A Not-So-Brief History of the United States Navy Steel Band - A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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History Of The United States Navy Steel Band While serving his final active tour as Commandant of the Tenth Naval District in San Juan, Puerto Rico, between December 1956 and July 1960, Admiral Dan, immortalized his name with a unique achievement subordinating even his earlier military exploits because of the novelty and world acclaim. In February 1957, the Admiral conceived and established the United States Navy Steel Band, the first all- American steel band and the only military steel band. Controversial and unorthodox, Admiral Gallery would not be content with the conventional military brass band assigned to admirals so long as he could substitute something unique and novel in it's place and be the first to have that novelty. That opportunity came in February 1957, when for the first time he heard the famous steel bands of Trinidad during the annual Carnival. The music just got inside me and shook me up.
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  Follow When Steel Talks on I have been asked by When Steel Talks to write a history of the Navy Steel Band during my tenure as the LeaderBefore I get to my years of association with the band, I think a brief history of the srcin of the band is needed: Excerpted and Edited From the Official History of the United States Navy Steel Band.By Navy Steel Band Historians:MU2 Steven C. Gray, Tenth Naval District, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1973MU3 James B. Fox, Eighth Naval District, New Orleans, LA, 1976 While serving his final active tour as Commandant of the Tenth Naval District in San Juan, Puerto Rico,between December 1956 and July 1960, Admiral Dan, immortalized his name with a unique achievementsubordinating even his earlier military exploits because of the novelty and world acclaim.In February 1957, the Admiral conceived and established the United States Navy Steel Band, the first all- American steel band and the only military steel band. Controversial and unorthodox, Admiral Gallery would not be content with the conventional military brass band assigned to admirals so long as he could substitutesomething unique and novel in it's place and be the first to have that novelty. That opportunity came inFebruary 1957, when for the first time he heard the famous steel bands of Trinidad during the annualCarnival. The music just got inside me and shook me up.     Gallery immediately ordered sixteensteel drums to be built for which he paid $120. He returned to his headquarters inSan Juan with news of his purchase and to the surprise of Chief Musician Charles A. Roeper, leader of the Admiral'sconventional band, he ordered theband's eighteen musicians to lay asidetheir instruments and begin playing thesteel drums exclusively. It was indeed strange news, however when givendirect orders by a Rear Admiral it is notthe place of a Navy Chief to questionthem. Within two months, in April 1957,Chief Roeper and his band memberstraveled to Trinidad to take delivery of the new steel drums. They also received steel drum lessons from Ellie Mannette (legendary leader of theInvaders Steelband, noted today as the inventor of the modern steel drum, and known the world over as the Father of Steel ). After one week of intensive training, these Navy musicians acquired adequate proficiency on their new instruments and transported them back to San Juan, (unofficially) calling themselves, Admiral Dan'sPandemoniacs , a name derived from the slang term pan used to describe a steel drum. Unlike themusicians in Trinidad at that time, these sailors were professional trained musicians, capable of readingmusic, an ability that facilitated their learning of these new instruments and to rapidly build a diverserepertoire. The srcinal sixteen drums covered five voices: There were four ping-pongs or soprano lead drums with a range of an octave and a half (in contrast to modern pongs with two and a half and threeoctave ranges). There were three second pans (the alto voice), which were single drums, unlike the pair that makes up the modern double-seconds . There were two guitar pans (a pair played by one man), which provided rhythmic accompaniment. The were two tune booms with nine notes each, skirts three quartersof the srcinal length of the 55-gallon oil drum and played by one man. There was a single set of basses,consisting of four full-length barrels with five notes each (in contrast to the five-barrel basses introduced inSeptember 1964). There was also a bonga-bonga drum, which had only two notes. Altogether the drums covered three and a half octaves, much less than modern steel bands. Besides themelodic drums there were many rhythm instruments, including chao-chacs (maracas), claves, guirro and aset of automobile brake drums (played with engine push rods). The band quickly began to build a diverserepertoire, including traditional calypsos like Marianne and Brown Skin Girl (Gallery's favorite), as well as,meringues, cha-chas, sambas, rhumbas and also classical works including Schubert's Serenade , Poet and Peasant Overture , and Gounod's Ave Maria . The band also learned popular songs such as Elvis Presley's Love Me Tender . The tradition of diversity stayed with the band throughout its entire history and becamea major reason for their widespread fame and worldwide recognition. (Note: I would love to provide exact dates and times for the performances listed in this history, but unfortunatelymy memory of events of over 40 years ago is just a little fuzzy.) MY ARRIVAL AS LEADER  As I was in the process of transferring to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Steel Band was performing at the opening of anew Enlisted Men’s Club at the Naval Base, Charleston, South Carolina.After the Band finished their performance at the Club, they opted to leave the pans in place and pack them in themorning for the return trip to San Juan.Murphy’s Law prevailed that night and the brand new Enlisted Men’s Club burned to the ground, including the pans.So, my first official duty as the brand new leader (and I might point out, also a brand new Chief Petty Officer) wasto pack a bag and fly to Port of Spain, Trinidad to purchase new pans. To keep me from getting into too muchtrouble I was accompanied by one of the band’s First Class Petty Officer’s, Cal Stewart. Cal had a great knowledge   8/27/13A Not-So-Brief History Of The United States Navy Steel Band - A When Steel Talks Exclusivewww.panonthenet.com/exclusive/2011/navy-poole-4-12-2011.htm3/11 Navy Steel Band leader Skip Poole performing at theAdmiral's Quarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico o e pans an e process or purcasng em. n rerospec n a reay enoye s rp ecause e newwhat I was going to experience. He never mentioned a word; he just let me set myself up… Upon arriving at Chaguaramas I assumed we would be checking into visitors quarters for a place to sleep. No…we didn’t do that. Instead we took our bags and caught the bus to Port of Spain.Arriving in the heart of Port of Spain our first stop was to stop at a store and pick up a couple of quarts of rum. Myquestioning this was met with a terse, “you’ll see.” We thenwalked for what seemed several hours until we came to whatI would call an industrial area. We approached a large fencedarea that for all intent purposes looked like a junkyard andwalked through the gate.My first impression was that we had made a wrong turnsomeplace. Inside this fenced area there were about 90 menstanding around in a sea of steel drums. We moved to theinside edge of the fence and sat down. I had no idea whatwas going on…these men all stood quietly in their places as arather small man moved from group to group speaking rapidlyto them. After about 25 minutes of this, he moved to thefront of the group and gave a sort of downbeat.It was agood thing Iwas sittingdown,becausewhathappenednext wouldhaveknocked meover. Out of this conglomeration of men and barrels came the most wondrous sound I had ever heard in my life! Stravinsky’sFirebird Suite rolled over me like a giant musical wave. Whatever this was…I wanted more!Thus was my first introduction to Steel Band and the pans.We were listening to a rehearsal of the famed Shell Invaders and the pans of Ellie Mannette! What was trulyamazing was the fact that the man moving amongst the players was the ‘Band Captain’, and he was teaching eachsection their parts by rote, telling which note to strike and for how long…none of them could read music!After the band had finished we talked with several members of the band, including Ellie…that’s what we had broughtthe rum for.When these men found out that I was the leader of the Navy Steel Band and that I had never seen or heard themusic of the pans much less that I had never touched a pan, they didn’t just chuckle politely…they laughed theirheads off! How could I be the ‘Band Captain’ and never played a pan in my life. Not one of my most heart-warmingmoments.  Anyhow, to shorten this story, we struck a deal with Ellie for a complete set of pans. (Actually, I just sat and watched and listened as Cal did the bargaining.) We spent the night under a banyan tree at the Queen’s ParkSavanna. In the morning we caught a bus back to Chaguaramas and caught our flight back to San Juan.  8/27/13A Not-So-Brief History Of The United States Navy Steel Band - A When Steel Talks Exclusivewww.panonthenet.com/exclusive/2011/navy-poole-4-12-2011.htm4/11 Vance Hart(?) on Tune Booms and Ron Propri on Tenor. This photo was taken at the quartersof Commander Caribbean Sea Frontier/Commandant Tenth Naval District, at one of hisreceptions/cocktail parties for visiting dignitaries For the next few months we pretty much just sat on our hands and watched the world go by. Without our pansthere was not much we could do. On the books we were officially a 13-piece Navy Band (conventional instruments)and there just wasn’t much call for our talents in this format. To be honest we had to rehearse quite a bit just toplay Anchors Aweigh.After about two and a half months we were notified that the pans were ready.We packed the whole band into a plane and flew back to Trinidad, picked up the pans and returned to San Juan.The next two weeks were spent cleaning and painting the pans. (We got them right off the fire so to speak – full of soot, grease and dirt.)Once the pans were ready we got down to re-learning how to play them…In addition to the pans we had previously had, we also received some of the newer concept pans: double tenors,cellos and 6-barrel basses. Within a month we were up to speed and ready to return to our performance schedule. THE MUSIC Since there was no source to purchase arrangements or compositions, we had to learn how to arrange andcompose for the band ourselves. The fact that we were all ‘trained musicians’ in that we could read music was anadvantage that almost all of the bands of the Caribbean did not enjoy. Because of these music reading skills, wewere able to visit the various islands that were the home of steel band, listen to the hundreds of bands that wereperforming and record the top songs of the day. We then could ‘lift’ the tune or song from the recording and beplaying it within days. The more intricate arrangements and compositions could take us several weeks to bring toperformance level. At any given time we could perform over 150 different songs, tunes, arrangements andcompositions.We could perform the traditional songs of the islands plus current popular music and also offer some very rich andvibrant arrangements of many classical pieces. During my tour as leader of the Navy Steel Band I, along withseveral of the band members arranged or composed selections of many musical styles. Our biggest hits were thewinning songs written for Carnival – the top calypso songs of the year. Mixed with that we also ‘had’ to perform the ‘traditional’ songs of theCaribbean, Yellowbird,Marianne, Matilda, etc.Added to this was theselection of ‘classical music’ arrangements in our library.Many of them weretransformed into calypso style,with ‘jump up’ beat. We alsodid several arrangements of the classics faithful to theirsrcinal intent…one of the mostbeautiful and effective was CalStewart’s ‘Beethoven’s LittleFugue in G Minor.’ Thisarrangement took us months toperfect, but it was worth itbased on audience reaction.For me personally, it was a great challenge to learn the characteristics of the various pans and then write a tune oran arrangement. My favorite arrangements were The Theme From Mondo Cane or ‘More’, and a driving arrangement
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