It all began with a steel saucer sled.
Kansas native Gary Gibson was 12 years old when his father took him to a parade with the U.S. Navy steel band.
“I just fell in love with the sound,” he said.
Once he came home, he picked up his old steel saucer sled, took his father’s hammer and molded the sled. He was able to make four discernible notes. It was the beginning of his life-long career in steelpan music.
Since then, Gibson obtained a real steelpan drum and continued playing and studying the instrument. He received his master’s degree in music performance, but also studied composition and orchestration at Cornish College.
Gibson has recorded five critically acclaimed albums of original progressive music featuring steelpan; won twoof three categories of Trinidad’s “Symphony & Steel” composition contest; and is a national champion of Trinidad’s “Panorama National Steel Band Championship.”
He is known internationally as a clinician and concert/recording artist, and he makes numerous trips each year to adjudicate at steel band festivals or be a guest concert artist with college and high school steel band groups around the country.
To further his passion for steelpan music, Gibson formed Steel Magic Northwest in 2014. Steel Magic Northwest is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing after-school steel band to area youth in Edmonds and Kent. Students start as early as fifth grade. Since 2014, the group has about 85 students ranging from fifth grade through high school.
When he was a beginning steelpan musician, Gibson said he had no one to share his passion with. Now with Steel Magic Northwest, he said he gets to surround himself with all the kids he would have been friends with all those years ago.
“We’ve all become like family,” Gibson said. “The kids love it and stay with it. It’s been a joy to watch the kids grow and develop their skill and love for steel music.”
The four steel orchestras of Steel Magic Northwest will be performing a Holiday in Steel concert at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8, at the Congregational Church on Mercer Island.
Gibson said Mercer Island and the church itself is an excellent location for the program’s holiday concert, in that the location is halfway between its two programs — in Edmonds and Kent — and the church’s sanctuary is well-suited for the unique acoustics of the modern steel orchestra.
“With a great, open hardwood floor, and flexible seating, this venue makes for a special experience for both the performers and audience members,” he said.
The groups performing are combined orchestras from the two locations, with the largest group having 25 steel pan performers. The Pan Wizards Steel Orchestra, an advanced youth group, has gained regional notoriety in the past couple of years through touring and performing for music educators.
The concert will feature popular holiday favorites, including three movements of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.” Other songs include the holiday classic “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson, as well as stylized versions of common holiday favorites.
Admission to the Holiday in Steel concert is free, with a suggested donation at the door of $10 per person.
Gibson said steel music usually doesn’t come to mind when people think about holiday music, however, he hopes Islanders will attend the concert out of curiosity.
“I want people to come and for the general community to be exposed to this music. The kids are amazing and the music is so beautiful,” he said. “I think the general population will really enjoy it.”