Steel Drummer Sophia Subero Presents Classical Concert

Born in Trinidad, Sophia Subero, a most accomplished steel drummer, arrived in Tidewater in August of 2007 as Rhythm Project Assistant Director and PANorama Caribbean Music Fest Assistant Coordinator for Virginia Arts Festival.

Sophia, who deeply believes that God loves all people, offered to the community a gift of her talent as part of the Thalia Lynn Baptist Concert Series on July 27, 2008. The first selection, Adagio sostenuto from Moonlight Sonata, the nickname for Piano Sonata no. 14 by Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827), transcribed for tenor and double tenor pans (steel drums) began quietly. The mellow, bell-like tones were reminiscent of piano but with a bit more bite in the treble notes. The music continued as the pastor, Prentis McGoldrick, welcomed us and suggested that we concentrate on the movement of this tall, trim black woman's hands as she plays, then offered a prayer.

The second selection, Impressions, by L. Teague, was a twelve minute display of a rich variety of tones from a tenor pan. The emotional range from intensity to soporific was intriguing. A virtuosic display piece by Niccoló Paganini (1782-1840), Caprice no. 24 in A minor (1805) with runs executed on three steel drum heads was quite amazing. She immediately followed this with Praelludium and Allegro by the famous violinist and composer of charming pieces Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) in all of its rich complexity.

To make a pan, as each drum head is known, a steel oil drum head is sunk by pounding it into a concave shape. Grooving comes next. Using a steel punch, each note is marked by indentations in the area outlined. Next, most of the barrel is cut away, leaving an 8-10 inch high drum with an open bottom. Tuning comes next. Using a small hammer, the bubbles, as the note indentations are called, are adjusted for correct pitch, Pan sticks have rubber heads which create the mellow sound when struck. Her three chrome-plated pans were in a rack in a semi-circle. Steel bands were developed in Trinidad, British West Indies in the 1930's and 40's. Within ten years music by classical composers had been transcribed for pans and over time the playing has become extremely polished. Ms. Subero, in conversation told us she has been playing for seventeen years.

The last piece of the evening was by an obscure Italian violinist Vittorio Monti (1868-1922), whose piece Csárdás was written for violin. It achieved widespread popularity in his lifetime. Czardus (as listed on our program) had a stately opening. Accompanied by pianist Sharon Walpole, the colorful dance piece showcased the talented performers in the fleet, happy sounds of piano and tenor and double-tenor pans.

Ms. Subero sang Tears for You by C. Winans, a contemporary gospel music composer and singer. She explained that she is no Kathy Battle, then sang the emotional text in a rich contralto voice accompanied by pianist Floyd Sanders, her former minister of music, who came from Chicago to do this concert with her.

Interspersed with the classical pieces, she led us in songs of praise and worship, also with Sanders at the piano. Mr. Sanders confirmed that the quiet Sophia Subero becomes quite a different person when she stands in front of the pans. She then sang his composition Is Love out of Season as he played. The complex piano accompaniment was limpid and delicately ornamented in the Nashville style developed by Floyd Cramer (b.1933). There was a scat vocal section and jazz riffs. It all worked quite well.

If Sophia Subero offers another concert, don't miss it - she is a terrific classical musician!

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