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Meet Wendy Jones of Toronto, Canada

She fell in love with the steelpan instrument and the power of pan at an early age.  She is a founding member of Pan Fantasy Steelband. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - administrator, player and pan-mom, Wendy Jones of Toronto, Canada shares the joy of pan and how the steelpan instrument has impacted her life.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Wendy Jones, and how and when did you first become involved with Pan? What made you fall in love with the steelpan instrument and its music?”

Wendy J. - “My name is Wendy Jones born on the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. I came to Canada at a tender age as my Mom decided to migrate seeking a better life and education for her children. I come from a family of seven - four boys and three girls. I grew up with strong Christian values which were instilled in me from a young age. Growing up in Trinidad I was not exposed to many things - especially Carnival and Pan. I recall my Mom taking us in town and once the steelbands came down I recall my Mom packing everything up and running with us to head back home. It wasn’t until I came to Canada I understood those were the days of the Pan Wars.

“I first was introduced to pan in 1976 while enrolled at Westview Centennial Secondary School. Mr. Earl La Pierre, Sr. was one of the first Steelpan music facilitators at Westview Centennial Secondary School to teach a full credited music credit program. It was the highlight for a lot of the West Indian students at the school. We would soon start spending a lot of our lunch hours and evening in the Pan Portable. I fell in love with playing the 6 Bass. The students went on to start the first school band which was called Westview Pan Groove. This group emerged as a new dynamic set of diverse pan players. Upon graduating from Westview most of the players went on to play with Mr. La Pierre’s community steelband, Afropan. We performed annually in the Annual Caribana Parade and several events around the city of Toronto.

“In Afropan I met many pan players who played in several bands in Trinidad; this was great as I now loved the instrument. We all started to really appreciate the instrument and fall in love with the culture of Pan. I used to hear myself singing the bass line in songs over and over - like in Shadow’s “Bassman:”  “De Bassman from Hell, music jamming in yuh head.”  Shadow really knew what he was singing about. Our summer nights after practice -  you go home; you can’t even sleep - only music!

“The whole awe of what our culture represents is what I finally saw. We were brought to Canada and I was never allowed to participate in cultural events except it was at church. Now I was seeing a whole new world of Pan.  My brothers both played pan in Trinidad’s East Side Symphony and Solo Harmonites. I recall my Mom banning them from attending practice. So for me, I was really happy when she finally realized I could play. I recalled being so happy when she saw me play for the first time at the end of the Parade route.  When I am playing I don’t have time to think about anything else - only the sweet bass lines!”

WST - “You are a member of Pan Fantasy Steel Orchestra. In fact you are the captain. Tell us about that experience.”

Wendy Jones
Wendy Jones

Wendy J. - “Several members of our Westview group finally left Afropan after several years and branched off to form our own steel orchestra.  Hence North York Inter-Community Youth Group was formed as a non-profit organization. Under this organization was our new group Pan Fantasy Steel Orchestra. The objective of the group was to continue to foster youth leadership skills through the performing arts. Pan Fantasy has now been in existence for the past 27 years.  I started out as a founding member playing in the band, and planning community events throughout the years. Fundraising was one of my passions; the group has taken on so many projects and in doing so, has given me the opportunity to take on a leadership role. This has been a great experience over the years.

“I enjoy watching the youths come out to practice including my own kids who play in the band. Taking on such a role in any band is sometimes hard, but it’s great when you have several hard-working, key members along with you. Several of our founding members are still playing pan:  Edwin John, Carl Husbands (Spy), St. El Moore Bobb. And there are still several key members:  Andrew Jackson, Lorraine Francis, Marlene Altenor, Sherwyn Lovelle, just to name a few. Our band members have been a great bunch, especially for me to watch the band evolve from its inception to now. The leadership of this band would not have been possible without all the help from the core membership players, board directors, parents, and the community groups that support us.”  

WST - “This past Summer you were part of the team that brought Pan Fantasy to New York Panorama. How was that experience compared to Toronto’s Panorama?”

Wendy J. - “Several years ago Pan Fantasy was able to participate in the New York Panorama. In doing so we were able to compete and place 2nd on two of the four occasions we competed. I, along with several members, have been visiting New York every year to watch the Panorama. In 2013 the group started to fundraise and was finally able to return and to compete in New York. This was a great experience for the band members and me again. We were able to bring a full band of 90 players - and placed 4th out of the ten bands competing. To most of our players this was a new experience, but for me it gave me a sense of joy to watch these youths express the passion in the music once they hit that stage. Their hard work and dedication had paid off; they accomplished the task at hand.

“In Toronto, there is such a difference when you are on home turf; you definitely jam and everyone knows you. Toronto has the Pan Alive competition and we always go all out for this Pan Showcase put on by OSA (Ontario Steelpan Association). I want to say we are still in the growing stages of this event. In Toronto the venue, the staging is different. In New York we get the Trinidad Panorama feeling; people from all over come out to see great entertainment and listen to their favorite steelband. It is very exciting to watch the responses from the audiences as they say “I know who win dat Panorama...””  

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Wendy J. - “Panorama is a great way to engage the steelband community and to help keep the culture of Pan alive. Some people say stay away from competition [because] it causes challenges. I feel that it sometimes help to raise the bar so that bands out there will always try to give their best. It’s we ting and I hope we will always embrace it.”  

Wendy Jones
Wendy Jones

WST - “If you could change one thing about pan what would that be?”

Wendy J. - “I believe we all have ideas and we should always respect and embrace the instrument; as stated by Max Roach, “Pan belongs on a world stage.”  We have all watched pan evolve and I believe someone will always try new ways to create sounds from the instrument. I would love to see everyone do their part by always coming together.”

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

Wendy J. - “I think that Pan is something we all have to be proud of. I am proud to play this instrument and to watch others play it. I am most proud of my arranger Mr. Al “Allos” Foster. I am happy to know that I watched him start out with the band at a young age playing alongside me, now he is the arranger of the band.”  

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

Wendy J. - “I am disappointed that we don’t have homes for most of the bands. Bands practice in some of the most unfortunate places. I am saddened that we don’t have our own pan building to showcase the instrument.”

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

Wendy J. - “I love Gospel music. I love to listen to old-school music. I love to listen to old Calypsos like ‘Papa Chunks,’ and people like Shadow, Kitch, Mighty Sparrow and David Rudder.”  

WST - “What advice would you give to young and upcoming females who would like to follow in your footsteps?”

Wendy J. - “To the young people especially young females, my mother always used to tell me choose your friends wisely. Because friends carry you but they don’t bring you back. Stay in school and make something of yourself; strive and always do your best. You will get support and surround yourself with people who would uplift you not pull you down.”  

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

Wendy J. - “I would like to see the instrument embraced by the school boards even more within the next few years. And also see that the instrument is accessible in community programs to continue to help at risk youths.”  

WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to bring forward? ”

Wendy J. - “That we continue to support all Steelpan-related events. I also would love to see some more funding for helping bands to travel on exchange programs.

“I would like to thank When Steel Talks for keeping us up to date on all Pan-related events. Keep Pan Alive!”  

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