Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan



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Meet Laura Rouse of the US Virgin Islands

She is a proud product of Rising Stars Steel Orchestra. Laura Rouse -  musician, graduate, mentor and instructor of the Virgin Islands speaks about the enormous and positive impact the steelpan instrument has had on her life, in an exclusive with When Steel Talks

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


WST - “How did you become involved with Pan?

Laura R. - “I began playing the steel pan at the age of eleven years old in the summer of 1995 with the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra, which  aims to prevent high school dropout, juvenile delinquency and becoming a statistic of the criminal justice system. My instrument of choice was the double second pan. At first, it was difficult. It was the first time I ever played a musical instrument. I didn't think that I was talented enough to even make the band, but I proved myself wrong. After that summer, my true journey had begun! I met so many people through the Rising Stars; some were students, instructors, arrangers and most importantly, the women of the Pre-Trial Intervention Program.

“By my second year, I was teaching other students how to play the steel pan. I was selected to perform with small steel band ensembles, which granted me the opportunity to meet several celebrities! The most exciting aspect of the program was performing in front of the crowd.   It gives me great pleasure when I see people enjoying our music. Playing the steel pan made me feel delighted! The steel pan is not an easy instrument and it is a skill worth learning.”

WST - “Talk about your overall experience as a member of Rising Stars Steel Orchestra?”

Laura R. - “During my tenure with the Rising Stars, I was afforded the opportunity to travel abroad and be an ambassador of the Virgin Islands.  As a member of the program, I was required to complete high school which rewarded me with a scholarship to go towards my secondary education in 2002.  In that year, I enrolled at the University of the Virgin Islands. During my college years, I volunteered my services with the Rising Stars Program which granted me the opportunity to work with the members and to be a mentor, teach the art form of the steel pan and maintain the current repertoire.

“In December 2004, I was hired by the Rising Stars as a full-time instructor due to my years of experience and relationship with the program. In 2007, I graduated from the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, with a Bachelor of Arts. I am a product of the Rising stars Program and I am proud to have had the experience.”

WST - “What is your favorite genre of music to play on steel pan? ”

Laura R. - “As a panist, and like many musicians, there are no favorite genres. I am a lover of all types of music and I love to explore genres of different cultures.  My top genres of choice are Calypso, Soca, Classical, Contemporary, and selections such as Latin, Jazz and Reggae. ”

Laura Rouse

WST - “What is the steel pan scene like year-round in USVI? ”

Laura R. - “The steel pan is not as popular as it is in Trinidad and Tobago, but it is still loved by many locals. A typical year begins with preparation for the Christmas season. Steel bands from different school levels perform Christmas Concerts while the Rising Stars debut their Annual Christmas Concert. The children get the opportunity to display their talent and skills learned and perform for to the community. During the months of February through May, the steel bands prepare and perform in the Carnival Festivities which includes a Steel Band Jamboree, Pre-Teen Tramps, and the Children and Adults Parade. In the months of June to August the Rising Stars and other Steel pan organizations recruit new members or practice skill building in summer enrichment programs. The season starts over for the year with the same routine. ”

WST - “Is there any social stigmatization for pan players in USVI, and for women in particular?

Anita B. - “I would have to say No, both men and women are welcomed to learn and play the steel pan. Unfortunately there are not enough steel bands offered to adults to join. At the moment, there are only two adult steel bands on St. Thomas, Pan-In-Motion also known as "Pan around the Neck" which is a single pan band and an affiliate of the Rising Star and St. Thomas All Stars Steel Orchestra which both consist of former members of the Rising Stars. ”

The Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra in its 2009 Annual Christmas concert, performing excerpts of selected Michael Jackson hits, featuring the Rising Stars Dancers. watch more

WST -“What advice would you give to girls younger than yourself, who wish to become steel pan musicians? ”

Laura R. - “Follow your heart, don't give up and do not allow people to keep you from following your dreams. In today’s society women are changing the rules and making it easier for future women to follow.  I realized that the steel pan is a part of my life and I have no regrets about the course my life has taken.  Playing pan is a positive avenue for young ladies to get involved with at an early age. ”

WST - “If you could change one thing about Pan in the USVI - what would that be? ”

Anita B. - “One thing I would change about pan in the Virgin Islands would be to form a structured Steel Pan Committee like Pan Trinbago. Also, encourage local participation for Steel Pan events such as concerts or Steel Pan Tramps.   I would like to see the art form developed more and taught in every school and also become part of the curriculum. ”

WST - “Have you played pan outside of USVI?  If so, talk about those experiences? ”

Laura R. - “Yes, my very first time playing the steel pan outside of the USVI was in 1997, the Rising stars traveled to Chicago. In 2001, after the 911 tragedy, I was chosen to travel to New York with a small group known as the “Stage Band” to perform for the Virgin Islands Tourism. There were representatives from all over the world showcasing and promoting their country.  The Rising Stars entertained in front a large crowd and we were a great hit. After I was employed with Rising Stars, I was fortunate to have travel to Trinidad with a few of my co-workers to play with a steel band. It was my second time traveling to Trinidad but it was my first to perform. I was so overwhelming at first. There were so many bands to choose from but I choose a popular band better known as bp Renegades Steel Orchestra. My first performance was preliminary and I was selected to play in the front row, I performed so well that I made the “Trinidad Guardian” newspaper! During the semifinals, I was so nervous; so many people watching and expecting a great performance. However, once the band started playing it was an adrenaline rush that no words could explain. My mind was in spiritual place! The musical arrangement was so exhilarating, that it remained in my head for months after panorama. The following year I played with Sound Specialist of Laventille. Through my trips to Trinidad, I was fortunate to have met a few of Trinidad's popular musicians, panists, composers, and steel pan arrangers such as Len “Boogie” Sharpe, Ken "Professor" Philmore and Jit Samaroo. ”

WST - “Do you have any specific wishes with regard to the steel band art form? ”

Anita B. - “Yes, I would like to see a structured Steel Pan Committee like Pan Trinbago throughout the whole Caribbean  which cater to the needs of the steel pan organizations and allow an exchange program for students, instructors and Arrangers to explore different steel bands throughout  the Caribbean  and if possible to the United States Mainland. Through this exchange, one can experience different cultures and transfer the information obtained back to their islands in hopes of expansion or improvement. ”

WST - “Are there any other steel band related matters you would like to bring forward? ”

Laura R. - “Yes, I would like to see Trinidad arrangers travel to the different Caribbean Islands and offer workshops for up and coming musicians, arrangers, and composers,  such as myself and many others.  This would allow all involved to share ideas and recommendations for improvement.”

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