Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What it takes to be a top notch pan player

This video of Master Pannist Duvone Stewart was shot 3 years ago when he visited the Bay Area. At the time, I was dieing to have a one-on-one with him; to pick his brains and perhaps get some nuggets that would improve my playing. Finally, I got my one-on-one during a car ride to a gig that I had invited him to sit-in on.
When I broached the subject of improvisation, Duvone's response was brief. He said: "Dis improvising ting is about how much you know, and how well you know your pan." And the lesson ended there.
After years of music classes, books and private lessons from musicians, I still wasn't happy with my playing. I mastered every exercise and etude but still struggled to incorporate them in my playing. It seemed there was something fundamental they were taking for granted that I knew, and proceeded to instruct me from that hidden premise. Well, I didn't know 'It'. And all the information I was given was stacked like a house of bricks on a false foundation.
Then one day while browsing the internet, I ran across JG, my first music teacher from 30 years ago. I looked him up and after our reconnaisance we got to talking about music. He wanted to know where I was. I told him about my frustrations, and after a few questions he said to me: "You know, improvisation is spontaneous composition. It all depends on two things: Theory and Technique." He was telling me in different words, exactly what Duvone had said to me in his brief lesson.
So I checked myself. With music Theory, I wasn't too bad. I had picked up a lot of information over the years in classes, lessons, workshops and books. Now Technique...aaah, how could I evaluate the level of my technique?
It turns out I never really had a systematic approach to developing technique on my pan. That's exactly where I was stymied. I took one lesson from JG again and he presented me with his approach to developing technique on any melodic instrument.
Today, I'm not wowing the world like Duvone in this video above, but I can tell you, I know my pan better than I ever did and I'm a lot happier with my playing as it truly reflects my level of knowledge of Theory and Technique on my pan.
If you're curious, come join our Pandamentals class at PanWest, Saturday mornings 10-11am. We are still at 10855 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito CA 94530.

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