PanHarmonic—A Local Treasure

Left to right: Neal Frey, JoAnn McConnell, Tom Roblee, Joan Wenzel, Tim Hilton

If you have followed the music scene of local school systems the last 25 or so years, you are aware we have steel bands in the Tuscarawas Valley. It’s a surprise to some, given the distance between here and Trinidad where the instruments were first created, but it’s actually a perfect fit.

The music department of The University of Akron is home to Dr. Larry Snider, Director of Percussion Studies. Snider, with deep ties to Trinidad, has passed on his passion for steel pans to his students.

As it happens, many local band directors and percussionists are graduates of Snider’s program and have brought their love for the instrument here to teach and to perform.

Members of the Philharmonic percussion section are just such musicians. Joan Wenzel, retired director of the steel pan program with Dover City Schools, said, “We were talking at rehearsal one evening, and we mentioned we all missed playing the steel pan.” It was then they decided to form the ensemble PanHarmonic.

Joan, along with JoAnn McConnell and Tim Hilton, began rehearsing together as their schedules would allow, and they soon put together a set list and
began performing.

The ensemble has performed at Stan Hywet Hall in Akron and for local community gatherings, including banquets and arts events.

They play on their own instruments built by Cliff Alexis with Pan Yard, Inc. in Akron, and they have them tuned and blended by a Philadelphia tuner, Kyle Dunleavy.
Steel pans are created in different voices—tenor, double second (imagine a viola as a percussion instrument), cello, and bass. Their unique sound creates a blend not unlike that of an orchestra, although there is little music written for the two groups.

Tom Miller, another Akron graduate, has composed some of the first works for both orchestra and steel pan, and you’ll hear some of his work at our Carnivale! performance on February 10.

“The pan is incredibly adaptable,” said Joan, “and it lends itself to a wide genre of music.” In fact, Tim will perform a vocal transcription with members of the Philharmonic string section at the February concert as well.

Neal Frey will join the ensemble on bass, and Thomas Roblee will join on percussion (point of fact—both are graduates of The University of Akron).

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