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UI senior competes in Trinidad steel drum contest

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | MARCH 19, 2012 6:30 AM

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Amanda Kendal-Brown grew up in a Trinidadian family in which music and carnival were always a part of her life.

When Kendal-Brown was 12, her mother, Yvette Kendal, introduced her to the steel band, and Kendal-Brown has been playing ever since.

A steel band is a group of musicians who play such percussion instruments as steel pans or drums.

The style of music originated from the republic of Trinidad and Tobago, where there is an annual carnival that is celebrated on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

"The main purpose is for different steel bands from the area to compete against each other," Kendal-Brown said. "It's just one giant party in the country."

Every year, she watched the competition live on her computer in Iowa, and she dreamed of going to play in Trinidad in the Caribbean Airlines Steel Orchestra.

"You can't really say you have played steel band until you participated in the panorama steel-band competition in Trinidad," she said. "It is the Olympics of the steel band."

Now as a senior at the UI, she decided to take her last semester abroad and play in the steel-band competition in Trinidad.

The competition included people ranging from 10 to 60 years old. The wide range is due to the fact that the competition is tradition in most families and that each member plays a steel-pan instrument, Kendal-Brown said.

She long knew she wanted to play with the Caribbean Airlines Steel Orchestra because it had a family aspect.

"[Caribbean Airlines members] are there for each other and not just there to win," she said. "We aren't there to play for the judges, but to please ourselves and the audience."

For this competition, Brown played the bass, and she said it was nice to be able to enjoy herself onstage by laughing and dancing during the performance.

"In Trinidad, the music tends to be more intricate and have a Caribbean feel [compared with music in the United States]," she said. "You feel the music differently, and it is technically harder, but it has a better groove."

Kendal-Brown has been playing in smaller-scale steel-band competitions in Miami and other areas of the country since she was young.

The summer before her senior year of high school, Brown attended a UI summer music camp in which she played in the band and orchestra percussion sessions.

There, she met Virginia Armstrong, a UI adjunct assistant professor of music, and decided that she wanted to attend the university because it provided her with the opportunity to play pan instruments.

Brown participated in several percussion bands at the UI, and in the spring of 2010, she joined the Steel Band III.

"[Kendal-Brown] was a huge help running sectionals with the bass and cello players, and she also asked if she could arrange something for the band," Armstrong said. "I gave her a chance, and it turned out great. After that, I always programmed her arrangements on our concerts."

Kendal-Brown knows that she wants to go back and play with the Caribbean Airlines Steel Orchestra at next year's festival, but right now, she is focusing on graduate school.

She is looking into universities in Illinois, New York, and California, where she can study the pan instruments in more depth and how they fit into a new-age orchestra.

"When Amanda wants something, she goes after it with a vengeance, and I think that determination will get her what she wants in life," Yvette Kendal said.


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