Trinidad’s Skiffle Steel Orchestra to return to Sweet Briar on May 8

Skiffle
Skiffle Steel Orchestra performs at Sweet Briar College in 2017.

Caribbean Airlines Skiffle Steel Orchestra will return to Sweet Briar and perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, in Murchison Lane Auditorium at the Babcock Fine Arts Center.

The performance is part of the College’s Babcock Season. Tickets for the performance are $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for non-Sweet Briar students. Group rates are also available. Tickets are free for members of the Sweet Briar College community and children younger than 12. Contact the Sweet Briar box office at 434-381-6120 or boxoffice@sbc.edu. Tickets may also be purchased online at sbc.tix.com.

Steel pan music is indigenous to Trinidad and reflects the country’s culture and history. Today’s steel pans evolved from discarded 55-gallon oil drums, long abundant in the former British colony where oil and gas are economic mainstays. A steel orchestra includes pans that perform bass lines, an assortment of midrange pans that play accompaniment patterns and countermelodies, pans higher in the range for melodies and harmonization of melodies, and a drum set, congas, iron, timbales, and a varied assortment of accessory percussion instruments. The Caribbean Airlines Skiffle Steel Orchestra is based in San Fernando and has repeatedly won Trinidad’s prestigious Panorama competition in the traditional category as well as the World Steelband Music Festival.

Jeff Jones drums with Skiffle Steel at the 2013 Panorama competition in Trinidad.
Jeff Jones drums with Skiffle Steel at the 2013 Panorama competition in Trinidad.

Their visit is part of an ongoing collaborative relationship between the group and Associate Professor of Performing Arts Jeffrey Jones, who directs Skiffle USA, Sweet Briar’s own steel band. Jones has performed with Skiffle multiple times during visits to Trinidad, including during performances at the Panorama Competition in 2013 and 2018.

Jones has researched the special place that steel bands have in Trinidad’s culture. “My work seeks to illuminate how pannists conceptualize the value of their musical experiences and employ this value towards their chosen ends,” Jones explained in 2012. “For most, musical nationalism is one small piece of a larger puzzle. Social networks, intrinsic fulfillment, and the like, are just as important to them, if not more so.” Pannists, he adds, claim their musical experience has helped them in social situations: making friends, finding work, and mediating or avoiding conflict.

This will be the orchestra’s third visit to Sweet Briar, having visited previously in 2017 and 2014. As in their earlier visits, the performance on May 8 will be the culmination of a week of activities between the orchestra, Sweet Briar students and students from universities and local high schools.

Skiffle riding center
Members of Skiffle with Jeff Jones, Sweet Briar students and IHSA coach Lizzie Fisch (center) at the riding center in 2017

This spring, Jones is teaching a section of “CORE 150: Expression and the Arts” that is focused on Carnival music in Trinidad. The course explores the music from a global perspective, as a phenomenon of sound and of culture. Students in the class engage in a variety of hands-on activities, including learning to play steel pans, designing Carnival mas characters and costumes, and writing aesthetically and contextually appropriate calypso lyrics. The visit from the Skiffle Steel Orchestra will support the class and provide opportunities for intercultural discussions and masterclasses on a variety of subjects.

“I am especially looking forward to the Q&As,” Jones says, “as they will provide students opportunities for intercultural learning unlike anything they could possibly experience without going to Trinidad.”

For more information, email Jones at jjones@sbc.edu.