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Meet Xiaotong Zou of China

A chance meeting has developed into an intense love affair with the steelpan instrument, art form and culture. As a member of Planet Pan of Maine and Exodus Steel Orchestra of Trinidad, Xiaotong has experienced the magnificence of Pan and Panorama. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, Xiaotong Zou of China shares how the steelpan instrument has impacted her life.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Xiaotong Zou, and a little bit about where you are from, Nanjing. (介绍一下你自己和你的家乡。”

Xiaotong Z. - “My name is Xiaotong Zou. I am nineteen, and I am from Nanjing, China. I am a student at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania majoring in Math.

“Nanjing is a historical city in southern China, capital of Jiangsu Province. It was the capital of China for six dynasties, and it is now a big city populated by 7 million people. Nanjing is also famous for its unique embroidery and beautiful ladies...” 

“我叫邹晓童,今年十九岁。我来自中国南京。现在美国宾夕法尼亚州盖茨堡学院主攻数学。南京是一个历史悠久的中国南方城市,曾是六朝古都,如今是江苏省的省会。南京大概有700万人口。南京的云锦非常的出名。 ”



WST - “You first learned to play pan when you moved to Maine, USA with Nigel Chase's Planet Pan Steelband.  Were you aware of the steelpan before you moved to the USA? (你在去美国之前听说过钢鼓么?)”

Xiaotong Z. - “I never heard of the instrument when I was in China. I remember when I was in China trying to decide which school to attend in the US, one of the schools, George Stevens Academy, had steeldrum listed as one of their afterschool programs. I remember looking at the name and thinking, “what kind of drum is that?” I ended up going to that school, but pan wasn’t the reason I chose that school.”  

“在去美国之前我从来没听说过钢鼓。我记得当时决定去美国高中,选学校的时候有一个叫做乔治史蒂文森学院的课后活动有钢鼓,因为不知道钢鼓是什么,我也没多想。最后我选择了这个学校,但是不是因为钢鼓。 ”  

WST - “Talk about that initial experience with Planet Pan, those early days, and how Pan impacted you? (你高中的乐队是怎么样?对你人生有怎样的影响?)”

Xiaotong Z. - “It was coincident for me to join Planet Pan. I was trying to decide what classes to take for the semester. My roommate told to me to take the Pan Class because she was in it. She couldn’t really explain what pan is but she said it was fun. The next day I walked into the pan room, Nigel Chase, the teacher, showed me around the room and the different pans. I was fascinated by the sound of the instrument, and I decided to take the Pan Class. Then it was natural for me to join the after-school pan program, which is the Planet Pan Steelband.

“Playing with Planet Pan was my best memory for high school. There are about 20 people in the band – imagine putting 20 teenagers in a room, it is either going to be chaos... or WE HAVE FUN! We play all kinds of gigs all over New England. We go on a boat to different islands and play for the people. We skip school sometimes for the gigs, which is the best part… The friends I made through pan are like family to me. I definitely won’t be as happy today if I didn’t play pan.”


“课后的钢鼓乐队非常的有趣 。20个高中生每天下午放学后在音乐教室练习,忙不乐乎。我们有很多的演出,有时是周末,有时会翘课到其他地方表演。我们的演出都是公益型的表演,不收钱。我在乐队里也交了很多知心好友。 ”  

Xiaotong Zou
Xiaotong Zou

WST - “You played tenor with Exodus for the 2014 Panorama season. How was the transition from a smaller, more intimate steelpan environment, to a full-size, 120-player steel orchestra for you?(你今年参加了特立尼达和多巴哥当地的一个乐队,并且参与了全国最大的钢鼓比赛,这跟你高中的经验有何差别?)”

Xiaotong Z. - “Playing with Planet Pan is definitely more relaxed. People in my band are all high school students. We take practice seriously but many people in my band have no music background, and were playing for the first time. Exodus, like other large bands, is very professional, well organized and disciplined. Practice at Exodus was more intense and taken seriously since it was for a competition. It was definitely a different scene, but it wasn’t hard for me to transit since I come from a very disciplined culture.”

“高中的乐队非常放松,大家都是高中生,很对人没有音乐基础,也是第一次接触钢鼓。但是这里的乐队就不一样了,大家都是很专业的钢鼓家。因为排练是为了比赛,所以大家对待排练的态度也是非常的认真的。整个乐队的操作也非常有序以及专业。 ”  



WST - “Talk about your nightly Panyard practice sessions - what did you think about their intensity, the repetitious drilling, etc.?(每晚在钢鼓乐队的排练是怎样的?)”

Xiaotong Z. - “My college does not have a pan program therefore I haven’t played with a band for a while. It took me several days to get used to the intense practice session. I remember going to the panyard the first night. Everyone was so professional and picked up notes fast, but I was struggling. After several days of practice, I finally got used to the flow and I was actually showing other people notes.

“I think the repetitious drilling is definitely necessary since there’s so much to the music. It is needed for the players to understand what the arranger is trying to say through the music and for players to express that.”

“我的大学没有钢鼓乐队,所以我有一段时间没有排练。我刚刚参加当地的乐队时还有点不适应,其他的人都非常的专业,学得快,我相比而言就比较的慢。但是一个星期之后我也就慢慢适应这样强度的训练了。每天晚上四个多小时的排练也过的很快。强度的训练是有必要的,只有训练多了选手们才能了解以及体会到我们通过音乐表达的东西。 ”


WST - “Assuming you visited other panyards in Trinidad during the Panorama season, what did you think of the overall 'Panorama' atmosphere and culture? (你对这里嘉年华期间的钢鼓文化是怎么看待的?特别是去看了其他乐队排练之后?)”

Xiaotong Z. - “I didn’t get to visit many panyards this year because I was at Exodus every night. I am a responsible player... but I visited many panyards two years ago during my visit. It’s such an exciting phenomenon. People come to the panyard to listen to their favourite band, even though sometimes the band is drilling on one section over and over again. So many people are involved in the pan scene – if they are not panists, they are probably supporters. I am very fascinated by that.”  

“我今年没什么机会去看其他乐队排练因为我自己每天都有排练,但是我两年前有幸在西班牙港看到一些乐队。我很喜欢这里的文化,嘉年华期间大家都非常的 ”  


WST - “What do you think of the actual Panorama experience, playing on stage for semifinals and the finals, etc.?(比赛的情形是怎样的?”

Nigel Chase and Xiaotong Zou
Nigel Chase and Xiaotong Zou

Xiaotong Z. - “I was very nervous when we were waiting for the band in front of us to finish so we can get on stage. When the band finished, supporters helped us move all the racks on stage. The moment when we finished setting up, I was still shaking but I was ready! I know it was the moment for us to shine, for us to tell everyone that we are prepared and we are here to show you how much effort we put into this eight-minute piece of music. The music was not the same as how we practiced in the panyard. The music plays itself. There is pride, passion, excitement, tears, all kinds of emotions in the music that can only be expressed on stage.”



WST - “Do you play any other pan but tenor? And do you play any other instruments? (除了tenor, 你还演奏其他的声部么?你弹其他的乐器么?) ”

Xiaotong Z. - “Sometimes when I hear cool parts on other pans, I will ask the player to teach me. But tenor is my favourite, and I always played tenor with my band. My second favourite pan is bass, and I would love to try bass someday.  

“I was forced by my mom to learn piano when I was 10. I didn’t like it. Since I was a stubborn child, which I still am, I stopped playing after 2 years. Now that I look back, I do wish that my mom was a little stricter about it so I would have become a good pianist. But hey, I am a panist now.”  

“有的时候我听到其他声部有好听的旋律,我会请其他人教我。但是我最喜欢的还是tenor。如果有机会的话我想学巴斯。我小时候学过钢琴,但是只学了几年就放弃了。现在想想如果当时坚持了,现在应该弹的还不错了呢。 ”  

WST - “You are at the University of the West Indies (UWI), taking a Steelpan History and Development class, and also a private pan class. Are you considering a career relative to the steelpan art form?(你有想过选择跟钢鼓有关的职业么?”

Xiaotong Z. - “The Steelpan History and Development class is of my personal interest. I love learning about the pan pioneers, TASPO, ping pong pan to spider-wed pan, etc. And the private pan class helps me to get out off my post-panorama depression since I do not go to the panyard every night anymore. Life is miserable without pan...

“I do not know if I will pursue a career in pan, but I know for sure I will keep playing!”



WST - “To date - what is your fondest memory in Pan?(你印象最深的表演?)”

Xiaotong Z. - “There are so many great memories regarding pan. Panorama is the most significant, and is the biggest achievement I’ve done so far. But in my heart, the New England Steelpan Festival in 2011 always has its only special place.  

“The New England Steelpan Festival is an annual festival where steelbands and pan-lovers from all over New England gather together for one day and enjoy the sound of pan. One of the pieces we played that year was Italian Girl in Algiers by Rossini. (Listen to it here: youtube.com/watch).  I was very honored to have a solo after only joining the band for about 7 months. I remember being very nervous. My heart was beating so strongly. I could not think but let my hands go and play by themselves. The moment we finished the song, the crowds cheered and applauded, seething with excitement. A lady came up to us, saying, “You guys stole the show!” She was so happy and tearing up at the same time.  

“Music brings the performer and the audience together. One reason I like to play tenor is that I love being in the front row, seeing how different people respond to the music. Some of them stare at us with their mouths open, some knit their eyebrows trying to catch every mistake we make, and the best dance!”




WST - “What does your family think of your involvement with steelpan? (你的家人对你对钢鼓的钟爱有什么看法?)”

Xiaotong Z. - “I am very glad to say that my family is very supportive. For the last three years, every summer my band would participate in Salah Wilson’s International Steelpan Festival in Montreal, which happens in July. School finishes in June [for] the latest, but I will stay in the US and practice for the festival, while all the other international students are already home. My family still lives in China, and they miss me a lot. But they understand I love pan and they will tell me to come home after the festival.

“My mom on the other hand loves pan! She always asks me for pictures and videos whenever we have a gig. I gave her a CD of my band and she listened to it over and over again. She hasn’t had the chance to hear me play live yet, but one day I will bring my pan home and play for her.”


WST - “On a personal note, have you transposed any Chinese songs to pan, that is do you play any of them on Pan?(你有在钢鼓上演奏过任何中国歌么?)”

Xiaotong Z. - “Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to play any Chinese songs on pan. I did once figure out how to play a Chinese song called Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower) – a folk song of Jiangsu Provence, just on tenor by myself. I will certainly look into more Chinese songs for pan.”

“我的乐队还没有演奏任何中国歌。但是我有自己练过茉莉花。 ”

Nigel Chase and Planet Pan Steel Orchestra
Nigel Chase and Planet Pan


WST - “If/When you return to China - do you intend that the steelpan instrument will maintain a prominent place in your life?”

Xiaotong Z. - “It’s hard to talk about the future. I like Trinidad, and I do want to spend a few years in Trinidad, join the stage-side of a band, and learn from the best. There is no pan in China, so I feel obligated in a way to bring pan to China. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but pan will always be in my life!”

“难讲。我很喜欢特立尼达和多巴哥,我想将来在这里住一段时间,参加一个大型的乐队,到处表演。当然,我现在在美国学习,我也有可能留在那里。但是作为在学习钢鼓的中国人,我希望有一天我可以帮钢鼓文化传播到中国,在那里发扬。 ”  

WST - “Do you have any other observations/thoughts relative to the steelpan art form?(你还有其他对于钢鼓的想法或者意见么)”

Xiaotong Z. - “There are several things I want to talk about.  

“I didn’t have a chance to play with Exodus for Carnival Tuesday on the road, because I was playing mas. From what I was hearing from my friends was that the band basically got stuck between two big sound trucks blasting music the whole time. It was impossible for the players to hear what they were playing as well as for the audience, so the band basically gave up playing. Pan on the road is a carnival tradition. People call pan the national instrument while not showing any respect to it. I think something needs to be changed... 

“Also, what I noticed when I went to the panyards is that people don’t dance to the music. People just come and sit or stand around. There is a lady who comes to Exodus panyard almost every night. She is always dancing, making loud noise while drinking a beer. People laugh and look at her like she is crazy. But she is enjoying herself like nobody! It is such an abnormal scene when all the players are dancing, jumping, playing the music, and expressing themselves, while the crowds are just sitting there.

“The last thing I want to say is the lack of knowledge on pan of the young panists. I was on the maxi with the band going to semi-finals. On the way, the radio was broadcasting a medium band playing In De Minor. I heard them playing parts of ‘Pan In A Minor’ as part of the arrangement and I was singing it. It shocked me when I realize that the boy next to me had no idea about either song! He never heard of ‘Pan In A Minor,’ and he does not care about what other bands are playing for Panorama! It’s such a tragedy – it’s like a pianist not knowing who Beethoven is! I think it’s important for the young panists to know about the old tunes, the classics, and some history. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be an expert on pan, but basic knowledge should be taught among the young.”

“第一, 在周二嘉年华的时候,我的乐队在路上表演,但是由于被放在了两个大卡车中间,卡车上载满了音响,在放很吵的音乐。 尽管我们在用尽全力的演奏,行人还是无法听到我们。钢鼓乐队的演奏是嘉年华几十年的传统,但是现在却没被尊重更不谈重视。  

“第二,我在每晚的排练注意到听众 都非常的木讷。很多人就站在那里不动,顶多跺跺脚。在缅因州,来听我们乐队表演的人都非常的活跃,一整晚跳个不停。但是这里的人们却没有那样的激情,我很纳闷。难道是因为习以为常了?  



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