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           Date: 09.11.05

Manufacturing, tuning and playing pan,
this young man does it all
Joshema McIntosh - In the Spotlight
 

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New York - It was a beautifully sunny afternoon and When Steel Talks  enjoyed being out of the studio, and instead, hanging out in the panyard of Pantonic Steel Orchestra in Brooklyn, New York, and chatting with Trinidad pan player Joshema McIntosh.  The youth  and other members of Pantonic Steel Orchestra were very proud of their championship title in the 2005 Panorama.  But Joshema is a teenager who had reason to be proud even before he set foot in Pantonic's panyard.


 

Joshema McIntosh

Joshema McIntosh is a very special young man who found himself the object of admiration this summer in New York.  The tenor pan which Joshema played was a product of labor and love - his own labor.  In 2004, the seventeen-year old was one of about thirty-five teenagers between the ages of fifteen and nineteen who had been selected to be part of a pilot program.  The initiative was a joint collaboration among the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad, master tuner Jimmy Phillips, and the Pan in School Co-ordinating Council (PSCC).  Joshema says that upon recognizing the urgent need for fresh and upcoming pan tuners, and the fact that the older heads in the business were not getting any younger, this project was seen as a way to engender interest in the art form and simultaneously encourage younger people to begin the journey to acquire the skill and become wage-earners by their craft.


 

The finished product...

Over an initial six-month period, later extended by about three months, these young people - Joshema among them - had the opportunity to acquire the skills of manufacturing and tuning steelpan instruments - from start to finish.  In fact, commitment to this course kept Joshema away from the New York pan scene in 2004.  He had played with Pantonic in 2003 and did so again in 2005.

The raw materials for the course - steeldrums - were apparently provided by British Petroleum (BP) which uses Trinidad as a major base of its petroleum operations.  Many of the youngsters were able to take advantage of BP's generosity as benefactor.  Additional drums were provided by Jimmy Phillips himself.  Joshema proudly said that he provided his own drum.

This enterprising youngster had an additional headstart, however.  He grew up in Point Fortin under the wing of his grandfather Randolph Merez who is himself a steel pan manufacturer, tuner and player.  Silver Harps was the steel orchestra that Merez called home in his day.  The young Joshema had always been curious from a tender age about his grandfather's work.  Asked about how Mr. Merez feels about his grandson's accomplishment in creating his own tenor pan, Joshema shyly admitted that his grandfather was "very proud." 

As he was growing up, Joshema eventually began playing with Starland Steel Orchestra who needed players and gladly welcomed him, as much as he welcomed the opportunity as a budding pan player.  He gained even more experience and exposure when Point Fortin's New Creation Steel Orchestra, primarily made up of the Lett family, invited him to join them, first for a Music Festival event, and eventually to tour with them, which is how he became a staple on the New York pan scene, especially during Panorama time.  Joshema said he is extremely grateful to the Lett family and the opportunities provided.

Asked about the reaction of people, especially youngsters like himself, to the knowledge that he had made and tuned his own tenor, and which they could actually see and hear him play, Joshema himself still wears a look of wonder as he contemplates it all.  He said that everyone was fascinated and essentially in awe, with comments like "you made that yourself?"  He added that some were even thinking that this was definitely something that they could get into themselves.  The rate of a tenor pan can easily reach as high as US $1,600.00 (sixteen hundred).  For the course, participants chose their instruments of choice to manufacture and produce from start to finish, with Joshema of course opting for the tenor pan.  The awestruck response to Joshema's accomplishments started in St. Lucia, where he got the opportunity to display and utilize his  tenor pan.

For the 2005 New York panorama season, Joshema had some additional responsibilities, when he was called upon periodically to deliver lines for other members to pick up proper notes and phrasing, as imparted by Pantonic's arranger Clive Bradley.  His pan was unmistakable at that point.

It goes without saying that Joshema had his pan during the interview, and he was arpeggiating and providing some harmonization and fills as he spoke about his experiences.  Toward the end of the interview, Joshema even treated When Steel Talks to a rendition of Kitchener's classic Pan In 'A' Minor, which some will remember was the test piece at the World Steelband Music Festival held at the Madsion Square Garden earlier this year.

Joshema says he has a long way to go, that his pan is not perfect, and his progress will be ongoing.  He understands that he is just beginning to hone his craft, and gives sincere thanks to instructor and master tuner Jimmy Phillips, who he says had the sole responsibility of taking the class of youngsters from beginning to end, and who oversaw and assisted with the final product of their instruments.  Of the thirty-five who initially started, almost all - about thirty-three - continued and eventually became proud graduates of this steelpan initiative.  The talented pan player is heading back to yet another workshop as he continues on his journey, which has only just begun.

C. Phillips, Basement Press Corp.
2005 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

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