Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Jenny Gilberg of New Castle, UK

From Panorama player to music educator - she has experienced all aspects of the Pan up close and personal. Performer, arranger, and now director - the steelpan instrument is in her blood. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, Jenny Gilberg of New Castle upon Tyne, UK shares how the steelpan instrument has impacted her life.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “When and how did you first become associated with the steelpan instrument?”

Jenny G. - “I discovered pan when I was 12. I was playing flute with North Tyneside Concert Band which was performing in the same concert as North Tyneside Steelband (NTSB - MD Dave Edwards). I loved the sound and energy and immediately decided to join. I took an instant liking to the Tenor pan but enjoy playing all pans.

“In 2002 I trained as a young leader with the Steelbands North Project. About this time I was fortunate to meet and work with numerous top panists, including Earl Rodney, Rachel Hayward, Delphina James and Scott Sinckler, to name a few. When I was 15 I started a placement in a school teaching pan. I continued to teach pan throughout my school years and whilst at university. After graduating I started my own business as a pan tutor and performer and I also work for Northumberland County Council as an Instrumental Tutor.

“I still perform with North Tyneside Steelband and have enjoyed many experiences with them as a performer and arranger and now as a musical director.”

WST - “You are an accomplished panist, instructor, artist and photographer. Is there some natural synergy between these disciplines for you?”

Jenny G. - “I think all the arts are connected. Music, art, dance, etc, are all media to express yourself and to be creative. I am privileged to be able to work within the arts.

As an artist I am influenced by my life as a musician, and vice versa. There was once a time when I tried to separate the two passions, but it’s just who I am. I’ve had a number of art exhibitions in London and the North East. One of these was at Wallington Hall, a National Trust property in Northumberland, when I composed a soundscape to accompany the paintings I had on display, in which I am playing flute and pan.”  

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument and music going?”

Jenny G. - “What keeps your passion for the instrument and music going? Variety is the key with me. I love having a jam and composing music on my own just as much as I love playing with a band. I also think it’s important to push yourself and to try new things. Last year I was guest soloist with the London Gypsy Orchestra on a project where a new piece of music was composed for solo steel pan, church organ and Balkan orchestra - an unlikely mix, but it was absolutely amazing. Also last year I signed up for a short course in advanced jazz at the Guildhall School of Music, London.”  

WST - “You are a player, instructor, artist which role do you like best?”

Jenny G. - “All of them. There’s nothing quite like the buzz you get from performing but I also love composing, arranging and teaching. I’m very fortunate that my passion for pan is also my career. As well as teaching flute, saxophone and clarinet I also teach 20 steel pan groups of all ages and abilities including some young people with disabilities. It is a great privilege to introduce new people to pan playing.

As for arranging, NTSB has been a platform for me to be creative and to have my work played in big events and competitions and at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Cudrefin Festival in Switzerland.”  

Jenny Gilberg
Jenny Gilberg - (Photograph courtesy of London Gypsy Orchestra)

WST - “If you had the power to change something in Pan immediately what would that be?”

Jenny G. - “Sadly pan is not always accepted as an instrument on a par with other more established instruments. Perhaps the introduction of graded examinations would help rectify this.”  

WST - “What have you been most proud about as it relates to Pan?”

Jenny G. - “I’m proud that so many people in the North-East of England are engaging with pan. Pan only arrived in Newcastle 25 years ago and it is developing quickly.

On a personal note I’m proud of my achievement. In 2008 I won the BAS UK Pan Explosion Competition, soloist category. As the first person ever outside of London to take the title, I was delighted. Later that year I got to play at the Royal Albert Hall with my band NTSB, which performed two of my arrangements. In 2013 I won the UK Pan Clash competition, which was another proud moment.

“Pan has given me the opportunity to travel, to become a better musician and to meet some great people.”  

WST - “What disappoints you the most in the steelpan movement?”

Jenny G. - “As with most things in life, politics has a habit of interfering.”  

WST - “What would be your advice to the thousands of young female panists all over the world who are dreaming of following in your footsteps?”

Jenny G. - “Aim high, follow your dreams, don’t be afraid to take chances. It’s not always easy but don’t give up.”

WST - “Who, and what are your musical influences?”

Jenny G. - “Classical music is a big influence in my playing. I come from a musical family and have been supported by countless people. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing players and arrangers too. I think pan and strings go perfectly together; if Vivaldi were alive today, he would be writing for pan.”  

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Jenny G. - “An opportunity to meet new people, play with the best, and learn from others, with a lot of fun thrown in too. Over the years I have enjoyed playing with various bands in the UK and in Trinidad. In 2006 I was invited by Brent Holder to play with Stardust Steel Orchestra and then later with CSI. In Trinidad I have played with Courts Sound Specialists, Trinidad East Side Symphony, Polyphonics, and San Juan All Stars, and now I’m at BP Renegades.”  

WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Jenny G. - “It’s an opportunity to showcase steel pan and probably the biggest occasion that brings all bands together. I don’t have to organise it, so I have a blast!”  

WST - “What is the greatest challenge the steelpan music art form faces in the UK today?”

Jenny G. - “In common with all art forms, withdrawal of funding, which seems to have caused major problems for most steelbands. Many bands have lost grants and there are fewer opportunities for paid performances. Rehearsal and storage space also continue to be an issue.”  

WST - “What is your vision for the steelpan instrument?”

Jenny G. - “There are so many people who haven’t yet discovered the joys of playing pan. I would like to see this amazingly versatile instrument played more widely, especially in the North of England where I am based.”  

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