The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0072; fax (319) 384-0024

Release: Immediate

River City Steel ensemble will perform Dec. 5 and Dec. 12

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- River City Steel, the unique steel-pan ensemble at the University of Iowa School of Music, will present two performances, at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5 in Voxman Hall on the UI campus and at 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 12, in the Wheel Room of the Iowa Memorial Union. Both concerts are free and open to the public.

River City Steel is the first School of Music ensemble devoted to public performances of music from a non-European tradition. Directed by T.M. Scruggs, an ethnomusicologist and a professor in the UI School of Music, the group is a 20-person ensemble of music students playing music on steel pans, also known as steel drums.

The instruments, which originate from the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, are constructed from 55-gallon metal oil drums. The versatile instruments have a remarkable sound that is immediately recognizable and is widely associated with Caribbean cultures.

River City Steel has various pans for eight players, ranging from single pans that carry high notes to a bass that requires six drums. Together with the "engine room" -- the percussion section -- the pans offer a special combination of melody, harmony and driving rhythm.

The concerts will feature selections of Trinidadian soca (a word formed from the combination of "soul" and "calypso"); "Precioso," an original piece by Scruggs; reggae-influenced compositions and Jamaican ska.

One of the ska instrumentals will be the James Bond theme, before which members of the audience will be invited up to the stage to learn how to play the first part of the piece.

Scruggs started the steel pan ensemble in 1994, as a volunteer project in an effort to widen the multicultural musical environment for his students at the UI and for the community. The ensemble is offered for credit to music and non-music students alike.

Scruggs explained, "The steel pan ensemble provides a 'hands-on' musical experience that helps bring alive for students the traditions of other cultures."

Scruggs' principal instrument is the piano. He learned Nicaraguan marimba while doing research in that country for his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin. Before entering graduate school Scruggs played Haitian popular music and salsa in several bands in Chicago.