Instrument Goes Ivy
with Columbia University’s Teachers College. An “INTRODUCTION
TO WORLD MUSIC” Columbia University, Graduate School of Education.
Professor Robert Stephens, Instructor.
New York- A ten-man contingent of New York champion Pantonic Steel Orchestra journeyed to Columbia University to perform, showcase and conduct a workshop on the steelpan instrument to a class of graduate level students. The workshop was part of the Graduate School’s “An Introduction To World Music” course. The course is being taught by Dr. Robert Stephens and is under the auspices of Columbia University’s Teachers College.
In addition to performing a wide variety of music that demonstrated the versatility and skill set of the Pantonic musicians (from Paul McCartney’s Long and Winding Road, to John Legend’s Ordinary People), Pantonic’s Patrick Hypolite explains the differences between the family of steelpan instruments. Their ranges, types, usages and tonal differences were shown and highlighted.
Following the question-and-answer session, the graduate students experimented with the steelpan instruments under the tutelage of the Pantonic musicians. For many of the teachers this was their first real encounter with steelpan instruments. It was a totally entertaining and educational experience for the participants who played and learned parts of a song on the instruments.
Many of the students participating in the graduate course are themselves music teachers within elite music programs at significant institutes of learning. Dr. Stephens felt that this class involving the steelpan instrument, was extremely important in terms of facilitating an added awareness and sensitivity to other cultures, and alternative ways of learning music. In particular Pantonic Steel Orchestra musicians demonstrated to the graduate level students, the strength of learning music thorough the oral tradition, and performing at a level that was equal to musicians who perform and learn music through traditional academic means, and sometimes with music sheets in front of them.
A common theme repeated by the students was that experiencing a steelband such as Pantonic first-hand, provides them with insight that they could take back to their own classrooms. They were also of the view that it equips them to better relate to their students in the future, who may have come through a similar experience and culture.
The goals and objectives of this graduate course at Columbia University’s Teachers’ College revolve around two questions:
(1) how do we make sense of the different ways of life and ways of understanding the universe and expressive cultures that we find among peoples of the world?
(2) What can we learn about our society, our culture and ourselves by studying other societies and cultures?
According to the class syllabus, by the end of the course “students should have not only learned about the lives and creative habits of people who live and view the world differently than themselves, but should also have a better idea of why their lives proceed as they do.”
Beyond the obvious musical and multi-cultural experience and benefits Pantonic Steel Orchestra brought to this forum - the students clearly left with a fresh perspective of and open-mindedness for, the steelpan music experience in the context of world music and popular music. This is especially important given that the steelpan is the only acoustic instrument invented in the last century, and remains the most popular music instrument of choice among urban youth.
Professor Stephens summed up the event by suggesting to his graduate level course participants, that they avail themselves and take advantage of the opportunity to bring an organization like Pantonic into their schools and districts to exposed their own students to the steelpan instrument and culture.
Songs Performed by Pantonic Steel Orchestra:
Contact Pantonic Steel Orchestra at : 1-718-434-0231
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