Steel band gets tropical

Marcus Santos teams up with UND Steel Pan Band, ignites Chester Fritz Auditorium.

Brazilian percussionist Marcus Santos performs at the Chester Fritz Auditorium on Monday night. Photo by Chester Beltowski/The Dakota Student.

The UND Steel Pan Ensemble played a concert for students and community members at the Chester Fritz Auditorium on Monday night.

The Steel Pan Ensemble — named after the authentic oil drums that are used — is a group of 13 students directed by Michael Blake, who also played with the group.

The modern steel pan is a chromatically pitched percussion instrument made from 55-gallon drums that formerly contained oil and like substances.

Marcus Santos, an expert percussionist from Brazil, came to UND to play with the Steel Pan Ensemble.

Origins of steel band

Blake had the idea to create a Steel Pan Ensemble when he was asked what music group he thought UND should start, in  Spring 1999. The group has become a popular musical attraction in the region since.

The Steel Pan Alumni Fund is an organization that pays for the group’s instruments.

“I had Mr. Blake in 7th grade and all through high school,” UND senior Eric Timian said. “He is an amazing instructor and works so well with students. I knew I wanted to go to UND and I wanted to join a music class of his so he told me that I should check out the Steel Pan Ensemble, and I was instantly hooked.”

Senior Kristin Canham also discovered the group when she came to UND.

“I was a percussionist in high school,” Canham said. “When I came to UND, I showed up for the Steel Pan Ensemble practice to check it out, and thankfully they let me in.”


When the concert started, a small group of about six students starting playing on the stage. Around a minute later, sounds of hollering came from the back of the auditorium as the remaining students ran up on the stage to join in playing “Bee’s Melody.”

Most of the students know how to play the multiple instruments used in the ensemble such as the bass guitar, bongos and many different percussion instruments, including the steel pans.

The music the Steel Pan Ensemble plays has a tropical vibe. Songs such as, “Cha Cha Mi Mama,” and “Soul Sauce” were uplifting and relaxing.

Band members wore Hawaiian shirts and shorts for the guys, and Hawaiian dresses for the girls with sandals or bare feet.

The stage was filled with palm tree balloons and pink and green lighting illuminated the stage.

Santos played a solo using the Pandeiro — a tambourine-like instrument — in which he drew a variety of sounds and rhythms out of the instrument.

After the concert ended, the audience — made up of students, adults and families — gave the Steel Pan Ensemble a standing ovation and were invited to come on stage and check out the steel pans themselves.

Adele Kieger is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].