Katikati AllPanz Band – The Bay’s first steel band for adults
Armed with just her flute, Marion Titmuss travels light. When she takes her Katikati AllPanz Band on tour, it’s a completely different kind of adventure – like ‘18 baggage trollies’ different!
In October 2015 the 10 member, all-women band hauled 254 kg of steel pan musical instruments to Brisbane to compete in the Australasian Steel Band Festival alongside 300 other performers. The major logistics effort paid off, with the band receiving the ‘Most Promising Band in Australasia’ award.
Their success didn’t come without challenges. The six Bass pans – which are the size of 55 gallon drums – are too big to take on tour so the band organised to borrow a set. What they hadn’t anticipated was all the notes being in different places, meaning the Bass player had to completely relearn all three performance pieces overnight.
So just what is a steel band?
Most New Zealanders haven’t ever experienced this incredible music yet the bands are hugely popular and highly competitive in the UK, Europe, Japan and Australia. They originated in Trinadad.
The pans are percussion tuned instruments and are played with a mallet. They look a bit like a type of drum, but each pan actually has up to 34 notes. By putting together a whole set of pans – from Bass, ‘Cello’, ‘Guitars’, right up to Tenor – a good steel band can play an entire orchestral range. The Katikati AllPanz repertoire now includes 18 pieces including classical, pop, jazz, movie soundtracks and Caribbean music.
Marion shipped out 58 pans when she emigrated to New Zealand from the UK in 2011. She had trained as a flautist and pianist but fell in love with the sound of pan in 1986 after discovering a set of unused pans at the school where she taught. She learnt how to play and went on to establish and direct youth bands, which toured and performed throughout Europe. In 1992 her band won the British Steel Band Festival.
She established the Katikati College steel band (PanPana) in 2012 and when that became self-managing, Marion was ready for a new challenge. While she has introduced hundreds of adults to steel pan over the years, she had never played in her own adult band. It became clear she needed a group who would train consistently to reach a standard of excellence and be able to perform at events.
“I love to play myself and I also wanted to give other women a chance to play and perform with an instrument, especially if they had never done anything musically before. Women have few opportunities to achieve something totally new on their own once they are past the age of 30 or 40 because they’ve been busy with family. It takes courage to go right back to the beginning to learn something new again.”
Launch of the AllPanz
Marion gathered together a small group of brave women and developed an 8-week programme that would always end with a concert somewhere, even if the band could only play one piece. Their first concert, in 2014, was at the Katikati Community Hall as part of a music performance where they played two pieces to a rousing reception. It was the first time most of the band members had performed on an instrument in public.
The 10 women band members, including two dedicated school students, mostly range in age from their 40s to 70s and practise weekly at Marion’s pan house in Whakamarama. Marion says it’s been gratifying to see how far the women have come.
The band has also pulled together to help each other during personal challenges. Sadly, a much-loved early member of the band died last year from cancer. She was unwell at the time of the Brisbane festival and required a wheelchair but still managed to participate and stand for the band’s 3-piece performance.
So is Marion up for another international excursion with luggage trollies in tow?
“The next big project I’m spearheading is a New Zealand steel band festival in Auckland late this year. There are now five youth and adult bands in New Zealand and we would invite bands from Australia, Hawaii and possibly Japan. We just need to find an appropriate location.”
If you are interested in joining the Katikati AllPanz Band, contact the Katikati Resource Centre for information, (07) 549 0399. To book the band, visit www.nzacademyofsteelpan.com