 — something she enjoys.
“It’s good for me, because I teach mostly younger kids so it’s different,” she said. “It’s just really nice because I can come in after a bad day, and it’s like having a bunch of parents around ... It’s pretty comforting.”
Armstrong keeps the group energetic and laughing through its weekly hour-and-a-half practice.
“Even though it may not end up with them being able to play like our UI students, they really seem to enjoy it,” she said.
Multiple members of the group said they were nervous at the first rehearsal since they had never seen a steel pan drum up close, let alone hit it with a mallet.
“When I started, I was overwhelmed,” said Marilyn Kempnich of Iowa City. “I felt very intimidated ... and this pan is so unusual, so it was different to learn that way.”
Armstrong says for now, her focus is on growing the organization.
“I’d like to see it expand and maybe at some point have a high school group,” she said. “Maybe have a couple bands going, have a beginner band, and then have the ones that have already taken it once to move into an established band that just keeps going ... because it’s one of those instruments that a lot of people can learn to play.”
Congratulations to the Seniors, keep on playing, very soon we will have a Senior World Pan Championship.
I feel proud as a native of Trinidad & Tobago to read of the effect our national instrument is having on seniors across the globe. By the way, I learnt to play the steelpan in the UK as a member of Ebony Steelband. That was during my student tenure in London.
PS During my formative years I was not allowed to play pan at home due to the stigma attached to the institution of the steelpan.