The Steel Pan Collective  

Profile in Pan: Alexandros Fragiskatos

1) What was your first exposure to steel pan?

My first exposure to steel pan was in 2005 while I was a junior in high school. A friend of mine had two tickets to see the steel drum band at The University of Akron (where I would later do graduate work). Until then, I had never heard of steel pan, let alone seen a live performance. Nevertheless, I can still recall the high energy and virtuosic musicianship that this band still exhibits today. At that age, kids often have a “too cool” disposition and are reluctant to show much emotion. However, on that day, my friend and I shed that mentality as we were out of our seats, dancing, and visibly having a fantastic time. We made sure to attend the concert the following year too. When I enrolled as a percussion major at the University of Cincinnati College­ Conservatory of Music in the fall of 2006, I was ecstatic to learn that they too had a steel band. This was my first experience actually playing pan, which was extremely important as over the course of the degree I gained experience in not only learning about different types of pans, but in arranging for steel band as well.

2) What was your journey to ASU and how did you steel pan played a part?

Steel pan played an enormous role in my journey to Arizona State University. It began at The University of Akron, where I completed my master’s degree. I am indebted to the school’s Director of Percussion Studies, Dr. Larry Snider, and Artistic Director of the steel band, Matthew Dudack, both of whom provided me with invaluable knowledge, resources, and opportunities to be able to confidently accept a position directing a steel band. It was here where I was able to refine not only my playing, but also my arranging, my pedagogy, and my historical and contextual understanding of the instrument. The program stresses the importance of knowing and appreciating the history of steel pan. I also had the opportunity to learn from, and play alongside, pioneers and virtuosos in the field like Cliff Alexis, Ray Holman, Tom Miller, and Liam Teague. Taking all of this into account, when I learned that there was a teaching assistantship opening at ASU directing the steel band, I knew that I was the perfect candidate, and thankfully so did the Coordinator of Percussion Studies, Dr. J. B. Smith.

3) What are some of steel pan projects you are currently working on?

A lot of my steel pan projects revolve around the Pan Devils Steel Band at ASU. Right now I am in the process of designing our next concert program and I like to include a variety of music. For instance, while at Akron I came across an old handwritten composition by Tom Miller for flute and steel band. I put it into music notation software just the other day and sent it to Tom for editing. I am crossing my fingers that the Pan Devils will be able to perform this piece next year. Recently, the Arizona Caribbean Cultural Association contacted me to discuss teaming up with the Pan Devils for annual events they host. I am always looking to connect pan with the community, so this project would be a great opportunity. Also, I love to arrange for steel band and am constantly coming up with ideas. Right now I am working on arrangements of Lord Kitchener’s “The Carnival is Over” and Marcus Miller’s “Hannibal.” Lastly, in addition to gigging on pan, I also enjoy finding new concert pieces. I recently performed a contemporary double second duo written by Roger Zahab and am looking for my next project in that respect.

4) ASU Pan Devils ­ Describe the group, the makeup, and how often and where do you perform?

The ASU Pan Devils Steel Band was founded in 1991 by Dr. J. B. Smith. We perform one free concert each semester at the School of Music as well as other shows for university events, public schools, museums, and the communities throughout Arizona. Our scheduled concerts (so far) for 2015­-2016 are on November 19th and April 13th. Both are at 7:30 p.m. in Katzin Concert Hall at ASU. We also will be performing at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix on April 27th at 10:30 a.m., so mark your calendars! Rehearsals are twice a week and the only prerequisite to join (other than being an enrolled ASU student, of course) is the ability to read music. This past year I had not only percussion majors, but organ, music therapy, film, and real estate students! In the spirit of the history of pan, I do teach some tunes by rote; however, the bulk is learned through reading music. We perform the traditional calypso and soca music of Trinidad and Tobago along with reggae, pop, jazz, classical, and even contemporary music. It is important to expose the students and the audience to a variety of music in order to demonstrate pan’s wide range of capabilities. Moreover, I stress musicality to the students; performing classical music, in particular, helps them to develop a touch that exploits pan’s beautiful timbres. And this can be applied to any style of music. Even with loud, upbeat socas, a lively and energetic performance does not have to come at the cost of good tone and musical sensitivity.

5) What do you see as the future of pan in the U.S?

In short, I believe pan is on the rise. I am always amazed at what kids are capable of and I have seen middle school and high school steel bands put on some phenomenal performances. I was never afforded the opportunity to play pan at that age, but I am seeing more and more steel band programs develop at that level. Being a percussionist, I consider pan an important part of the field. You never want to limit yourself in life, and the more diverse experiences and training you have, especially as a percussionist, the more opportunity you have to be successful. It could be the difference between getting a job and not. We do not live in an age where being able to play classical musical excerpts alone guarantees a job. I am hoping more percussion programs realize this and make pan a priority. Furthermore, I see an increase of pan in contemporary music as more and more composers discover its untapped potential. Many solo and chamber pieces and even concertos have been written for pan and I anticipate further growth, not just in the U.S. but throughout the world.

6) How about for you?

Pan will always be a part of my life in some capacity, whether in teaching or in performing on my Cliff Alexis double tenors. Short ­term, I am going to do my best to sustain the ASU Pan Devils as a premiere ensemble. I want to use it not only to generate interest and respect for pan, but also to enable students to create a high­quality musical product that they can be proud of, and that will help them to hone skills transferrable to all aspects of their musical lives. Long­term, of course, I would love to be able to do this on a professional level. My dream job would be directing a collegiate percussion program that has a steel band. In addition, some of the most rewarding and fun performances I have ever been a part of were pan gigs. I anticipate that I will continue these no matter where I am in my professional life. Also, I want to help expand literature for pan by continuing to arrange music and to compose and/or commission pieces. Lastly, there is a lot of room for educational and pedagogical pan resources, and I want to aid in their genesis. 

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