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Inside Out pan festival in Texas
Spring is in the air, which means it is time once again for the annual Inside Out steelband festival in Austin, Texas. This year the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary and will feature Andy Narell on April 18 and Northern Illinois University professor of steelpan Liam Teague on an additional concert on May 4.
The Inside Out Steelband festival is an extension of the Inside Out programme which has a tradition of featuring virtuosic pannists from across the globe as guest artists at its festival. These include American and international pannists such as Tom Miller, Andy Narell, Ray Holman, Liam Teague, Leon Foster Thomas, Victor Provost, and Antiguan Khan Cordice.
The Inside Out programme has numerous other concerts throughout the year and has recently featured UTT assistant professor Mia Gormandy in a Women in Pan show in 2016 and the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra. Each year, the steelbands participating in the Inside Out Steelband festival combine to form a mass band and this year the festival mass band will feature three of Andy Narell’s pieces, The Last Word, Izo’s Mood, and Dee Mwa Wee. Nearly 100 students from the James Bowie High School and McCallum High School steelbands will participate in the festival and mass band which is held at Austin’s One World Theatre.
Professor Liam Teague will be performing May 4, also at One World Theatre, in a show that will feature the Inside Out Community Steelband. The band is open to players of all ages (not just high school students), and is mostly a mix of college age students and adults. For this concert, the Inside Out Community Steelband will be joined by the KIPP Austin Collegiate Steelband (a high school group directed by Brian Klenzendorf).
Inside Out is a non-profit organisation that was founded by C J Menge, Texas’s pied piper for steelband music for over 20 years. Menge is a talented pannist, arranger, and educator who cares deeply for the music and culture of steelband.
For Menge, the Inside Out steelband festival offers a unique opportunity for his students to interact with extraordinary guest artists. “I always look forward to seeing how our high school pan students benefit from interacting with, learning from, and playing alongside such accomplished musicians. One World Theatre is a beautiful professional theatre in Austin, and this is a rare chance for our high school students to get to perform in such a unique venue.”
Explosion of pan in Austin
The Inside Out Steelband festival is part of the ongoing explosion of steelpan in the Austin, Texas area where over a dozen steelbands, 500 secondary school children, and many more community members play steelpan every week. Indeed, the Lone Star state has become a leader in steelpan across America in the past decade. While many people think of Texas as the home of high school football games and marching bands, what is lesser-known is the steady growth of steelbands and commitment to steelpan as a curricular element of primary and secondary schools in the area. Steelbands are present across the state from primary schools to programmes in almost every public and several private universities.
As Menge notes, “The school steelpan scene in Texas in 2017 is vibrant and growing.” So much so, that for the last six years Menge has been traveling to neighbouring Oklahoma to work with the school steelpan festivals and steelband programmes that have developed there. Steelpan continues to spread in the land of football and marching bands.
Menge has been a central part of the developing Austin steelpan scene since he first came to Austin and started teaching in 1996. What started as one or two after school programmes has since grown to more than 12. Many of these school steelband programmes include steelpan as part of the music curriculum and others still employ steelband as an after-school activity. Inside Out also has a summer day camp which is open to middle school and high school students. The camp is geared towards both beginner and advanced students and Menge and his group of talented colleagues compose new pieces to be performed by camp students.
Beyond CJ Menge, the steelband scene in Austin is greatly enhanced by the talents of Emily Lemmerman, and Matt Ehlers. Emily Lemmerman is an internationally respected tuner/builder who trained under Ellie Mannette. Lemmerman is the primary steelpan tuner for most of the steelbands in Texas and she is in demand across the United States, Europe, and Trinidad where she most recently tuned steelpans for Phase II for Panorama 2017. Matt Ehlers is Assistant Director of Bands/Percussion Director at McCallum High School Fine Arts Academy in Austin, Texas where in addition to directing bands, he also directs the Beginner and Advanced Steel Band classes. Ehlers is also an accomplished composer of new music for steelpan.
Darren Dyke, another Mannette protégé, spent many years as a builder/tuner and performer working in Austin with Menge and Lemmerman until recently when he relocated to Belgium. In addition to their work tuning and directing steelbands, Dyke and Menge recorded a fascinating album of steelpan duets in 2010 that can be heard on the web.
Praise for T&T pan community feeling
Despite his demanding teaching schedule, Menge has made three trips to Trinidad to study steelpan and to play with Trinidadian steelbands for Panorama. Over the years he’s had the opportunity to perform with Invaders Steel Orchestra, birdsong Steel Orchestra, and Skiffle Steel Orchestra. Each time Menge comes to T&T he learns from and marvels at the steelbands of the islands. “It is the sense of community within each of the steel orchestras, this is what stands out the most to me from my travels to Trinidad.” Menge further notes that, “In addition to enjoying the process of learning the Panorama tune, and the dynamics of the nightly rehearsals in the panyard, each group went out of their way to involve me in other events while I was there. From my perspective, the Trinidadian pan community is very welcoming and generous.”
In addition to his work in Austin, Menge is a highly sought after clinician throughout the United States. He has worked closely with the Percussive Arts Society and many of his steelbands have appeared at the annual PASIC conventions, a high honour for school steelbands in the United States. Recently, Menge has served as a steelband adjudicator for steelband festivals in both Virginia and Florida. His steelband activities further extend to music publishing, as Menge runs Boxfish Music Publishing (boxfishmusic.com) which publishes steelpan sheet music.
Liam Teague is a strong supporter of CJ Menge and his work with Inside Out. “[He] has been a joy to work with [and] has consistently highlighted the steelpan in a respectful and progressive manner, and has exposed his students and audiences to the steelpan’s many musical possibilities. [He] is one of the leading educational ambassadors in the USA for the steelpan. “
While these two forthcoming concerts are not webcast, the Inside Out programme has its own YouTube channel and has posted numerous concerts and individual performances, over 35 of them. Both of these new ones are to be added to their channel by the middle of June.
Retired Alaskan judge Ray Funk is a Fulbright scholar who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas. Dr Andrew Martin is an ethnomusicologist, percussionist, pannist, and Professor of Music at Inver Hills College in St Paul, Minnesota.
INSIDE OUT YOUTUBE CHANNEL:
MENGE/DYKE DUET album: