WST - “You are a member of Tropical Angel Harps Steel Orchestra and part of its management and education team; you’ve grown up in the art form, and now have a child who plays the instrument. How were you first introduced to the art form?”
Shelley-Jeanne L. - “I am a member of Tropical Angel Harps Steel Orchestra, not part of its management. However, I am the Manager of Central Primary Schools Combined Steel Orchestra. This band was developed with the aim of satisfying the need for exposure to the national instrument at a young age.”
WST - “At what age did your child begin playing pan, and what was his/her first voice of the instrument - (tenor, etc.)?”
Shelley-Jeanne L. - “My daughter, Megan-Leigh started to play at the age of four. She has a natural affinity for the tenor pan. Before there was a Pan in the Classroom Unit, there was a School Improvement Plan (S.I.P). As a primary school Teacher, I along with another Teacher, was given the responsibility of establishing a music program in school. With these funds, we purchased our very first sixteen-piece steel pan orchestra for the school. Megan-Leigh often accompanied me to my school during preparation for concerts and so on.”
WST - “Steelpan player, mom, and administrator - which role is the most demanding?”
Shelley-Jeanne L. - “I believe that being the Manager of a primary school children band is the most demanding role. As a mother and Teacher, I know that all children are unique. When new members come and join the band, there is always the anxiety of this new child not adjusting seamlessly. I believe that members of my band must come of their own freewill and not pressured to do so by an adult.
“When children want to do something, half the work is done. All we have to do is guide them and give them structure. As with any group, there are goals, objectives, rules and regulations which we all must adhere to.”
WST - “As a woman what is the most troubling aspect of the steelpan art form for you?”
Shelley-Jeanne L. - “As a woman in the art form, I believe that the most troubling aspect is pursuing excellence. From the onset, as a woman, there is never a ‘level’ playing field. Achieving excellence in the same arena as our male counterparts requires us to allocate additional time, effort and commitment.
“The most troubling part of this art form is the lack of projection. This is our national instrument and we claim that Panorama is a major attraction during the carnival season yet we are yet to have a proper, well thought-out calendar of events. Far too often there are cancellation of major events such as Pan Down Memory Lane and Pan in the 21st Century. These events are very important because they showcase the versatility of the Pan. This musical instrument is not exclusive to carnival and these events in which contemporary music is played show this.”
WST - “What advice would you give to young girls who are part of the present-day steel band community?”
Shelley-Jeanne L. - “I would advise them to come and be part of a productive and fun group. I am a member of our stage-side group and these people have become part of my extended family. Young girls in my band have also benefitted from numerous ‘father- and mother-figures.’ With their parents’ blessing, I often assist them with their homework before we practice. We at Tropical Angel Harps have always maintained that our younger members must be properly supervised.”
WST - “The steelpan has been part of your life for a significant period. Can pan players both love the Pan and earn an income relative to it?”
Shelley-Jeanne L. - “Sadly, no. At least not in Trinidad. I believe as a Trinidadian, we always need someone foreign to tell us that what we are doing is good, before we accept it as good. So, in this regard, even if you are good at what you do here at home, it is impossible to be recognised as an elite musician and earn a salary to commensurate with your abilities.”
WST - “If you could change one thing about Pan what would that be?”
Shelley-Jeanne L. - “The stigma that Pan is a ‘wine and jam’ instrument. At my school, even the Teachers played at one of our Christmas concerts. The steelpan is so much more than this. I have seen children who were academically challenged rise to the top of their class because of being involved in the children’s band. At our practice sessions, I always make the link between our sessions and their classroom activities. I always encourage them to ask as many questions in their class as possible, just as they do at our sessions. Also, to practice and practice in their class-work until they got it right, just as they do in our sessions.”
WST - “Why is Panorama still important to you?”
Shelley-Jeanne L. - “Panorama, to me, is my carnival. I view Panorama as the pinnacle of the entire carnival season. To me, Panorama is more than just a competition. During semifinals at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, this is the time of year where I get to meet members from other bands, form new relationships, catch up on old ones, welcome back our ‘foreign family members’ and chat with people who have similar views as mine in the Pan world. These relationships formed often transcend the carnival season .That is so refreshing!”
WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to bring forward?”
Shelley-Jeanne L. - “Yes, I would like to see a rotation of bands going overseas to represent our country. In recent times, the same bands are going year after year. This practice of this monopolisation must stop. If other bands know that they are going to represent our country, I believe that this will raise the standard of pan music in all bands.”
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