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Steel Pan in Dominica

Date: 05.08.06

Where are we now?
Music, the Steelpan instrument and Education:
A Panel Discussion
Dominica's OECS Junior Pan Competition


Roseau, Dominica - As an added component to the OECS Junior Pan Competition a panel discussion was convened at the Garraway Hotel.   "Where are we today, and how far have we come?" was the central theme of the discussion.  Athie Martin - a local Dominican media personality, former president of the Dominican Steelband Association, and tenor player with Dominica's famed but now-defunct Vauxhall Steel Band - was the moderator.  The panelists included some of the best forward-thinking and progressive musical minds in the Caribbean who are active in this arena.  Vanessa Headley, Victor Prescod, Mrs. Franka Hills-Headley and Richard Pierre served on the panel for this year's 2006 OECS Junior Steelpan discussion.


Panelists discuss the state of pan as part of the activities
related to the OECS Junior Steelpan Competition held in Dominica

Mrs. Franka Hills- Headley said that pan,  once considered the domain of the 'badjohns and rebels of society' experienced a resurgence in interest.  The [Trinidad and Tobago] youth of the 1990s began actively seeking out the steelpan instrument.  They chose the steelpan as their instrument of choice.  "Piano lessons were replaced by the desire to play the steelpan instrument." 

The results have been, that now there are thousands of children throughout the region choosing the steel pan as their number one instrument, and playing at a very high level of technical ability.  "In our children is the desire to excel and be challenged by something" explains Hills-Headley.  The pan instrument allows for that creativity and expression.  In terms of sustaining the interests in the pan instrument, Hills-Headley sees networking at both the Caribbean and international level as the key to continued mobilization of the steelpan movement and successes.


Panelists discuss the state of the steelpan artform
click here if video does not auto start

Richard Pierre stated that the steelpan is great for teaching the young people discipline, in addition to allowing them  to express themselves in any genre, because of the versatility of the instrument.   In addition, they acquire the sensitivity  that is critical in relating to each other.  In regards to the question of 'how do we sustain the pan movement,' Pierre feels that there must be a "continuous platform for the performer... because we know that it is when we have that challenge of a competition or festival, that we have the greatest input".  Pierre further espouses that "there is now an awareness among the youth, of the many opportunities in pan; it is no longer just about the person who knows how to execute [on the instrument]..."

Award-winning solo pannist Vanessa Headley voiced that playing the steelpan and the lessons learned through acquiring those skills, was indeed instrumental in the successful completion of her academic endeavors.  Moreover, the instrument gave her an added advantage as she can see things from a vantage point that others cannot.

Veteran educator Victor Prescod feels that the instrument teaches young people time-management, among the many other virtues the instrument affords.  "Learning the steelpan teaches life issues."   Many of the secondary schools [in Trinidad and Tobago] are now staffed with personnel who know have a background in pan.  This is a direct result of the Trinidad government offering scholarships at the bachelor's level for educators to pursue degrees with the pan as their primary instrument. "Music education is not only for those who will become performers; but also [for] the performers [who] need an audience who understands music", articulated Prescod.  "Pan In The Classroom is a program that assures that every school [in Trinidad and Tobago] will have a set of steelpan instruments.  And pan is the preferred instrument for the transmission of music."

All the panelists were in agreement that situations where there are only one or two pan players performing, do not effectively portray the beauty of the orchestration that comes out of the steelpan.  "Nothing short of a full orchestra will do justice to the instrument.  The instrument must be respected and presented at all times in the best possible light.  And for this corporate sponsorship among others must play a key role," emphasized Pierre.  He also noted that "many of the [radio stations'] presenters of the instrument are nothing more than dj's in their mentality and lack of musical knowledge and historical knowledge of the instrument."

Some of the recommendations made by the panel to ensure, sustain and propel regional and international growth of the steelpan artform were:

  • Represent the pan instrument well
  • Full orchestration as oppose to partial orchestration
  • Massive funding from the corporate sector
  • Educate the presenters of the instrument
  • Culture of the radio and TV stations [in respect to the steelpan instrument] must change
  • Adequate promotional campaigns
  • Pan In The Classroom

Contact Ms. Raffoul, president of the Dominica Steelpan Association at

 Basement Press Corp.

2006 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

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