Pan Dulce Steel Orchestra
Caribbean islands art form is pursued with great delight in Arcata
by Marilyn Lang
Members of the Pan Dulce Steel Orchestra play as their people-powered rack is pulled through Arcata on its way to last year's All Species Parade during the North Country Fair. In the center is Kate Lang, one of the three co-founders. Behind her right shoulder is Denise Rynearson and behind her left is Denise Jones. In the forground is an Arcata volunteer pulling the rack and on the right is Jennifer Rynearson. Photo by Gary Rynearson
It began in a bright blue building in Arcata three years ago when Kate Lang, John Salazar and Mike Skweir co-founded Pan Action Network and made the excitement of playing steeldrums accessible to North Coast residents. Inspired by the camaraderie they had experienced in panyards of Trinidad/Tobago, they dreamed of recreating that spirit locally. Their vision, to build community through music, has become reality in the Pan Dulce Steel Orchestra, our community band.
In Pan Dulce, we blend our backgrounds and ages, (spanning six decades) in our joy of playing steelpan music together. Though most of us had no previous musical training, we learn a mix of Calypso and other music by ear in the traditional mode of the Caribbean islands. Even those of us initially unable to tap a foot on beat, learn to play experientially as we gain an understanding of the rhythm and "feel" of this infectious music. From our six "oldtimers" who began three years ago to our player whose father played in the early pan bands of Trinidad to our newest members which include a father, his teenage daughter and l2 year-old son, we are a devoted bunch-many plan vacations around the panyard schedule.
Including our three teachers, we are a group of 34. With John as drummer and arranger, our band consists of tenor and double tenor pans playing lead melody and harmony at the higher end of the musical range, while the mid and lower-range double seconds, cello and bass pans provide our harmonic and rhythmic foundation. Steeldrums, or pans, are unique instruments created in Trinidad during the WWII years. Skillfully hammered and tuned, 55 gallon oil drums are transformed into instruments producing a full chromatic range of notes. Their sweet tone lends itself to all kinds of music from classical to calypso.
Pan Dulce - literally a Mexican sweetbread - is the perfect name for our band. It reflects the sweet sounds of the steelpan, the nourishment for the spirit this music offers and the sweet pan-experience of playing music together. We guarantee it is impossible to hear this music of Carnival, celebration and community without at least tapping a foot!