Utopia Pan Soul:
The Next Generation
in an exclusive interview
with
When Steel Talks

 

Sheldon Elcock and Curt Rogers meant [music] business when they founded UTOPIA PAN SOUL Steel Orchestra about six years ago.  Both founders are soloists and arrangers for Utopia.  Originally playing out on 'gigs', when others expressed a desire to join them, the orchestra which is presently about twenty-odd players strong came into being.  While today the band's players are from ages twelve and upwards, two years after its formation it attracted pan players who were more mature than the original youthful vision:  so "the Next Generation" [of Utopia Pan Soul]  was born.  The band's quintet still plays out on gigs.

Of the many steel orchestras on the New York pan scene, Utopia Pan Soul is one of the few that does not have the Labor day-geared event of 'Panorama' as it's raison d'Ítre.  While not ruling out Panorama participation in the future - a properly organized pan fraternity, finances and the like permitting, Elcock and Rogers are presently about taking the steelpan out of the rut they see it's been in for decades by emphasizing music education - through theory, workshops and exposure of their young players to other professionals in the music world, and by the ongoing expansion of the band's repertoire to include all types of music e.g. R&B, Latin and Afro-centered rhythms. 

"People find our music so refreshing when we play out on gigs" says Elcock, "and the younger band members are so excited by the inclusion of the current hit music that we have to tell them, OK, take it slow, we've got to master the selections before going on to new tunes".  Elcock also notes the 'bad training with bad [playing] habits' of decades of pan players out there, and is convinced that the only way to counter this situation is to start out afresh with a new generation who are properly introduced to the instrument from the start.  Curt Rogers is himself an Adjunct Professor at the William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, and while steelband is currently "a project" within the campus, he is avidly campaigning for the steelband to be a fully accredited course by next semester.

Both young leaders see themselves first and foremost as musicians who are to be respected just as all others who have mastered the more conventional instruments such as pianos, saxophones, etc.  Elcock lists among his musical mentors/ influences pan greats such as Earl Rodney, Ray Holman, 'Boogsie' Sharpe, Beverly Griffith and Clive Bradley, while Rogers additionally notes his comprehensive music appreciation and own penchant for jazz, taking in the works of people like Thelonious Monk.

While acknowledging the genius of veteran and established arrangers and tuners such as Bradley, Sharpe, George Wallace,  etc., key skills such as knowledge of chord structure obtained in part through music theory, and other hands-on experience, must be obtained by pan players in general, especially the youth, if they were to become the next generation of talented arrangers and tuners.  Rather than continuously soliciting the skills of the pan masters especially for Panorama, Elcock noted that there were upcoming and established pan arrangers in New York who needed to be given opportunities to arrange; and for the younger pan players, an academic base in the fine art of music was a required discipline just as with in any other conventional instrument -if they were to stake their own claim to fame.

Getting past the Panorama's 'ten minutes of glory' mentality for many potential members is difficult for young would-be Utopia pan players who look at their counterparts who are in larger and more visible bands on the New York pan scene.  Utopia Pan Soul however intends to remain firmly grounded with their much larger vision to 'take Pan to the next level'.  "Failure is not an option" Elcock emphatically says - "there has been little to show in the past twenty years [commercially, in the New York pan world]".

For the present, what is uppermost in Utopia's minds is the current unrest in 'housing' as Elcock puts it.  Steelbands are generally 'nomadic' and not by choice, as they are routinely thrown out of their pan yards - as was the case with Utopia Pan Soul and about six other steelbands who thought they had found a refuge - at least for Winter 2002 - in the pan yard of Metro Steel Orchestra on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn.  Scrambling for another site with no notice allegedly given by the owner, literally thousands of dollars worth of equipment damage was suffered by all the bands in the yard - Utopia included - when the fence was torn down, band equipment/stands crushed, and a hole dug in the middle of the yard.

For now it seems that another site has been found, but both Rogers and Elcock noted that there needed to be a coalition among the three existing New York 'steelband organizations' to address issues such as these, and also that it was advisable politicians look to their constituents' needs (the New York steelband players number well over ten thousand) and note their voting power - not only at election time, but year round.

Look out for this interview with Utopia's Sheldon Elcock and Curt Rogers in its entirety, upcoming on the When Steel Talks web site.

 

 

 

By CP - Basement Press Release Writer
 



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Date: 10.19.02

 

 

 

 

 

Utopia Pan Soul's Curt Rogers (in red)
 
and Sheldon Elcock (in white)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curt Rogers and Sheldon Elcock as they were interviewed at the studios of Basement Recordings
for the
When Steel Talks website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UTOPIA PAN SOUL at one of the 2002 Band Launchings.  This one was held on 4 August 2002 at the Metro Steel Orchestra's pan yard

 

 

One of the mangled band stands in the Metro Pan Yard, with the gaping hole and uprooted fence in the background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©2002 Basement Recordings, Inc. All rights reserved.