Carnival of Steel doesn’t miss a beat

The Carnival of Steel, a festival celebrating steel-drum, percussion and jazz, bravely faced the rain on April 14. Thirteen ensembles traveled from San Antonio, Houston and Abilene to perform at the annual Richland event. The groups included six college bands, six high school bands and one elementary school band.

The student performances started in the East breezeway outside Fannin Hall but had to relocate due to the stormy weather. Continuing in Fannin Hall, the bands took turns performing.

“The music is always wonderful. There’s always the same good energy,” said Rosie Ambriz who has attended the event the past five years.

Now in its 16th year, the festival combined steel band music from the Caribbean with jazz played on everything from electric guitars to the saxophone. It is one of the only festivals for steel band in North Texas.

Prosper High School’s steel drum ensemble performs during the Carnival of Steel Festival at Richland on April. 14.

Prosper High School’s steel drum ensemble performs during the Carnival of Steel Festival at Richland on April. 14.

It is also one of the only jazz festivals in the area geared toward college and high school groups. There were two parts to the festival: the free afternoon student concerts and the $10 evening concert.

The steel-drums originated on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago where they were built out of frying pans, car parts and oil drums. Because of its Caribbean birth, the music played on them is typically soca or reggae.

The headliner for this year’s evening concert was a man with a close connection to the steel-drums. Ray Holman performed steel pans, then played guitar and sang a song he wrote about the pans. The song was titled “First Love.” When Holman was 3 years old, steel pans were created from oil drums.

Ten years later in 1957, Holman joined a steel orchestra led by Elliot Mannette, the man who started the use of oil drums for steelpans.

“He’s a tremendous musician,” said Derrick Logozzo, department chair and director of instrumental music at Richland. “He has dozens and dozens of compositions, many of which we [have] studied.”

Jazz player Ed Smith followed Holman in the evening concert that night and played the vibraphone. Smith is a professor at the University of North Texas, Southern Methodist University and Cedar Valley College. He has been a jazz performer for more than 35 years. He also helped to form D’Drum, an internationally recognized percussion ensemble, in 1992.

Other special guests for the evening concert included Tim Ishii, a world-renowned saxophonist and the director of jazz studies at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Shelly Irvine, Richland’s steel pans tuner and maker, also joined the cast. He was the most familiar to the audience since he had attended for the past 11 years.

Logozzo expressed his concern about the visibility of the music program among the students at Richland.

“Despite the weather, the events of the day and evening were impactful and enjoyable with much quality music appreciated by all in attendance,” Logozzo said in an email after the event.