‘Steeling’ the rhythm

By Karina Brown

Some people imagine cooking, gold sifting, the shape of Oklahoma and stir fry when they hear the words “steel pan.” However, the NIU music department would beg to differ.

-Originating in Trinidad, the steel pan became a popular instrument throughout the world. The drums, which come in various sizes, have a steel interior with various bubbles that act like keys.

Students can reminisce about their Caribbean vacation by taking a trip to the Music Building, where the All University Steel Band and NIU Steel Band practice and perform.

“It’s all about the groove,” said Frank Check, a junior music performance major. Even though this music typically is associated with calypso, the steel pan sounds equally appealing in all types of music such as classical, R&B and pop. They’ve even played some Alicia Keys.

NIU was the first university in the country to have a steel pan band — making it the oldest steel band in the country.

In 2000, the steel band competed in Trinidad against professional bands from around the world, taking second place overall. Its second-place finish was enough for it to be invited to play at another festival in Korea.

“The steel band was a part of the main reason I transferred here,” said Jason Schreiber, a graduate student, a participant in the NIU Steel Band and the conductor of the All University Steel Band. “However, I didn’t expect to major in it, but I fell in love and made it my actual major.”

NIU is one of only a few schools in the country to offer a degree in the steel pan. And Schreiber is not alone in his pursuit of the steel band; students from all over the world come to play, making it one of the top collegiate steel bands in the country.

So it’s no doubt a good thing that the band is “steel” going strong.