Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan



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Meet Yael Litwin of New York University

“Music is our greatest tool for understanding each other, I believe it is inseparable
from community and it is a cornerstone on the road to peace.” - Yael Litwin

She is from Chicago and the steelpan is in her blood.  The passion and the look that pan people know all too well is bounteously present. When Steel Talks follows the journey and love affair of this Chi-town native with the steelpan instrument.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


WST - “Tell us a bit about yourself?”

Yael L. - “I’m 20 years old. I’m originally from Chicago where I studied percussion and drum set at the Merit School of Music and the Chicago Jazz Institute on the weekends and during the summer. I began playing music when I was 5 years old, playing classical piano, I then moved to play drum set in my middle school jazz band when I was 13, then joined the Merit School of Music originally on piano and later classical percussion. I continued playing jazz drum set all throughout high school with the Chicago Jazz Institute as well as classical, Latin, African, and jazz percussion/drum set at the Merit School of Music. I also played drum set with my high school jazz band at the University of Chicago Lab School.”

WST - “You are presently at NYU (New York University) and part of the institution’s percussion program, performing with the NYU Steel Ensemble - talk about that experience?”

Yael Litwin on tenor with NYU Steel

Yael L. - “Playing with the NYU Steel Ensemble has been a great experience, steel pan music is so happy and fun to play! I love learning about the music of all different types of cultures so it’s been a wonderful learning experience both musically and culturally.”

WST - “In addition to drums, you play various voices of the instrument within the NYU Steel Ensemble. Is this due to your own wish to become familiarized with several of the instruments in the ensemble?”

Yael L. - “Our director Josh Quillen generally assigns our parts and which instruments we will play, and he tries to get us all playing on different pans so that we become familiar with the different instruments.”

WST - “Is playing any particular voice of the steelpan instrument (tenor, bass, guitar, etc.) any more challenging than the other? Do you have a preference for any single one?”

Yael L. - “So far I have only played lead, double tenor, and cello. I think cellos have been by far the hardest, because the notes are so spread out. If you’re playing a fast piece you have to really know where you’re going not to miss a note!”

Yael Litwin on cello NYU Steel

WST - “Were you familiar with the steelpan instrument before attending NYU?”

Yael L. - “I was not familiar with the steelpan before NYU. I think I knew that it existed and had a vague idea of what it sounded like, but I did not know the depth of steelpan music at all.”

WST - “When you signed up for NYU’s percussion program, were you immediately aware that participation in the steelpan ensemble was mandatory? What were your related thoughts?”

Yael L. - “The Steel Ensemble was actually one of the factors that encouraged my decision to come to NYU. All throughout high school I loved having an eclectic learning experience with percussion everywhere from West Africa to India to Israel and back, so knowing that NYU had a Steel Ensemble and that we had possible opportunities to travel with the ensemble was very exciting for me.”

WST - “What are your views on the steelpan, in relation to other “conventional” musical instruments?”

Yael L. - “The steelpan is a beautiful instrument. I love its history especially, how it was crafted out of the oil drums that were dumped on the shores and how it was used instead of drums and other instruments that were banned, it just shows how creative people can be and how important music is for society.”

WST - “You have been able to interact with various students in NYU Steel, including those from Trinidad & Tobago, the home of Steelpan; has the latter opportunity fostered any additional understanding/appreciation of the instrument?”

Yael L. - “Just being able to watch people from Trinidad and Tobago playing the steelpan gave me great insight into the nature of how to play it, you just need to relax and have fun!”

WST - “Any possibilities of you playing Pan after leaving NYU?”

Yael L. - “I would love to continue playing steelpan after NYU. I love composing on the steelpan, I think it has tremendous textural possibilities and I hope to be able to purchase my own and continue playing.”

WST - “What are your instruments of choice, outside of NYU Steel”

Yael L. - “Outside of NYU Steel I love playing drum set, piano, and gyil (of the balophone family).”

WST - “What genres of music most pique your interest - what is your passion?”

Yael L. - “I love all genres of music, I really do. My passion is to be a part of the music, whatever genre it is.”

WST - “Any final thoughts related to Steelpan, and music in general?”

Yael L. - “Music is our greatest tool for understanding each other, I believe it is inseparable from community and it is a cornerstone on the road to peace.”

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