Responses by Frances Wenner, Volunteer Coordinator
How many students are in the Muller Panatics and what are their ages?
The Ulla F. Muller “Panatics Steel Pan” program was started in 1999 by John Hodge of the Superior Court Rising Stars under the guidance of former principal, Mrs. Ophelia Shillingford and former teacher, Mrs. Daphne Gonzalez-Thomas. It consists of students in 3-6 grades. We currently have 30 members, average age 7 to 12. We recruit them in the third and fourth grades, and most stay with the band for four years until they are promoted to 7th grade. We practice at the school on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3-5 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Since being displaced from our Steel Band trailer by Irma and Maria, we practice in the school cafeteria.
Do students pick their instruments or are they assigned instruments? What might make a student gravitate to one instrument over another?
Sometimes they pick and sometimes they are assigned the instrument. Usually, the director puts new players on tenor bass, but sometimes the need to have a balanced band can require that the players be assigned according to the need of the band. The unique sound of each pan usually causes the new players to want to go to that instrument.
What musical concepts are taught and how? Are students taught to read music and compose?
We teach by notes. They are taught the note configuration on their respective pans. They are taught about flats and sharps and the chromatic scale. When students show a deeper interest, they may be taught about reading and some musical theory.
How has musical education helped the students excel in other aspects of their lives and education?
The instructor always says and believes that if the children can learn complex music without music sheets to read, they can learn anything they put their mind to. Playing pan by notes, in his opinion, helps children learn how to learn and helps them to be more proficient in their study habits.
How are students engaging with the community through their music?
Our band performs in various community activities throughout the year. They have performed in the Tutu Park Mall, Miracle on Main Street, Carnival Pan Jamboree here and on St. John, Carnival Parade, for cruise ship visitors on the WICO and Crown Bay docks, to greet visitors at the airport, for health and agricultural fairs, cultural activities both here and on St. John, and more.
What are some new adventures the Muller Panatics have enjoyed this year?
On December 5-8, the band travelled to St. Croix to participate in the Finest Pan Fest at Island Center. This was our first trip off island, but our goal is to travel to the mainland to compete and entertain.
How can students join if they are interested?
Every September, I visit the third and fourth grade classes at Muller and invite interested students to join. If they show interest, they are then given a letter for their parents explaining the academic requirement, commitment to practice, parental involvement, and other program requirements.
Tell us who you are and your involvement with the Muller Panatics?
I am a retired 30-year employee of the Department of Education. Since my childhood, I was always interested in learning to play pan. I got my first opportunity with the Superior Court Steel Pan Shoot Out competition in 1991, where myself and four other Education employees competed and won. In 2000, as an alum of the Nisky Elementary School, now the Ulla F. Muller school, I told former principal, Mrs. Shillingford, that I was interested in volunteering at the school. She immediately placed me to assist John Hodge with coordinating activities and fund raising for the band. The rest is history. I am the volunteer coordinator of the Panatics Steel Band. This is our 20th year anniversary.