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Meet Angela Beyer of Texas

Steelpan in “The Lone Star State”?  You better believe it.  San Jacinto College Central Steel Band is set on a path to rock Texas, USA.  In an exclusive with When Steel Talks, long-time member Angela Beyer speaks on her love affair with the steelpan.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


WST - “Tell us about yourself.”

Angela B. - “I teach audio engineering at San Jacinto College Central in Pasadena, Texas, where I am also a long-time member of the San Jacinto College Central (SJC) Steel Band.  Originally, I was the guitar player and singer for several Houston power-pop bands that you have most likely never heard of.  Now, I am the double tenor player for the San Jacinto College Central Steel Band, which hopefully you will have heard of!”

WST - “Talk about your introduction to the steelpan instrument.

Angela B. - “My introduction happened when I was a student at SJC long ago. The steel band’s director, Michael Mizma, asked my friend and me to record the band one day, and soon after he convinced us to sign up for the next semester since we didn’t have any ensemble credits yet.  It was challenging at first, especially the sight-reading, but I stuck with it and was hooked!  Back then I was exposed to every voice, as we switched instruments for most songs, so I had to learn cellos, tenor, double seconds, guitars and bass.  I stayed for three semesters, until I transferred to Texas State University, where I played with the Panorama Steel Band.

WST - “What has made the steelpan so attractive to you, what fuels your passion?”

Angela B. - “It’s such a unique and accessible instrument.  Just about every student who joins our steel band has never touched a pan before, and most have never even seen one up close, but with a few weeks of dedication and practice they are making music  and performing in front of an audience.  What I really love is the sound of the band when we’re playing at our best, which only happens as a result of the passion, persistence and professionalism of our unbelievably talented director, Michael Mizma. He is truly inspiring, and I can live quite happily knowing that I will never be as good of a pan player as he is, but that won’t stop me from trying to better myself!”

WST - “How is the steelband ensemble received in your area, Texas?

Angela B. - “The steel band is very well-received; most years there is a steel band festival called the Kemah Pan Jam, at which we and several other local steel bands and international pan players perform.  Being that we are located in a hot, humid, coastal region, steel band music just seems to fit really well!

Angela Beyer
Angela Beyer

WST - “How did the steelpan come to the San Jacinto College (SJC)?

Angela B. - “Michael Mizma brought the steel pan to SJC back in the mid-90s.  In the very beginning, he started a marimba ensemble in 1993, which turned into a percussion ensemble, and by 1996 he procured the first steel drums.  I came aboard in January of 1997 and stayed for three semesters, during which time we recorded our first CD, Departure. When I first joined, we didn’t even have stands for some of the pans, we were hanging them on cymbal stands.  We had one set of bass pans, one set of triple cellos, one set of triple guitars, two double seconds and four D-tenors (I think!).  Most were used pans from the Caribbean Steel Tones.  Those drums have now been passed on to the newly formed Texas A&M Steel Band!”

WST - “How are musicians recruited into the San Jacinto College Central Steel Band?

Angela B. - “Most of our members are recruited through word-of-mouth.  About half of the steel band is composed of audio engineering majors who are required to have ensemble credits as part of their degree plan.  We also have several percussion majors, several music majors who play other instruments, and usually one or two non-music majors.  There are no auditions, and absolutely anyone is welcome to sign up, even if they aren’t otherwise a college student.  We do warn potential new members that the band requires a LOT of time outside of our normal rehearsals to learn the instrument and practice, practice, practice--especially in the first several weeks.”

WST - “How is the college steel band viewed by fellow musicians who play other conventional instruments, and generally, by the wider student body and faculty?”

Angela B. - “I think we are well-respected by fellow musicians at the college, a lot of them end up joining us! We definitely feel valued by the college administration, who invite us to perform at various functions.  We are a regular performer at commencement every semester, which exposes us to a lot of faculty, students and their families who otherwise may never hear us play.”

WST - “Are there any music degrees focusing on the steelpan instrument offered at SJC?

Angela B. - “No, we have no degrees focusing on the steelpan.

WST - “You have been described as a vital part of the San Jacinto College Central Steel Band – what are your responsibilities; what is your preferred voice of the steelpan instrument?”

Angela B. - “I have been called “the Anchor” before, so I guess I feel one of my responsibilities is to do my best to nail my parts from the very beginning to help the newer members and try to keep the band together when we first start learning our music.  I try to be a good role model by practicing in the rehearsal room regularly, and I am always happy to help the others with any questions they have.  Other than that, I designed and am the webmaster for our website (www.sanjacsteel.com) and our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/sanjacsteel), and I’m in charge of our digital distributions (we have music available on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon).

“My preferred voice was once the D tenor, as I have my own at home.  However, someone (Michael Mizma) started giving me more and more double tenor parts, and now I am in love with them.  I love playing melody, and the sound of the double seconds I play is amazing (which are made by Earle Wong, as are all of our tenors, double seconds, and triple guitar/cellos).  My ears just love the sound that comes out of them, and they are really fun to play!”

WST - “What are some of the year-round activities of the SJC Central Steel Band”

Angela B. - “We always have a concert each semester, and always play at commencement in recent years.  Other than that, we have played for a wide variety of functions that vary from year to year.  We are regulars at the Kemah Pan Jam.  We mostly perform locally in the Houston area, however in 2010 we had the tremendous opportunity to travel to Washington, DC and Virginia Beach, Virginia to perform the showcase concert at the Panorama Caribbean Music Festival, opening for Andy Narell and Lord Relator. That semester we commissioned an original work for steelband and choir from panist/composer Gary Gibson, called “In the Shadows of the Forest,” (available on CDBaby and iTunes) and premiered it at our Spring 2010 concert prior, recorded a CD, and travelled to perform the East Coast premiere in Virginia Beach.  Prior to that, the farthest we travelled was to Northwestern Louisiana State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.”

WST - “When you say to people – you play steel pan, does every person understand what you mean?

Angela B. - “When I say “Pan,” not everyone understands. I try to say “steel drums” to people, and if they are confused I’ll say “the Caribbean instruments made out of 55-gallon oil drums.” That usually clarifies things pretty fast!”

WST - “Some New York steel orchestras for Panorama normally field more than one hundred pan players per band in their annual competition; how large are the bands in the USA you have experienced?”

Angela B. - “I’ve never experienced a band that large, the largest I’ve seen in person is actually probably this semester’s SJC band!  I believe we have over 25 members this semester, which is awesome considering that in the early years we sometimes only had 8!  That is about to change though, in about 9 days from now (April 6, 2013) we are joining forces with the Lone Star College - North Harris Steel Band, the new Texas A&M Steel Band, and a number of guest panists from the region to perform with Andy Narell, Relator and Mark Walker.  It is going to be the largest combined steel band ever to perform in Houston!”

WST - “As it is the norm for some Panorama-size steel orchestras in New York, Trinidad & Trinidad, and other islands in the Caribbean, to go to competition with more than one hundred players each in annual competition, do you think that this will happen sometime in the wider USA?

Angela B. - “I hope it happens sometime in the future, but as the USA is so much larger than Trinidad & Tobago, I can understand the logistics difficulty in arranging travel for that many people to travel to one location.  It was quite a feat to take our 20-member band plus the college’s 40-member choir all the way to Washington, DC and Virginia Beach.  It would be an amazing thing to experience though, especially to perform in!

WST - “What challenges, if any, do you face as a panist in the SJC Steel band?”

Angela B. - “I just try to hit all the right notes at the right times with the right feel and not embarrass myself too badly in front of the students!  I am fortunate to be employed at San Jacinto College, and to be able to arrange my schedule so that I am able to continue playing in the steel band.”

WST - “You’ve been a panist for more than fifteen years; what changes have you seen and/or experienced over the years?

Angela B. - “The changes I’ve seen are basically a little, baby steel band with second-hand pans, no cases, and playing standards like “Maryanne,” “Matilda,” and “Day-O,” growing into a mature steel band with top-notch pans, refrigerator-style rolling cases, commissioning original works and performing difficult arrangements.  And we now even have cushiony floor mats to stand on when we practice for hours on end!  Despite the challenges we faced early on, I’ll always remember those times fondly and will never forget the friends I made back in the beginning, when I was first “thrown to the wolves.”  It has been wonderful to see the changes throughout the years and I look forward to what’s next.  The sky’s the limit!”

WST - “As a seasoned panist yourself, what do you see as the future of Pan in the USA?”

Angela B. - “I think the steel pan will only become more and more popular in the USA.  I was amazed at how many middle-school and high-school bands were performing at the Panorama Caribbean Music Festival in Virginia Beach.  There seem to be many more East Coast pre-college steel bands than there are in Texas, but hopefully that will change and one day we will have incoming freshmen who’ve already been playing the pan for years when they join us.”

WST - “Have you ever been to Trinidad & Tobago and/or participated in their Panorama competition?  If so, what have your experiences been like?”

Angela B. - “No, unfortunately I’ve never had the opportunity!

WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to highlight?

Angela B. - “Not that I can think of!  Thank you for the opportunity to talk about some of my favorite things!”

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