Steel band entertains hospitalized veterans

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sarah Hall
Salisbury Post
The W.G. Hefner VA Medical Center capped off a week recognizing the “National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans” with a taste of the tropics.
The Steely Pan Steel Band of Appalachian State University performed for staff and patients. And the steel pans’ grooving really had the crowd moving.
The 21 students playing 40 drums offered varied selections, including “Mary Ann,” “Saber Dance,” Pachelbel’s “Canon,” “Rubber Band Man” “Amazing Grace,” and “Hot, Hot, Hot” ó traditionally the closing number for all the concerts the ensemble has performed during the two decades since the group was formed.
Steely Pan was initiated by Dr. Scott Meister, who currently holds the Sharpe Chair Professorship of Composition and is director of the electronic music studio for ASU’s Hayes School of Music in addition to directing Steely Pan.
Meister and some of his students fashioned their first crude set of steel drums themselves in 1984 out of 55-gallon orange juice barrels. Now they play pans made especially for them by Meister’s mentor and friend, the “father of the steel drum,” Ellie Mannette.
Each year, Meister travels to Trinidad and Tobago with some of his students to continue his studies of the steel band movement. In Trinidad, according to Meister, everyone has a pan to play. Students learn it the way our children learn recorder. The churches all have steel drum bands.
“Steel drums are even pictured on the $20 bill instead of a president” he told the VAMC audience.
In three weeks, the entire ensemble is taking a trip to Puerto Rico for performance and study.
Most of the students selected for the group had never played steel drum previously. Some are music majors and some are not. They are given a pan for two days to prepare for their audition.
Once they join, they seldom want to leave. This is in spite of handling a busy performance schedule on top of their studies. The group performed 30 times last semester alone.
Andy Roberts, director of minority affairs at VAMC, had recommended Steely Pan to the social committee organizing the event. He had seen them perform, and he also has a daughter in the music department at ASU.
Roberts said he thought the tropics-flavored group would provide a little mid-winter relief. He pointed out that even Mother Nature cooperated with the planning committee, providing an unusually warm and sunny February afternoon.
Meister showed his appreciation for the weather also, telling the crowd that a day earlier in Boone the temperature had gotten down to 15 degrees. So he and the students were enjoying the climate (mild, mild, mild).
Find out more about The Steely Pan Steel Band at
Contact Sarah Hall at or 704-797-4271.