Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Lisa Samuel of Brooklyn, New York, USA

There is so much to say. She is the ultimate Pan-mom. A lifelong affiliate of the New York powerhouse Sonatas Steel Orchestra, she has three sons, also playing the steelpan instruments. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, administrator, former player, supporter and mom - Lisa Samuel of Brooklyn, New York - shares on her joys, pains, concerns and realities of  Pan in her life.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive


WST - “You are both a Pan woman, having played years ago, and the mother of three young men who are excellent panists with New York’s Sonatas Steel Orchestra. How did you personally first become involved with the steelpan art form?”

Lisa Samuel - “I come from a family that loves Steel Pan. Many of the males not only loved it but played. My uncle Errol “Reds” Collins was the captain of then Catelli All Stars for many years. The females never played.

“I was actually walking with a friend one day when we saw a band rehearsing. My friend, never having seen a band play live before fell in love with the instrument. He wanted to learn how to play. It so happened that my cousin Brian “Tallest” Collins played with the band, then Pan Rebels. My friend was not able to keep up and gave up. The experience sparked an interest in learning how to play for me. I had another friend whom I never knew played, and in conversation as it came up, ended up introducing me to the band he played with. That is how I ended up at then-BWIA Sonatas under the management of Mack Scott and arranger Ken “Professor” Philmore.”

WST - “How do you feel about the involvement of your three sons in the art form?”

Lisa Samuel - “It was never my plan for them to play but after a domino effect of events, fate bought us right back home to our culture. Pan has given them a healthy way to relate and bond with not only each other but other members of the family. It has played an instrumental role in the development of who they have become today as young men. It brought out talents that we never knew existed. It has also impacted how they interact with others especially those in the pan community.”  

WST - “Are there any marked differences within the art form from the time you played, to now, years later when your sons as young adults, now play?”

Lisa Samuel - “It has become more diversified and gone beyond being a cultural thing. It is world wide and more people of various cultures are getting to know the instrument - it being introduced in many colleges not just as a Steel Pan but as another classical instrument with the same respect they would apply to a guitar, violin or piano. More people are not just learning a song, or learning to play by ear but learning about music.”  

WST - “What advice would you give to other Moms who are parents to children who are pan players in New York?”

Lisa Samuel - “I would say to support your children and take some form of a role in this interest.  Use it as a way to not only expose them to a beautiful part of their [or another] culture but foster positive behaviors. It is also a way to keep children off the streets, and into something for the most part that is positive. For me it created a way for me and my sons to form close bonds with each other.”  

Lisa Samuel and her three sons in 2011
Lisa Samuel and her three sons in 2011

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Lisa Samuel - “Panorama to me in New York has taken on a new meaning since having children that play.  It has become the event that showcases weeks of hard work and dedication. It brings all the musical talents to the forefront in friendly competitive musical exhibition. It results in one band being chosen as the ultimate winner.”  

WST - “What are your thoughts in general on Panorama in New York, and Panorama in Trinidad & Tobago?”

Lisa Samuel - “Nothing can compare to the Panorama in Trinidad. The entire process is on a much larger scale beginning with eliminations leading to a semifinals and finals. It has a financial gain for the bands. The amount of people from all over the world that come to partake in the event is on a much larger scale. Bands are divided up into categories that enhance the experience. In New York there aren’t as many bands so we can’t have appropriate divisions that would probably make competition a little more fair, nor do we have the time frame to add events such as single pan so the talented can shine independently. Financial awards barely compensate for the amount of funds needed to operate for the season and prepare for competition. Every year New York is facing more obstacles that are leading to a decrease in bands and people that travel here to partake in the festivities.”  

WST - “In a recent forum with elected officials present, some young musicians related their experience and interactions in the Panyard that were far less than pleasant with New York’s NYPD (New York Police Department) - what are your own concerns as a parent of young pan musicians in this environment?”

Lisa Samuel
Lisa Samuel - photo by Travis Roberts

Lisa Samuel - “I plan to remember them at election time. The behavior has been blatantly disgusting. It has been getting progressively worse border-lining on being provoking and confrontational. As a society that has seen a decline in the behavior of our youths you would think that any activity that gets the youths involved in positive activities instead of getting into trouble on the streets would be greatly appreciated.

“Two summers ago we had a SWAT-like response with flashing lights from what seemed like over 15-20 cars and vans from both ends of Sterling Street. We thought there had been a shooting. I could not believe it was music and a crowd response. I think that response would have more likely triggered a situation rather than diffuse one - if there was a potential for a problem. This past summer, we were just harassed and the harassment continued even after Panorama.”  

WST - “Given all the “positives” that come from the young people being engaged in Pan in New York - why all the resistance from the city and outright hostility and uncooperativeness at times?”

Lisa Samuel - “Two years ago I would have said that much of our troubles derived from the changing of the neighborhood. This past summer showed me that the people that benefit most from the bands being around were the ones pushing to having them moved. Very little appreciation for the unofficial block patrol, because as long as our children were out there - so were the adults to keep peace. Politicians who once gave their support are slowly leaving office, giving way to a new set of officials who either don’t understand or don’t care for our cultural expression.”  

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

Lisa Samuel - “I would love to see one group that is united and focused on the development of Pan in New York. Music is such a powerful thing, and this is our way to help save some of our youths and help them transition into adulthood while developing and maintaining our cultural background. A group that would advocate on behalf of all the bands so we can try to preserve our Panorama.”  

WST - “If you could change one thing in the steelpan art form - overall - what would that be?”

Lisa Samuel - “The artform is so beautiful that there is very little I would change. If I had one thing to say - I would love for us to teach those coming up that it is such a beautiful instrument, one that is limitless in its potential, and should be respected as such.”  

WST - “Do you have any other observations/thoughts relative to the steelpan art form?”

Lisa Samuel - “Panorama in New York can never compare to that of Trinidad but we need to find a way to make it an enjoyable and worthwhile experience for all involved.”  

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