Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Dr. Dawn Batson - Associate Professor Florida Memorial University

Education & Pan

“She is one of the world’s foremost experts, educators and promoters of the steelpan instrument. Her name is synonymous with inspiring and guiding young musicians to achievement, greatness and academic excellence. When Steel Talks  caught Dr. Dawn Batson for a candid interview about the steelpan art-form, her involvement and hopes for the instrument.” 

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

  An interview with Dr. Dawn Batson
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Ms. Batson remembers her earliest experience with the steelpan about the age of four with Desperadoes Steel Orchestra. She was fascinated by the sound of Desperadoes and lost her family at that point but they eventually found her - within the basses in the steel orchestra. Dr. Batson who plays a few other instruments, says that “There is something about the sound of the steel orchestra that is like no other instrument” - and there lies her fascination with the instrument. “It is just a connection - I don’t know if it is an ancestral connection or just the beauty of the steel... there is just a connection.”

The piano was Dr. Baton’s first instrument; she then moved to the violin and viola. However, when she is writing and arranging, the pan takes center stage for her.

Her greatest joy has been observing the blossoming of some of the young people that she has worked with over the years. Moreover they are not afraid to explore new frontiers. Dr. Batson believes history and tradition are important as one must always know where one comes from, but they must be “willing to tread new paths, innovate” - and some of the young people are definitely on that path.

On of her disappoints has been that in the birthplace of the instrument “We have not done as much as we could to benefit our own people.” Her dissertation was on the economics of the steelband - how one can use the steelband as an economic force. Dr. Batson feels that has not taken place to the extent that it could. Furthermore Dr. Batson feels that a number of people in the pan world are suffering unnecessarily because the pan can be, and has been, used all around the world as an economic force, but Trinidadians and Tobagonians have not fully utilized this fact.

Dr. Batson’s students all speak of her in glowing terms. She attributes this to her respect for others and what they can teach her. Anyone from a baby to someone ninety years old has something to offer her. “Teaching is a two-way street - you learn and you give - perhaps this is what they gain from me”. She also likes to challenge her students to go beyond the norm.

Dr. Batson credits her mother Esther Batson, late aunt Sylvia Robbins and uncle as her major influences. She was surrounded by a musical family that gave her freedom to explore. According to Dr. Batson, when she was growing up, people with middle class backgrounds were not allowed to go into the panyards, villages and areas that she was allowed to venture into. “I was able to straddle a number of worlds. I was able to go to the music festivals; go into the villages and gain...” Dr. Batson said those who were not permitted this type of access and freedom missed out on a lot. She attributes her different musical influences to exposure - being allowed to go out and explore - the classical, folk, traditional world music.

She admires every steelband arranger because ‘anyone who arranges does it out of love.’ Asked about panorama and what she would change if she could, Dr. Batson said she would like to see arrangers being given credit for writing. In the competition, “because you are looking for a [winning] formula the music can become stagnant. The music doesn’t grow as it should. If some points were given for innovation then the music would expand. Research and development should be part and parcel of the panorama experience because panorama is the biggest competition for pan anywhere in the world.””

Dr. Batson has played with Invaders and Pamberi in the past and reveled in the experience. At panorama time she played bass, and for classical - the double seconds is her instrument of choice. Nowadays, she loves the freedom to simply go, listen and enjoy all the bands. Sometimes an adjudicator at steelpan competitions, Dr. Batson said “When you are commentating or judging, you have to put on your analytical hat; and sometimes you just want to enjoy the music.”

On the theme of women in pan she says things have come full circle. Women are taking the instrument and artform to a new level. Dr. Batson would like to see the men working hand in hand with women, taking the pan and other matters to new heights. “Many of the women involved have a fantastic sense of direction and commitment. And the men who were involved in the pan world in the past also had this direction and commitment” noted Dr. Batson, who would now like to see them do it together, utilizing the strength of each. 

Dr. Dawn Batson
Dr. Dawn Batson

Dr. Dawn Batson, associate professor of music, holds degrees from renowned institutes of higher education. Her PhD in music and international affairs from the University of Miami, an M.M. is but one. She was most recently associate professor and director of the steel band music program at Florida Memorial College. Over the years Dr. Batson has fulfilled a number of roles in many countries - including performer, arranger, conductor, teacher, judge, composer, musical director, lecturer, grant writer and producer. 

Click for more on Dawn Batson



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