UM Islanders treat concertgoers to steel pan jams

US – The glistening steel pans quieted and their players bowed and left the stage, but thunderous applause and a standing ovation from an audience 200 strong brought the Islanders Steel Band back for one more song.

Saturday evening, Dennison Theatre was transformed into a tropical getaway, and a partying vibe infected musicians and audience members alike.

“Everyone has a blast, and that’s kind of what it’s all about,” said sophomore Willie Baltz.

The University of Montana’s premier steel pan ensemble, the Islanders, closed out the 2020 Spring Percussion Concert in style, dancing and two-stepping onstage and leaving their audience wearing wide smiles.

Behind the scenes, though, a lot of hard work goes into mastering the unique instruments, according to Baltz and other members.

Baltz, who could be seen front and center during the performance, dancing to the rhythms of “Pan Earthquake,” said that when he joined the group as a percussion performance major in 2018, he didn’t expect to become obsessed.

“It has such a rich history and it’s a rich, beautiful sound,” he said. “Put those two things together, and you have a recipe for something fun.”

Steel pan aficionado Tom Berich, a recent addition to the group, is acquainted with that history. His background in the instrument runs deep. At West Virginia University he learned to play and tune under “father of the modern steel pan” Ellie Mannette. He’s played in Trinidad and Tobago, the nation of the steel pan’s origin, a total of three times.

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