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Kent Arnsbarger: Steel Drum Artist


People always ask me how I got into doing this, well here you go....

I was a student at Indiana University @ South Bend studying percussion, marimba & drum set mostly, but included timpani, vibraphone and drum corps styles. But one fateful day in 1993 while on a marching band trip to Walt Disney World, my vision of percussion changed forever. I saw J.P. & the Silver Stars performing outside of Pirates of the Caribbean ride - a steel drum band who had been performing there since the park opened in 1972. I was amazed by the band & had to be pulled away from them. My life has never quite been the same.

I went out and bought all the steel drums CDs I could find ( I think one was all I found for the first year) and just started to surround myself with the music. Now I own 60+ of those CDs & have three of my own.

In 1996 I saw the Britian/Moore Duo, a marimba and steel drum duet. Very inspiring to me. Listening to the Pan play the lead parts over the marimba background. I figured I could do the marimba playing myself and record it, then just play steel drum live. So that’s what I started working on.

I started arranging songs I liked and knew people would like to hear. I recorded all the individual parts myself after learning them on marimba or drum set or whatever I needed. It was a very slow process at first, lots of trial and error to get a good sound. I essentially do the same thing now only the recording part has gotten to be much quicker thanks to my faster & better Apple computers over the years.

In the summer of 1998 I received my steel drum after 10 months of waiting since I placed my order for it. That was a hard wait! It was then a very frustrating journey learning how to play the instrument. It took FOREVER! Hardest thing I ever learned how to do, and I’m still learning. Such a foreign instrument compared to all others I studied and felt confident with.

I feel what I do is very unique in my world of steel drummers. I’m about the only panist I’ve found on the internet ANYWHERE who records his own backup tracks for better sounding performances. Others seems to think a computer/sequencer playing the parts is good enough. I think Music deserves soul and the ability to breath.

I teach percussion as my “day job” with many students from La Porte High School in northern Indiana. I also write and teach the music for the drum line at LP. We are a 3 time state finalist with our marching band since I’ve been there (in 5 years!). I like to think I was a key role in that success. ;^)

Now I have 4 CDs that sell way better than I could’ve ever imagined, both in digital downloads like iTunes, and physical CDs. I have a great teaching/recording studio, and I play constantly around the midwest.

I have played with bands most of my adult life, some pretty darn good ones too, but this is my real passion now. I’ve been very blessed to have found this instrument and to do what I do. I simply have the best job in the world. None of it would be possible if it weren’t for my amazing wife Shawn, and simply incredible daughter Samira. New to my family is Pierce born on August 17th, 2007. They are my reason, and my strength.