By Linda Dillman
Canal Winchester High School’s all-volunteer steel pan group, guided by teacher and director Todd Phillips, is preparing to embark on a first-of-its-kind music festival—the Central Ohio Pan Fest on April 15.
The Winchester Steel Company—created in 2000 and the oldest of its kind in Central Ohio—is performing alongside four other local ensembles from Canal Winchester, Granville, Pickerington and guest artist Dr. Christopher Tanner, director of Miami University’s Steel Band program.
Each band will present their own music set and then combine for a 150-player mass band finale.
“Most people think of steel band music as island party tunes,” said Phillips. “There is certainly a large number of those pieces available. We do perform them, but you can also find more subtle jazz and even classical songs as well as current pop and rock tune covers. Our music is very diverse.”
According to Phillips, the music of steel drums dates back to the early 1900s on the island of Trinidad and was born out of a desire by indigenous people to create music.
“The story goes that they would tap rhythms on cooking pans, biscuit tins, or anything else they could find,” said Phillips. “In time, they discovered how to roughly tune segments of a metal barrel to a given pitch. The more refined standard tuning was developed in the 1960s by a Trini pan builder Ellie Mannette. He is considered to be the father of the modern steel drum.”
Canal Winchester’s steel pan history dates back 23 years to a four-instrument start. Today, the school has a 32-voice steel band. There is also a middle school ensemble and a Canal Winchester adult community band, The Stockholders, who are one of the bands performing at the festival.
In 2000, Phillips and previous band director, Scott Zeuch, were challenged by then Superintendent Steve Donahue, to find/create something new that would give the school district a uniqueness not found in neighboring districts.
“After some discussions, we settled on steel drums for our high school music department,” Phillips said. “It wasn’t long before we added a middle school ensemble and our adult community band. Our program is all volunteer and meets after school. We don’t cut anyone from the ensemble. Over the years, we’ve had to work out creative ways to involve everyone. Since this is such a unique approach to music education that can’t be found in every school, we will not eliminate anyone.”
Members of the Winchester Steel Company perform all over Central Ohio on a nearly 12-month schedule. Past venues include the Lancaster Arts Festival, Canal Winchester Labor Day Festival, Franklin Park Conservatory, Ohio University’s Nuit Blanche Celebration, and an opening for the Columbus Jazz Orchestra at their JazZoo Concert series.
“We’ve also played many times for private and corporate events,” said Phillips. “We’ll perform anywhere from 45-minutes to a few hours with a combo of eight to 12 players or up to the full band of 32 players.”
Canal Winchester’s steel band not only made its mark on the local community and across central Ohio, it was also the inspiration for Granville High School’s former instrumental director John Krumm to create a similar band for his school district.
Krumm’s son, Andrew, now runs the Granville program. The city, like Canal Winchester, also has its own adult community band, Pandemonium.
“Chris Carmean, the percussion instructor at Pickerington High School North, began creating his new steel band just a few months ago,” said Phillips, who is retiring at the end of the current school year. “Andrew Krumm, Chris Carmean and I planned this festival, which will be the first of its kind in Central Ohio, to bring Pickerington High School North into the ‘Pan Family’ and to offer all of our students and the adults involved an experience they will always remember.”
While Phillips is ending his long professional music tenure with the district this year, he said he has every intention of continuing his work and involvement after he retires from full-time classroom work.
In the meantime, Phillips is looking forward to the first Pan Fest at Granville High School, 210 New Burg St. in Granville, on April 15 at 6 p.m., which features traditional island tunes as well as pop, rock and jazz. Admission is $5.
For information, visit CWPerformingArts.info and follow the Winchester Steel Co. on Facebook.