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Merle Albino-de Coteau, Esther K. Batson, Dr. Dawn Batson
Composers, Arrangers, Educators

Brooklyn, New York - When Steel Talks continues its exclusive series of interviews with movers and shakers of the Pan movement.  In this interview Dr. Dawn Batson currently at Indiana University, music teachers Merle Albino-De Coteau from the Creative Arts Centre at the University of the West Indies, and Esther K. Batson, Dr. Batson's mother, share their thoughts on the immediate future of pan, and women's contributions to the art form.  These  women were all adjudicators for the Something Positive's 2004 Youth Pan Festival on November 6, and also panelists at the Pre-Festival Symposium held the night before.   This year's festival was dedicated to the memory of it's founder Cheryl Byron and was organized by Michael Manswell, the new Executive Director of Byron's initiative Something Positive, Inc.  “Among the many art forms Cheryl advocated among our youth, she was most passionate about the steelpan,” stated Manswell, the new executive director of the organization.  “This festival keeps her spirit alive,” he added.

Dawn Batson is one of the founding members of Youth Pan Festival.  It has been an annual event since 1997 - except for last year, 2003,  because of the death Cheryl Byron.   A wide cross-section of the population attends the Pan Festivals.   The point of the event is "reaching towards excellence; there are no losers, everybody leaves with a prize" says Dr. Batson.   Asked about the possibilities of mini-versions of the pan symposium being held across the United States, Dr. Batson was optimistic in her outlook. 

Batson also noted that one of the aims was to produce degree candidates to pursue steelpan as a concentration or major in higher education.  Past pan players who have won scholarships and benefited from the Youth Pan Festival program are:  well-known arranger and director for New York's CASYM Steel Orchestra, Arddin Herbert, and ace soloist Freddie Harris who was also co-arranger for Sesame Flyers Steel Orchestra this year.

Merle Albino-de Coteau shared key history about the very first all-woman steelband in Trinidad and Tobago.  The bombshell was that it was not the famous Girl Pat Steel Orchestra but White Stars Steel Orchestra formed in 1951.  They were not well-known or spoken of much because this particular female steel orchestra was in a correctional facility for girls.  As Albino-de Coteau puts it "they were punished twice [the second time for playing pan]."  She goes on to say that they were "awesome musicians" and used pans provided by then-Casablanca's captain Oscar Pyle.

Esther Batson noted that the biggest challenge facing women in the steelpan art form was getting the public to support pan women financially.  De Coteau said it was still a male-dominated arena specifically in terms of arranging.  As she put it "the men could arrange for panorama, but that it is thought that the women could arrange the classical music."  Batson stressed that women could also concentrate on the marketing of the instrument and the art form.

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