Every now and then in life, a moment comes along that, no matter how small the probability of actually happening, eventually comes to be. Maybe it’s fate, luck or just randomness that brings these things to happen but whatever the case, this happened to elementary school music teacher and pannist Tyler Swick when he submitted himself to be featured in an LG commercial playing pan.
“The production company HitRecord was behind the magic of this commercial, as well as one previous. Just under a year ago, HitRecord put out a commercial for LG that involved bystanders singing to their camera selfie-style. I remember seeing it on TV and thinking, I wonder if that was real or just actors. How could they organize such a huge project? I started to follow the HitRecord community online and eventually found the call for the next LG commercial,” Swick said. “The first interaction was for anyone who wanted to participate to upload footage of themselves playing their 30 second tune on their instrument. From there, the community essentially up-votes their favorite contributions. The directors of the project then contacted the top contributors and had basic instructions on how to make their video better, like lighting, angles and scenery. Everyone who was contacted then uploaded a second round of media.”
In addition to the video, at the request of the musical director of the video, Swick also submitted audio tracks of various percussion parts, including woodblock, sleigh bells, triangle, clave, hand claps, shaker and tambourine. “I really wanted to be a part of this project, so I went a little overboard with how much I uploaded. Luckily, the tambourine, triangle and hand claps made the final cut,” Swick added.
After round two of the video cuts, the remaining participants were sent two LG V20 phones to shoot the video with. Participants shot three locations around Las Vegas and uploaded all of the material. Swick received more notes on how to improve the shot and narrowed the locations down to one. After spending about an hour-and-a-half shooting all of the possible angles and scenarios of the 30 second tune, Swick uploaded 15 gigs worth of video content.
After waiting impatiently to find out if his video contributions would make the final cut, Swick learned that he would make all four final edits of the ad, which included a 15, 30, 60 second version and final “community” edit that would feature all those who contributed from the beginning. “I am very fortunate that the shot of me playing pan has ended up in all of the edits,” Swick said.
Thanks to his love of steelpan, Swick landed the part and was featured with several other musicians, including actor Joseph Gordon Levitt, host and co-creator of HitRecord. So far, the video has reached nearly 10 million views on YouTube. But reaching this achievement took many years, all starting with a chance encounter in high school.
“I was a sophomore percussionist attending the Las Vegas Academy when I went to the PAS Day of Percussion in Henderson, Nevada. The day concluded with the College of Southern Nevada’s Coyote Calypso Steel Drum Band performing on the main stage. In between songs, the director, Robert Bonora (Akron class of ’84) explained the layout of the drums and demonstrated the voices of the band individually. I had never seen anything like this before and knew I had to be a part of it,” Swick said. “I caught up with Bonora while they were loading out and asked how I could get involved. He worked it out that we could attend the college rehearsals after our high school let out every Tuesday. I say ‘we’ because I wasn’t the only LVA student bit by the bug that day. We continued this for two years until it was time for my class to go to college. The early training in pan came in handy when I attended the University of Kentucky. I was a small fish in a very large pond, but I had a unique voice because of the pan. My love for pan would then take me to the University of Iowa, where the steelband was a heavy focus.”
Today, apart from his full time job teaching music at Richard C. Priest Elementary, Swick plays steelpan professionally around Las Vegas. His school also started a steelband with two classes and twelve new sets of pans. To give back to the band that inspired him, Swick wanted to do something special with his new group.
“My first order of business with my new band was to create a cross-over concert with the band that originally changed my life, CSN’s Coyote Calypso Steel Drum Band. My band of elementary students is going to open up for the college’s December concert and will conclude the concert with a mass band,” Swick said. “Through all of this, I still manage to play with the CSN band every Tuesday, just like in high school. But life isn’t just pan, as I am currently a sub for the Las Vegas Philharmonic and Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers in the Encore Theater.”
Since the commercial aired, the phone hasn’t rung and no huge new career awaits Swick. But if you ask him, that wasn’t his primary goal.
“For the most part, playing pan is completely about how it makes me feel. It was an identity for me when I discovered that I was no longer the best marimba player in my immediate area, an awakening that happens to most budding percussionists. It was a source of income in college and over the summers. Playing pan placed me in an exclusive family of musicians that I felt very comfortable around. However small the pan community is, we still have idols and models that continually break the mold of what I thought a pan was capable of yesterday,” Swick said. “I would listen to an Andy Narell CD on my way to school and then an Andy Akiho CD on the way home. I would YouTube Jonathon Scales Fourchestra for hours and then switch over to Liam Teague playing concertos. I like the idea that pan had not reached its limits. There hasn’t been enough time since its creation for all of the possibilities to be discovered, so maybe the next greatest thing to happen to pan is in a practice room right now. Maybe they haven’t even touched a pan yet, which is why I feel a calling to teach.”
After traveling to Trinidad to perform with PCS Silver Stars in Panorama, Swick has his feet firmly planted in the pan community and believes that further exposure for the instrument can be achieved by following a similar path.
“You know how many times I’ve seen those hand pan videos on Facebook? And how many times my friends tagged me in the video saying ‘WOAH CHECK THIS OUT!’ and I think to myself, why can’t the same thing happen for steel pan?” said Swick. “Every pan player in the world is an advocate for our instrument. Every gig has been an educational experience for at least one audience member. For every pan player who is on the fence about whether to record their new idea, or whether to make a YouTube video of their awesome riff, they need to do it!”