The sound of island drums echoed across a School of Music recital hall as the Palmetto Pans Steel Drum Band aimed to bring an audience to their feet during a concert on Tuesday evening.
On April 5, the School of Music percussion music group, Palmetto Pans, held a steel pan concert in the School of Music recital hall. Despite the tornado warnings, the band carried on, delivering a fun and exhilarating performance to the USC crowd.
The concert featured both high-paced percussion symphonies as well as light Trinidadian tunes that established the uplifting and encouraging vibe the group said it aims to put in its music.
The group consists of 11 students from the school’s program, which is a class open to all students and is led by Ian Mahaffey, the group’s director.
Mahaffey described his group's music as light and positive, derived from the sounds of Trinidad and Tobago, a dual-island Caribbean nation that served as the catalyst for steel drum music.
“It's a breath of fresh air,” Mahaffey said.
Group members came to the recital hall in bright and colorful Hawaiian shirts and danced to the music as they banged against the steel pans. Guest musician and steel drum composer Emily Lemmerman performed alongside the group.
Lemmerman, a percussionist expert and source of knowledge for all things steel drum, played alongside the band following an informative lecture on the tuning of a steel drum.
“When (people) say 'How do you tune a steel pan?' The answer is with hammers,” Lemmerman said.
Tuning is an important skill for Lemmerman's career because the process is not automated, she said.
She first was interested in the field because of the young and vibrant nature of the modern steel drum, which was created in the 1930s by Ellie Mannette.
Getting to study directly underneath Mannette fueled Lemmerman’s excitement with the instrument and continues to fuel her excitement for young steel drum percussionists like the members of Palmetto pans, she said.
The Palmetto Pans showcased a variety of relaxing island music, which is commonly disregarded as “cruise music,” according to Lemmerman. But as a composer, she argues that the perception that steel drum music belongs only on a cruise is changing due of the instrument's inclusion within programs and concerts at music schools like USC.
The Palmetto Pans concert was met with enjoyment from members of the audience.
“It was so much fun to watch,” Aidan McCarty, an audience member and third-year music performance student, said.
McCarty said he felt honored to attend a school that offers such a diverse selection of music for free.
McCarty also said as much as he enjoyed listening to the music, he had fun simply watching the musicians — many of them friends from the School of Music — perform for the crowd. Palmetto Pans lead performer, Taylor Neville, a first-year graphic design student, explained the joy she got from playing.
“The music gets you going, and you can’t not be happy and dance,” Neville said. “There’s no sitting still and listening.”