Southern Adventist University Steel Band goes on first ever tour

Southern Adventist University Steel Band members pose for a picture.
(Photo courtesy of School of Music)
Southern Adventist University Steel Band members pose for a picture. (Photo courtesy of School of Music)

On Jan. 18, the Southern Adventist University Steel Band left for its first tour. The group, which consists of 12 members directed by Keith Lloyd, visited Walker Memorial High School, Forest Lake Education Center, Forest Lake Academy and Whole Life Church on their trip to central Florida. According to Ken Parsons, band member and associate professor in the School of Music, it is the only steel band in the Tennessee Valley.

The ensemble was created in 2019, according to Parsons, and although the band has existed for four years, this was their first opportunity to  tour due to COVID-19 and other issues. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. 

In an email to the Accent, Lloyd wrote that the trip was a tremendous success. 

“The trip was outstanding!” Lloyd wrote. “We performed for at least 1,500 people over five concerts at four different locations in Florida. … In addition to sharing music with many people, the students were able to enjoy time at the beach and go on a canoe trip at a natural spring. The trip would not have been possible if it wasn’t for SAU Director of Bands, Ken Parsons. He put all of the work into planning a terrific trip so that the students and I could focus on sharing music and fellowship with many wonderful people in Florida.” 

In an interview with the Accent, four steel band members spoke enthusiastically about their tour experience. Amy Van Arsdell, junior history major, said the trip has, so far, been the highlight of her college experience. 

“I feel like people have fun when they’re in the audience listening to us, like the kids are always clapping and bobbing their heads,” Van Arsdell said. “But no matter how much fun they’re having, we’re having more fun, like twice as much fun playing it ourselves. It’s just so much fun, and it’s super, super rewarding.”

The Steel Band offers a unique listening experience, complete with interactive elements for the audience. Anna Estep, junior elementary education major, recounted the students at Walker Memorial High School clapping along to one of the band’s longest songs. 

“There was one song — the song is, like, almost four minutes long — and [the kids] clapped on beat the whole time. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s commitment,’” Estep said. 

At Whole Life Church, after the last performance of the trip, some children approached the steel pans and asked if they could take a closer look, according to Estep. She invited them to try out the steel pans for themselves, an experience which Estep described as the highlight of the tour for her. 

“It’s just so cool to get the kids’ reaction, because it’s such a fun thing to see kids interested in music,” Estep said.

“And that’s how it should be — a fun experience,” Van Arsdell added. “And they can see we’re having fun on stage.”

Ben Kim, senior psychology major, also commented on the music’s ability to bring energy to the audience.

“Just getting that level of audience engagement — it’s not something that I normally experience in other music tours and other music groups,” Kim said, “and I think that’s what makes it very special.”

When asked why Southern decided to add a steel band to its musical programs, Parsons said the instruments are an important part of “the musical landscape of our country,” adding that they “broaden our musical culture here on campus.” 

According to Google Arts and Culture, steel drums, or pans, originated in the 1930s in Trinidad and Tobago. The creation of the drums can be traced back to enslaved Africans brought to the Caribbean in the 1700s. 

“And we know that [students] are interested in other sorts of music, other than maybe what has been traditionally associated with Southern, with our ensembles,” Parsons said. “And that’s not to sell any of those short at all, but it’s to say that we recognize that the world of music is wider. And we’re interested in exploring those musics. We got marvelous feedback from every place that we played. I think it was a win win.”

Ryan Howell, junior chemistry major, said the most important part of any group trip is to go into it with the right attitude. 

“Regardless of what you’re doing on the trip or how long it is, it’s great to connect with people from other majors and other interests and get to know them better,” Howell said.

“And that’s one of the main things that tours do,” Parsons said. “That’s something we lost during the pandemic because we couldn’t get out there and do anything like that. Tours are really, really special. You’re not going to remember that biology test you took 25 years from now, but you will remember the trips that you went on.”

Lloyd wrote that the band is impactful on Southern’s campus as it diversifies the music experience and brings students together.

“The steel band allows me to work with a diverse group of students who enjoy playing exciting music together,” he wrote. “The students do have a background in music, but most of them have never played pans before. It’s fun to experience the growth of the students in the ensemble, and I get to perform with them, too. Having a steel band at SAU provides a unique ensemble that focuses on Caribbean music styles as well as transcriptions of popular music.” 

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