v Meet Lin Tao 陶 霖 - Shanghai, China - Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form
Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Lin Tao 陶 霖 - Shanghai, China

“I just found out it is a quite fun and interesting instrument with a very unique sound...  Not many Chinese people saw or knew this instrument before, actually. My family and friends are very supportive with this new instrument I introduced to them. They are super happy to hear it and see how it works and sounds....” 

Lin Tao is a gifted pianist, performing artist, percussion instructor and music educator. And as fate would have it -  she is now one of the persons who first performed on and introduced the steelpan to the world-famous and prestigious  Shanghai Conservatory of Music - sometimes known as the “the cradle of musicians.”  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, performing artist Lin Tao shares her love for the steelpan instrument and expectations for the future with the art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

WST - “Who is Lin Tao - tell us about yourself?”

Lin Tao - “My name is Lin Tao, with Chinese character of 陶 (tao, last name) 霖 (lin, first name). (Chinese name has opposite order to English). I was born in Shanghai, China. Now I work as a music teacher for piano and percussion. I also perform in concerts with bands, choirs and more.”

WST - “What is your principal instrument?”

Lin Tao - “I started to learn piano when I was 4, then I learned percussion when I was 12. I got some chances to play with brass ensembles and orchestras as a percussionist. And lately, I started to conduct percussion ensemble for my students’ band.”

WST - “When and how did you first become associated with the steelpan instrument?”

Lin Tao - “I was introduced to steelpan about 6-7 years ago by my boyfriend, who spent more than 10 years in the Caribbean. At that time, I just found it was a quite fun and interesting instrument with a very unique sound. In 2015, we got the chance to visit Aruba, then I saw the instrument for the first time with my own eyes. I was so amazed by how people play it and how they enjoyed it on the street or even during the carnival parade. Then I got to know it can be played not only as a solo [instrument], but also there were different sizes [groups] and it can be played in a steel pan bands and more. So before I left Aruba, I got the chance to take some lessons from steelpan artist Lee Connor.”

Lin Tao and Jose Herrera at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music
Lin Tao and Jose Herrera introduce the steelpan at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music

WST - “What attracted you to play the steelpan?”

Lin Tao - “I think it is the special and unique sound of it. And how people enjoy and have fun when they play.”

WST - “What do your friends and family think of your involvement with the steelband art form?”

Lin Tao - “Not many Chinese people saw or knew this instrument before, actually. My family and friends are very supportive with this new instrument I introduced to them. They are super happy to hear it and see how it works and sounds.”

WST - “Your performance at The Shanghai Conservatory of Music was billed as the first time a steelpan had ever been played there. Describe the experience.”

Lin Tao on piano
Lin Tao Piano recital concert

Lin Tao - “It was a really great and unforgettable experience. We enjoyed every minute of it.”

WST - “How was the steelpan received by the audience?”

Lin Tao - “The audience liked it and enjoyed our performance. Even though at the beginning not many people knew what it was, that’s why we did a little bit of an introduction of it.

“We didn’t choose very hard pieces, but the pieces that the audience were very familiar with, hoping it can shorten some gaps between the audience.”

WST - “Who arranged the music on the video for the percussion ensemble?”

Lin Tao - “We chose two pieces. One of them is called ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, arranged by Aaron Ziegler from Alfred’s pop steel drum ensemble series. Since we didn’t have all the steel drums in the pieces and due to it being a big stage, the leader of the percussion ensemble decided to add more percussions in it to make it sound better. Adding marimba, Xylophones and more in the end brought an unexpected great-sound effect. Another piece was ‘Crazy Jingle Bell,’ arranged by Jeff Henson for Orff instrument and percussion. We wanted to bring some holiday season spirit to the audience and it was so fun to play with all the instruments and steelpan together.”

WST - “How was it received by the other instructors at Shanghai Conservatory of Music?”

Lin Tao - “They liked the performance, and they enjoyed it as well.”

WST - “Are there any plans for a repeat or follow-up performances?”

Lin Tao - “We are practicing some other songs right now. We hope to involve some jazz and Caribbean music in the performance. However details are still under discussion.”

Tao Lin on Low C Tenor Jose Herrera on Double Tenor
Lin Tao on Low C Tenor and Jose Herrera on Double Tenor (extreme left) - at The Shanghai Conservatory of Music

WST - “Is there any possibility of a permanent steelband program in China?”

Lin Tao - “I’m also trying to seek any possibilities to develop the project. But due to not-so-easy access to the instrument and maintenance difficulties, it might take some time.”

WST - “What would be your advice to anyone in China, especially females, who are thinking of becoming involved with the steelpan instrument as a career move, or even simply as a player for the sheer joy of it?”

Lin Tao - “Just go for it. This is definitely a fun instrument to play. And also try to find some other players to play together, because that definitely will be much more fun.”

Lin Tao playing Marimba

WST - “What other steelpan activities if any are you involved in?”

Lin Tao - “For now, my boyfriend and I are thinking about making more videos on playing steelpan first. Not only to help promote the instrument, but also see if [it is] possible to play with other instruments and do some shows.”

WST - “Who, and what are your musical influences?”

Lin Tao - Percussionist

Lin Tao - Percussionist

Lin Tao - “My teacher, Mr. Xiong Zhou, professor who teaches percussion in Shanghai Music Conservatory, is definitely my big influence. He taught me lots of things about percussion. Also the principal of the Jian Li Art school I’m teaching right now, Mr. Zhongwei Sun, he is also the leader of the ensemble I was playing [with] in the video. Thanks to him, we had that chance to play steelpan there and he is also a very open-minded and warm-hearted person. He will always introduce us to a lot of topnotch skills, ideas and knowledge of percussion and music from his many years’ study, teaching and performance experience in Europe. Last but not least, my boyfriend is also a big influence for my musical career. He’s also a great jazz pianist, singer, composer and producer. He made lots of CDs, played with many great artists and [did] music for movies and TV and more. I learn a lot from him as well.”

WST - “Have you ever experienced a steelband Panorama competition? If so, what did you think of it?”

Lin Tao - “No, I have not. I would like to get more information about it, please.”

“What is next musically for Lin Tao?”

Lin Tao - “First of all, I want keep improving musically in piano and percussion performance. There’s never an end of studying and that helps me to teach better too. Secondly I hope I can play more music on steelpan, even adapt some Chinese songs to steelpan format and play it with different bands. If I can make some cool videos of it, it will be even better. I also hope I can visit Trinidad one day to see the country where it originally came from and learn more from the professionals.”

Lin Tao as part of winning drumline battle

drumline & Lin Tao

Lin Tao Being a volunteer percussion teacher for autism kids

photos provided by Lin Tao

   For the first time ever, the Steelpan is performed at The Shanghai Conservatory of Music - “Don’t Stop Believin’” -- Tao Lin on Low C Tenor,  Jose Herrera on Double Tenor

Their Story, Their Voice, Their Life, Their Dreams - click for more stories

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