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I have played music with many pan players and have been impressed with the level of skill and musicianship on the instrument, but not impressed with the performance of some well known melodies. My conclusion is that they have not invested enough time checking out the song and have relied upon melodies which they have copied from another player who did not investigate the song. What is your experience of this?

Some players convince themselves that they know the melody and they have no idea of the lyrics to enhance the expression of the melody being performed. Is this a common situation, or do many musicians bluff their way through gigs hoping that no one will come up and say, "You are playing that wrong."

It is easy to hear when a person knows the correct melody and is applying another interpretation, compared to a person whose software is still being downloaded. Can you tell the difference and what's your take on all of this? 


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Comment by Corey Morgan on October 4, 2013 at 3:35pm

MIDI versions of songs are only as accurate as the author is... most MIDI files are only "close".  But I feel that it's very important that our audience is able to recognize the songs we play.  I try to give the listener what they are familiar with, and so I listen to and model my phrasing after the popular version.  I try to be careful to not put too much artistic embellishment before the listener has established that connection with the song.

Comment by Charlene Lusk on October 4, 2013 at 2:25pm

Hi Everyone, First off, why is the focus of this topic about pan players? This is not limited to only Pan players. I have had the experience playing in Europe amongst many Italian musicians and they too make the same mistake by not taking time to make sure of some melodies. As far as the music "lead" sheets go, they are generally not printed by the composers of the piece so sometimes they are incorrect.  I suggest listening to the latest recording of the piece. If then you can't remember the piece, which is the basis of playing any piece of music whether read or played by ear, you are in the wrong business! A. Joseph

Comment by Gordon Hazlewood on August 20, 2013 at 9:39pm

I suggest that panyards should invest in a computer and software applications such as Sibelius or Finale.  These applications read and playback MIDI files.  Most melodies are available in MIDI format and many are available free of charge. Moreover, complete musical scores are read into these applications from which individual parts can be extracted and played separately, or printed in the form of music sheets.

Comment by Wayne Cezair on August 16, 2013 at 12:02pm

A lot of pan players are still playing by rote. That is playing a tune from memory. A lot do not have access to the original recordings or the score sheets.

They play from memory and often that memory is not exact so when they play what they think they remember as the correct tune and are not corrected by anyone they end up playing and passing on the incorrect melody to others.

Comment by MC Joseph on August 15, 2013 at 10:17pm

Hi Bigsands,

This is a good observation and your question deserves some answers. I am responding after your post has been viewed 184 times and just two replies submitted. Now I don't have the final answer but just my perspective. To your first point, could you name a few songs that you'll described as "well known melodies?" I may have a clearer idea to give an answer for this query. 

To the point that "Some players convince themselves that they know the melody and they have no idea of the lyrics to enhance the expression of the melody being performed." I agree with you in one sense, because many players are steelband players given an interpretation of a melody to follow and some will bluff their way through with a wrong melody. In the other sense, the non-steelband player/ steelpan soloist is standing alone to give the audience an authentic rendition of the lyrical content of the song, and their main intent is to properly articulate a song before improvising on the melody. The latter will critically listen to the melody line and the lyrical passages to convey as closely as possible the melody of the song. Remember this is a subjective response, and I hope it helped answer your questions.

Thank you

Comment by Raphael O'Neal on August 15, 2013 at 10:53am


Comment by Matthias G. Kauer on August 15, 2013 at 9:53am

I have made the same experience playing with professional pan players of caribbean origin performing world known music (Great American Songbook) on gigs in a different way than the original, nothing wrong about if their version is good :-). I think, the musicians haven't had the opportunity to listen to the original over the Radio because this kind of music is not transmited as much as it is here in Europe. And yes, it takes a lot of time to check the original melody and chords from the sheets of music.

Matthias G. Kauer, steelband music arranger and bass pan Player in Switzerland.    

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