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An evening music class with Ibis Ensemble

Thursday, November 3, 2016
Josh Watkins on the drums. PHOTO: WESLEY GIBBINGS

The billing was for “Trombone and Percussion—a Family Concert.” What the audience got was a memorable music lesson by two non-native University of T&T (UTT) faculty and leading members of the UTT Ibis Ensemble.

By the time trombonist Aiden Chamberlain pulled out his 400-year-old “sackbut” trombone for three of 17th century German composer Michael Praetorius’ many instrumental dances, the children seated on the floor of the NAPA auditorium had already been primed and prepped for action.

Percussionist Josh Watkins and Chamberlain had opened with a faithful rendition of Berstein’s Elegy for Mippy II as an introduction to swing jazz followed by Chamberlain on Michael Davis’ Bone Man Walking and a swing solo on the drums executed by Watkins. It was around this time the children decided that chairs were not intended to be a part of the experience.

Loop (looper/looping) pedals have earned mixed reviews over recent years and they have found particular favour among the younger generation of guitarists in particular; though players of more than one instrument are also displaying a preference for the opportunity to constitute an entire band through use of this device which records musical segments that can be played over each other.

To some it might be surprising that purists such as the UTT bunch would exhibit the qualities the loop pedal brings. But both Watkins and Chamberlain showed how this piece of musical engineering can be used without the loss of artfulness or musical precision.

Watkins, on a variety of percussive instruments, brought all together during a seamless performance that included his dexterity on the North African riqq tambourine, zill cymbals from the North African/Middle Eastern region, an Indian Kanjira drum and the increasingly popular HandPan not all that remotely reminiscent of an inverted T&T steelpan.

It was then time for Chamberlain to show off, with German composer Florian Magnus Maier’s Slipstream specifically composed for trombone solo and loop station. Maier, significantly, is a guitarist whose work has spanned a wide variety of genres including what is appropriately described as “extreme metal” music, flamenco, jazz and ensemble music.

Chamberlain’s performance might have been T&T’s first on-stage exposure to Maier’s eclectic range via a highly challenging composition designed to test the ability of a single trombonist playing at least eight parts that join concurrently to create an amazing crescendo at the end. Even with jittery children in the audience, this introduction to Maier, courtesy Chamberlain, was not meant to be easily forgotten.

Watkins admits to not being the best pan player in town, and his experimentation with various uses for the aluminum tenor pan stick is nothing new, but his exhibition of the difference ways the stick can make music at all points of the pan, and the stick itself, came with the point that perhaps steelband arrangers should incorporate such innovations in their offerings at Panorama time.

The piece he played was Regeneration by American composer/percussionist Baljinder Sekhon whose own looped performance of the piece can be found online and would perhaps make the average tuner cringe as he bangs away at both the skirt and belly of the pan with sometimes cacophonous results.

The delightful evening came to an end with Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk accompanied by hand-clapping and foot stomping from the children, and some adults. A one-hour music class whose students won’t mind joining again and again.


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