When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

I'm back home after an amazing week in Brooklyn tuning and playing for Steel Xplosion. I cannot believe how great that last week was, albeit quite frustrating at times. It is always great to go out and play pan with Freddy Harris III and his band, but tuning for them was an irreplaceable experience that has changed the expectations that people, including myself, have for me. Freddy admitted to me that he wasn't quite sure what to expect when he asked me to come tune for him, but that I really came through and that he was very impressed with my abilities and wants me to continue to be the band's tuner! In addition to the tuning, I played with the band. One night, while working on a couple tunes, I was not sure what Freddy needed me to play so I jumped around between bass, tenor bass, double guitar, seconds, iron and drum set. Later that night I asked what Freddy wanted and he said he was really happy with everything I did but was really feeling my iron playing. As I started to walk back to the iron, he stopped me and said "You may not look the part, but you are a true pan man." This was such an incredible compliment, I don't think I will ever forget that moment! Such simple words, but I cannot even explain how much meaning they have to me. Later that week, Freddy's father came to yard and gave me a similar compliment in regards to my tuning abilities. The fact that I was able to impress these very experienced, and incredibly talented, musicians means more to me than they will every know.

As the week was drawing to an end, the true family aspect of the band became incredibly present. As terrible as it seems, I have been trained that people will abandon me when it comes to pan here at home. I am used to being the convenient acquaintance that only seems to exist when something is needed. As soon as there is a conflict, or possibility of rustling some feathers, I am used to seeing all my "supporters" back down and cower. I always hear things like "next year I'll stand up for you" or "you understand how it is, I am just not in a position to do anything" and other worthless things like that. I am used to the college that I graduated from turning a blind eye to the destructive nature of one of it's employees. I am used to the professors that taught and supported me while I paid their paycheck slander my name and refuse to talk to me after I go and do what they taught me to do. I have had to fight for everything that I have done in the steelpan world. From being a white performing panist, to starting my own store, to creating a community group and teaching young kids to play the instrument. Every step forward has required me to stand alone and fight, and I have trained myself to expect that now out of everything. What I am not used to, is what happened in New York. I was completely accepted into the Steel Xplosion family and this family doesn't shy away from adversity (as evident by what happened to them with panorama this year). When one of my typical issues from home reared it's ugly head in Brooklyn, I was prepared to deal with it myself. However, my pan family out there had my back. People like Tameeka, Mike, Kahlil, Junior and Marsha were quick to jump to my side and support me. They refuse to stand idly by as I fought one of my reoccurring battles as my "friends" at home do. This was completely unexpected and has nearly brought me to tears as I reflect on it while writing this.

I cannot begin to really capture what this week in Brooklyn really meant to me, but can say I learned a lot about myself. If somebody told me a month ago that I would tune around 26 instruments in approximately 15 hours split up over 4 four days for a Brooklyn steelband preparing for panorama, I would have laughed in their face. If somebody would have told me that I would play drum set with a band in Brooklyn (even just as a sit in when the drummer mysteriously disappeared), I would have scoffed and said maybe in a few years. If somebody told me that people would respect me and stand up for what I am doing with pan, I would have said only in my dreams. The truth is that I did tune all the instruments for Steel Xplosion, I did play drum set, people did stand up for me and the list can go on and on.

This trip also proved that I can put my money where my mouth is. I am 100% devoted to pan, and love what I do. There is no obstacle too large that can prevent me from reaching my dreams. Before closing this out, I need to also thank Billy Sheeder for his incredible advice he gave me on tuning in this environment. Without his words of wisdom, I doubt I would have been able to get the band sounding as good as it did. Regardless of what anybody says, or what happens in the future, this trip changed my life. The feeling of standing out in the yard and listening to the band play on Friday night and knowing that I am the one that I tuned nearly every instrument on stage was an experience that I will never forget. I cannot even put into words the emotions that I was feeling as the incredible sound of Steel Xplosion consumed me knowing that I created that sound. I cannot say thank you enough to all the people that helped make this experience happen and to all the people that supported me while I was there (like Junior, Melanie, and Lisa Brown for letting me live with them). This trip has given me even more drive to keep doing what I am doing and everybody can expect to see me continue to make things happen in the steelpan world. Thank you to my Steel Xplosion family, you mean more to me than I can tell you. All and all, I could not be happier with my decision to volunteer my time and costs to tune for this great band!

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Comment by Fitzy T. Spencer on September 8, 2013 at 9:23am

The steelpan store,

I was happy to read about your experience and think I know the feeling you felt hearing that tune coming out and knowing that you were responsible for that, great work congrats,and just keep striveing to get better 

Comment by The Steelpan Store on September 5, 2013 at 11:05am

Thank you for all the support everybody and thank you for not being afraid to accept me in the pan world!

Comment by MC Joseph on September 3, 2013 at 10:23pm

Be assured my brother, every talented, dedicated pan person is a unique gift to the musical universe. The universe is still expanding as it should, and so are you and others yet to be discovered. The old guards have done or are doing their part, so I, another Mr. Nobody lol, :) welcome you inside the home circle of fourths and fifths.

Comment by hollis clifton on September 3, 2013 at 6:59pm

 Hats off to you brother, you are, indeed, a true Panman. Imagine having to go across the seas to discover your true potential/worth ... " a prophet is not without honour save in his own country".

Nontheless, Please permit me to quote a segment of your statement "If somebody told me a month ago that I would tune around 26 instruments in approximately 15 hours split up over 4 four days for a Brooklyn steelband preparing for panorama, I would have laughed in their face".

My first reaction is "Wow!" Brother, if that is indeed the case then I must postate to you ... a la Nigerian  tradition. 

You must go to the head of the class as that is more like the time it will take to "blend" (not tune) such instruments. This is indeed a guesstimate of the time frame taken by the top class tuners. You must have learnt from the best.  

Best wishes to you in your trade and keep on keeping on.    

Comment by Bertel Gittens on September 3, 2013 at 5:23pm

Great things ahead Matt!! This is how it begins, out of a muddy pond. Congrats!!

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