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Date:  9.22.05

Dorchester, New England, Massachusetts


Pan United
A Musical Spark Takes Hold
in Dorchester, Massachusetts

Meeting the Challenge of Music Education

Debra Sarjeant

Pan United under the leadership of Charleston Sarjeant, Director, and Debra Sarjeant, Co-Director, held its 5th annual steelpan launch in Dorchester, New England, Massachusetts this past summer.  When Steel Talks was invited for the event.

Debra Sarjeant - teacher, mother, singer, musician, engineer, producer, music director and the only woman to produce winning steelband music panorama arrangements for six consecutive years in major competition.  Ironically, it is a feat accomplished by only one other arranger - her father Denzel Botus, as arranger for Despers USA in New York.
In spite of his youthful looks and tender age Charleston Sarjeant has already accomplished more musically than most people do in a lifetime.  The talented teenager, more mature beyond his years, is the co-director of Pan United Steel Orchestra, in addition to being an accomplished and respected, and much-sought-after keyboard and steelpan player.  His genius is slated for even higher heights when, come 2006, he takes advantage of the Berklee College of Music full scholarship awarded to him.  This talented teen is also a community activist, and was recently honored at the Massachusetts State House for promoting music studies and the steelpan.
Charleston, in conjunction with his mother Debra Sarjeant, a recognized steelband arranger/player and producer in her own right, has established Pan United as a significant music organization which provides access to musical training and appreciation  to the community area residents using the steelpan as instruments of choice.  These two people have committed themselves to a huge task in the Boston/Dorchester, Massachusetts area, by providing an opportunity for music education in a location that would not normally have access to such expertise.

Exclusive Interview with Debra Sarjeant,
Co-Director, Pan United

WST: When Steel Talks is in Dorchester, [New England, next door to] Boston and we are chatting with Ms. Debra Sarjeant one of the co-directors of Pan United... and Welcome to When Steel Talks and thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule.  Tell us about this 5th annual band launching... [as it gets darker in the evening, people are pouring into the band launching.]

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DS: This is our fifth year as Pan United - Pan United started off with my son Charleston and my daughter Quianna - we all used to play because I used to arrange for pan for a while -- and they've always been in the pan yard since they were young.   My father is Denzel Botus... so they wanted to start something and they said it was the two of them, so it was 'pan united' - and it started from there.  We stated five years ago.  Our first couple of years we were at a different location.  And we had a lot of older members - but right now there are a lot of youth in the band...  A lot of the kids go to Boston Arts Academy which is a music school... Charlie [Charleston] just graduated from there... We have a lot musical kids...  they are really into pan and into the music and learning about culture... 

WST: So what approximately is the size of Pan United, when it is a stageside?

DS: When it is a stageside... I'd say twelve.

DS: The only competition for steelbands is going to be the bomb competition for J'ouvert.  

WST: How many bands usually take part in that?

DS: Four bands - so we are going to try and see what we are going to do this year.

WST: How much support can you muster around J'ouvert time?  Do you have a van pulling you guys or do you have enough people power?

DS:  Well - we have a van pulling us - but we've had people power before - like the first year that we actually went on the road, the van broke down - so by force we had people power - and it was fun...

[This year there was no panorama in Boston - however there was a Bomb competition for J'Ouvert...   Pan United Steel Orchestra went on to win 2nd place at that 2005 J'Ouvert with just nine pan players.  Other bands competing had upwards of thirty players, including Branches Steel Orchestra who reportedly had sixty players.]

Charleston 'Charlie' Sarjeant, Quianna Sarjeant, Tiara Sarjeant,

WST: Tell us about your history because I understand that you have won panorama six times as an arranger...  you accomplished the same feat as your dad Denzel Botus of Despers USA tell us a bit more about 'Debra Sarjeant'...

DS:  The first time I arranged I was sixteen years old.  I arranged for this band up here - Branches Steelband.  Then I was arranging for Mystic Vibe which is more like a stageside-type of band - it never went out on the road.  Then in 92' I arranged for Hartford Steel Symphony and that was the first year I won...  Then I went on and did it for the next six years with the same band.  Then the following year I arranged for Boston Jammers and also won that year too.

WST: What makes up your year, for instance you are with Pan United, you're also a teacher -

DS:  Yes, I am also a producer - I play keyboards, I sing and produce R&B music, I have a studio, I have a reggae band

WST: What is the name of the reggae band?

DS:   "Dis 'N Dat"... and I'm the lead singer for that band and we also incorporate pan into that band - so everything that I do I try to incorporate the pan into the band.

WST: Do you have any recordings?

DS: Yes, we released a CD last year and we're about to release another CD in September.

WST: And incidentally are there any recordings of Pan United as a stage side?

DS: Last year we recorded two songs and are trying to come up with some more songs to do a CD - but we are also working with my father recording his CD....  and then once carnival season comes everything gets put aside for that -  so once the season is over we will get back to that...

WST: Let's get back to J'ouvert for a moment.  How many members do you muster for that particular day? and is there a combination of any other bands with Pan United?

DS: Yes, the band that I used to arrange for, Hartford Symphony - they're going to be combining with us.  What we do is  - either me or Charlie will go down to Hartford for a few days, work with them, while the other one works up here.  And then we all come together.  They're going to come up here like Wednesday... 

WST: So you can go through the material together...

DS: Right...

WST: Well Charlie or Charleston is not here at the moment... Tell us about Charlie, tell us about Quianna at the same time because they are obviously both in love with the pan instrument in addition to other instrument

DS: Charlie, since he was little - maybe four - he was trying to play a keyboard - trying to play other instruments, he was always in the panyard - first he used to just 'shadow'  moving the right movements with the wrong notes.  I think the first time he played was in the New York Panorama.  Oh no.  He played the year before in Boston - he finally played when he was like seven - he started playing bass - and he was always still playing keyboard.  From the time he started playing he knew how to make  his own chords really early.  He used arrange little songs between him and his sister...

WST: He hit the ground running...

DS: Yea, he used to teach her things and they would play songs together...  And really got more into the pan when he was thirteen.  And he is really into Kitchener [the late Aldwyn Roberts, aka Lord Kitchener] - most teenagers would listen to hip-hop...  If you ask him [Charlie] the name of any of the latest songs he doesn't know, but he has every single recording of Kitchener...  He is a Kitchener fanatic.  As a matter of fact he plays in this city wide orchestra where he plays vibes, and he got a chance to arrange a song with the whole big band/orchestra and he did [Kitchener's] "My Pussin," and they performed at Symphony Hall.  He is very intelligent and focused on his music.  And he actually just got accepted to Berklee College [of Music]....  He is doing good, he's on the right track.

WST: How many instruments does he play?

DS: He plays vibes, keyboards, he plays all the pans and he play percussions, drums...

WST: Tell us about Quianna.

DS: She was always in the pan yard but started getting into it later than Charlie.  She likes to sing; I sing too. Quianna was Charlie's guinea pig, when he trying to figure out how to arrange stuff he would have Kiki [Quianna] play this.  She was into it but not as much as Charlie.  She really liked singing.  She really got into the pans - I'd say about five years ago when they started  their own Pan United together.    She plays seconds and is her section leader now.  She is very good at pan and also goes to Boston Arts Academy.  She studies music theory there and vocals.  She hasn't been to Trinidad yet.  She wants to go and play in panorama in Trinidad.  I have another daughter who plays in the band as well -  Tiara - she plays guitar pan.  Tiara has special needs...  but the pan - the music... she can play "Flight of the Bumble Bee" on the pan, which is not an easy song to play...  she's really into it, sometimes late at night you'll hear her playing... Charlie does that too - it'll be three o'clock in the morning, he's under covers with a flashlight in his room playing...  they're all really into the pan because we all have been around it. And I've always tried to make sure they know about pan and where it comes from and our culture...  they just took off and went from there. 

WST: Quianna's dream is to play in the Trinidad panorama - has she played in the New York panorama as yet?

DS: No, she hasn't played in New York's panorama.  But she just wants to go to Trinidad...  but I think she will eventually go to New York.

WST: ... Pan is essentially your life, where would you like to see pan go - re:  Pan United, and on the wider global stage?

DS: Well, I would like people to take pan more seriously.  Like some people will say - is it a steel band or a music band? I say it's the same thing it's all music, it's an instrument.  You know some people don't take pan as a serious instrument.  And it is - you can play anything on the pan that you can play on any other instrument.  You know - sometime I go and perform and people go "how do you know where the notes are?"  How does a piano player know where the notes are?  So I would like to see people take pan more seriously.  I think is up to us as Trinidadians to take that a little bit further...  A lot of Trinidadians just come out for pan around carnival time.  It's up to us to push it - or somebody else will.  In some ways it is happening, and we've got to stop that.  Pan is a beautiful instrument.  Imagine you can get such beautiful music out of an oil drum. 

WST:  You teach at Roxbury Community College.  How much interest is there in the pan instrument, even though you teach music production on a faculty level?

DS: On a faculty level a lot of people 'know' about it, but they don't know much about it... They think it is a novelty type of  instrument.  I brought my pan in a few times demonstrating what you can do. 

WST: What about the students?  How do they feel about it?

DS: They are all interested in it, it is just the 'higher-up people' that are holding it down.   They don't think the kids are going to be interested - but the kids are interested.  I've even had some of my students come here.  It's up to the 'higher-ups' - the people with the money, and the administration.  They're holding it down.  But the students do want to hear more about it.


Contact Pan United by calling Charleston Sarjeant at 1 (617) 436-1632 or 1 (617) 435-2438 or emailing panunitedonline@yahoo.com



From the News Desk of  When Steel Talks
Monday August 22, 2005

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