Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Mia Gormandy - Tallahassee, Florida

The next generation - A perfect blend of immense talent, intellect and humility. In an exclusive, When Steel Talks (WST) speaks to Mia Gormandy - Tallahassee, Florida about her steelpan music journey and the future of the art form

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

WST - “Tell us about yourself – who is Mia, and how did your involvement in Pan begin?”

Mia G. - “I am a 24-year-old panist who is currently finishing up a second master’s degree in music with an emphasis in ethnomusicology at Florida State University. I also teach the steelband (Mas N Steel) at this institution, while performing with other world music groups like the Salsa ensemble, Chinese ensemble, and Omnimusica cross-cultural ensemble. My involvement with pan came at an early age. At just 5 years old, my parents noticed my deep interest for the instrument when I was determined to get on my tiptoes and reach for notes I couldn’t even see. Though I struggled to play on a steelpan that was much taller than I was at the time, I didn’t give up. At that point, my parents both decided to enroll me in music lessons with Auburn Wiltshire, and my journey as a panist began.”

WST - “The steelpan is now an integral part of your career path. When did you first entertain the thought that you could both love the pan and earn an income relative to it?”

Mia G. - “I think I first entertained the idea of steelpan as a career when I started attending Northern Illinois University (NIU). I was enrolled as a steelpan performance major under the tutelage of Liam Teague and Cliff Alexis. After seeing them successfully make a career of steelpan by performing, making pans, tuning, teaching lessons, and directing steelbands, just to name a few, I envisioned a similar career path for myself. I not only wanted to use them as examples, but I also started thinking of ways I can break boundaries, and add something new to the steelpan world.”

WST - “Were there any obstacles along the way, or were you cautioned or perhaps dissuaded from focusing solely on the steelpan instrument as your passion in life?”

Mia G. - “There weren’t any major obstacles, but there was a bit of dissuasion. When I was finishing secondary school at St. Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain in Trinidad, I was already scheduled to begin attending NIU in the fall of 2005. Some of my family members (not including my parents) were a bit skeptical about my choice of studying music at the university level. They thought that I should maybe focus on sciences, since those were my stronger subjects in secondary school. Also, they thought that this career choice might bring me a brighter future. Being one of the younger members in my generation of my family, I was able to see my older cousins become engineers, doctors, and successful businessmen and women. As a result, my aunts and uncles tried to persuade me to choose a more lucrative career path. However, my parents fully supported me and I knew that I wanted to do music 100%. Therefore, I continued with my decision to attend NIU for music, and eventually the rest of my family accepted it. They are very supportive.”

Mia Gormandy

WST - “Compare your experience as a Woman in Pan in 2013, with what you have probably heard/be aware of, regarding women in Pan - decades before you?”

Mia G. - “My experience as a woman in pan in 2013 is very different from that of a woman in, let’s say, the early 1950s. Decades before I was born, as most of us already know, pan women were not held in the highest regards. In those days, pan was [viewed] as low class and women found in panyards were considered lowlifes or even prostitutes. Hence, the unwillingness for parents to allow their daughters to even talk to a panman. In 2013, the experience is very different. Thanks to people like Canon Farquhar and Albert Gomes, pan has risen out of this stereotype and has become the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. This has not only allowed for further advancements for the steelpan, like the electronic pans or the G-pans, but it has also allowed women, like myself, to play the steelpan without experiencing social stigmas. Therefore, I am very grateful that women can freely become panists, and successful ones at that.”

WST - “Do any members of your family play Pan?”

Mia G. - “Yes. My father, Mario Gormandy, plays pan sometimes. He played double seconds and guitar with Trinidad All Stars for a few Panorama seasons a couple years ago. My little brother, Kai Gormandy, also played a little when we were both growing up. We attended Merle Albino’s music school together. Now he is studying to be a civil engineer at the University of South Florida. Don’t worry, my family did not dissuade him from becoming a musician, he actually really loves engineering! I have a cousin who also plays, Kerriann (Gormandy) Walters. So, I have a few family members who play the steelpan.”

WST - “What have you been involved in since graduating from NIU?”

Mia G. - Since graduating from NIU, I have been attending Florida State University. I am scheduled to graduate in May of this year with a second master’s degree in music, with an emphasis on ethnomusicology. I recently finished a draft of my master’s thesis on Pan Trinbago and the social conflict that surrounds Phase II’s 2011 Panorama performance of “Do Something for Pan.” It is now in the hands of my committee (Dr. Frank Gunderson, Dr. Michael Bakan, and Dr. Margaret Jackson, three astonishing ethnomusicologists) who will give me feedback on my work. I also teach Mas N Steel, the Florida State University steelband. In addition, I had the wonderful opportunity of performing with 11-time Grammy award winner Paquito D’Rivera, among other significant performances. This year, I have the pleasure of being FSU’s Rainbow Concert guest artist, where I will be performing with different world music groups on March 22nd. I am grateful for these opportunities and look forward to some other major performances in the near future.

WST - “For the benefit of the global community at large who may not be knowledgeable about the tertiary education system in Trinidad & Tobago, and given that the country is "the home of the Steelpan" - to what do you perhaps attribute your going to the United States, NIU, to further your education in the instrument? After all, there are two universities in Trinidad & Tobago - UWI and the University of Trinidad & Tobago...”

Mia G. - At the age of 15, I performed at an award ceremony. Cliff Alexis, co-director of the NIU Steelband and Dr. Larry Snider, director of the University of Akron Steel Drum Band, were both audience members. From that performance, I was offered to be a guest artist at the University of Akron Steel Drum Band concert in April 2005, and I was invited to attend Northern Illinois University. Lester Trilla, the owner of the Trilla Steel Drum Company and the Trilla Scholarship Fund, gave me a full scholarship to study under Liam Teague and Cliff Alexis at NIU. As a result, I must give credit to the performance opportunity given, Cliff Alexis for seeing my potential, and to the kindness and generosity of Lester Trilla.

“At the time, UTT’s (University of Trinidad & Tobago) music program was not established and the government of Trinidad and Tobago did not yet offer free tertiary education for its citizens. Therefore, my best option was NIU due to the scholarship offered, and the opportunity of studying under two of the greatest panists in the world.”

WST - “If there was one thing in pan you could change immediately what would that be?”

Mia G. - If I could change anything immediately about the steelpan world, it would be the opportunities for steel panists. There are quite a number of us who attain tertiary education in music, but it seems that the job opportunities are not present. What career does an educated panist have to look forward to? There are quite a few panists who either graduated from UWI, NIU, or Florida Memorial, who are fighting to make a career in pan for themselves. Some are presented with better opportunities than others. Either way, it seems to be a constant struggle. If I had the power, I would change this situation. I would create more opportunities for panists by creating additional university positions, more performance opportunities on the world stage, or even creating a steelpan organization to promote such interests.

WST - “What is your vision for pan in Trinidad and Tobago a decade from now?”

Mia G. - “My vision for pan is not solely for Trinidad and Tobago, but for the world steelpan community. I hope to see more job opportunities created and a more cohesive global steelband community. We as panists have always danced around the concept of standardization, a notion I agree with. I hope to see something done about that. In addition, we are fortunate to live in a society that is so technologically advanced. I hope to see more steelpan collaborations around the world via the web. However, these visions do not simply become reality. Our hard work and dedication are needed. I am definitely willing to put in the effort to see our community not only grow, but also become a global phenomenon.”

photo provided by Mia Gormandy

   Michaela and Mia Steelpan and Marimba duet rehearsal

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