This March (2009) marks the 25th anniversary of my involvement with pan. Forty years ago pans were introduced into British schools through the efforts of renowned pan pioneers such as Gerald Forsyth and Russell Henderson. My secondary school – the Radcliffe, in the new city of Milton Keynes - started their steelband in 1984, and despite having never seen or heard pan before, and as I was involved in every other musical activity possible (orchestras, choirs and so on) I was not going to be left out of something that looked as interesting as these mysterious new instruments.
I quickly started arranging my own solos for pan, encouraged and inspired by my teachers Richard Murphy (former TNT Music Festival adjudicator) and Neil Davison, and our tuner – Michael “Natsy” Contant. In 1989 I was awarded a bursary for excellence in the arts by the Borough of Milton Keynes, which enabled me to travel to Trinidad and experience the mind-blowing spectacle of Panorama and Carnival at first hand. Later that year I was awarded first place in the UK National Soloists Championships, and I went on to gain two degrees in music performance (on double bass – pan is still not a recognised instrument in UK conservatoires) from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and City University, London, where I am currently conducting doctoral research into pan repertoire.
In 1996 I travelled back to Trinidad and was placed fourth in the World Soloists Competition – I am still the only person of European descent to have reached the finals. Since that time I have performed, taught pan, adjudicated, and arranged for bands in London and Trinidad – I worked with Skiffle Bunch for their “Feeling The Classics” concerts in 1997. I have played pan with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Sinfonietta, as well as at both the UK and Trinidad and Tobago Panoramas, where I have had the honour of playing Ray Holman’s compositions with Starlift in both 2002 and 2007. I have also released five CDs of my own solo work and currently combine pan performance with research and teaching.
My latest release “Priestess Of Pan” is a tribute to the feminine. Women have been always been involved in music, and since its creation, pan, as performers, dancers, muses and lovers. In this recording I hope to capture the many facets of woman, and express this through the medium of pan. I feel that pan is truly capable of expressing the widest gamut of human emotions and should not be stereotyped by the repertoire played upon it.
I have never experienced any overt difficulties or issues regarding my gender. In fact, as a soloist, being a woman may actually help! In Britain, the vast majority of pupils in schools who learn instruments are girls, but strangely, most professional musicians are men. Boys tend to view learning a musical instrument as a “girls” activity, however I am often complimented on having so many boys in my steelbands – some of my bands are almost exclusively comprised of boys! The boys obviously view playing pan as a more ‘macho’ activity than learning the violin or piano.
There are many up-and-coming young British female pannists – Carlene Ettienne, Alicia Brown, Jenny Gilberg and Susannah MacAulay are all extremely talented and accomplished soloists. They also work with younger players, arranging and teaching the next generation of pannists.
In Britain, I would like to see more opportunities for pannists and bands to play music other than either Panorama or the “island songs” required by the gig scene. Pan needs to be exposed to audiences as a valuable and expressive instrument in its own right, not just a clever novelty for the inner cities and only heard at Notting Hill Carnival. This is the future challenge for British pan.
Rachel Hayward GGSM MA
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