Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project Review

Virginia Mason Bellevue Medical Center’s “Live at Lunch” series is a 10-week noon to 1:30 concert series in downtown Bellevue, showcasing local bands for free. The Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project is a group that focuses on the art of steel pan (also known as steel drum) music from the Trinidad area. The location was in the out-door plaza of Bellevue Connection, which is in the heart of downtown in Bellevue, Washington.

The Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project (we’ll call them SWSPP) had six musicians playing on a variety of pitched steel drums (Soprano, Alto, etc.), drum set, and auxiliary percussion (i.e. congas, shakers, tambourine, etc.), with some members switching instruments. The Caribbean styled music that the SWSPP played was pretty much the same concept for almost every song. Each piece established a recurring section/melody or two and had some other sections in between. As each piece would progress, the recurring sections would be more embellished, either from building chord progressions, adding notes in between the main melody, or adding instruments. Every song was performed memorized, which is impressive. Though not all pieces were announced, the second piece, “Pan Women,” was very enjoyable. The group was very well synced together in syncopated rhythms with some chord building and embellishments toward the end of the song. “I Love Haiti” was another piece that stuck out. From it’s minor to major switches, to clashing chords, and improvisation toward the end, the piece gave some enjoyable elements that you do not hear in many songs. The sixth piece (no name announced), was the only piece with no steel pans. This fast, sophisticated, driving piece probably had the best interaction between musicians, featuring the drum set player improvising on (I think) djembe. I also enjoyed “Coming Home” for its very pop like, yet Caribbean like sound. Some other pieces were, “Blues for Us,” Distant Lover,” “Moving On,” and “Which Way Out.”

Because I do not see it often, it is always a pleasure to watch steel pan performed live. However, with the venue being a rather new location for hosting performers and being lunch hour, it served more as background music for a relatively small crowd. This meant that there was much talking during songs and little clapping at the end of songs. There was even a couple dancing. It just seemed that many people did not stop to appreciate and acknowledge the time the performers put in. But, even the performers were dressed more casually then their other performances seen on YouTube. Again, I did enjoy the SWSPP’s performance. The instruments were well balanced, as long as some did not get close to microphones; they had a nice acoustic sound and is consistent to their other live performances that were recorded and put onto YouTube. I did not find a studio recording to compare to. They seemed more technical then musical. It would have been much more interesting if there were elements like more dynamics, but maybe they were staying true to the style. My final bit of criticism is that spoken parts, such as announcements, should be practiced as much as the music. That way, if there are less “ums,” than a group, such as the SWSPP, would sound even more professional.

All in all, the Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project was a fun, great, casual performance that many people would enjoy.

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