Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Arielle A. Chase - Brooklyn, New York

“Panorama is like a progress report of your band. You get to observe how much you've grown as a body. From the talent of the players, the reaction of the audience, and the comments of the judges, you can determine how far you've come and how far you have to go.” -

She brings uncommon intellect, diplomacy, sensitivity and foresight to the steelpan music arena. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - captain, panist and performing artist Arielle Chase shares her views on Pan, culture and desires for the steelpan art form, and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about  Arielle A. Chase?”

Arielle C. - “I am a 24-year-old first generation American and of Barbadian descent. I'm currently pursuing a doctorate degree at Touro College of Pharmacy. I'm ambitious, determined, stern, generous and a tad bit weird. I love to play pan and I’m eager to learn as much as I can about the steelpan art form.”

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

Arielle C. “I started playing my first pan, a double tenor, in January 2011. During my winter break at Stony Brook University, I accompanied my cousin, Warren Webster, and friends like Danielle Edinboro to a Pan-A-Praise practice at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church. The steel band was preparing for an annual Gospel Explosion spring concert at Brooklyn College and I decided to learn how to play for the concert. I haven’t stopped playing since.”

Arielle Chase
Arielle A. Chase, with cousin Warren Webster (left rear)

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

Arielle C. - “Aside from my deep appreciation for not only Bajan culture but also all West Indian cultures, what keeps my passion for the instrument, culture and music is my fear of the culture being lost. I often hear younger people of Caribbean descent say that they don't like soca or they don't like pan and it bothers me. I understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but I would also like for people to simultaneously have their opinion as well as an appreciation of all cultures. My ambition plays a large role in my passion or the instrument. I have a burning desire to master the art form of playing a double tenor and ultimately all the pans.”

WST - “You are the captain of New York's CrossFire Steel Orchestra. What challenges have you faced in this capacity?”

Arielle C. - “One of the challenges that I have faced as the captain of CROSSFIRE Steel Orchestra is being the captain of a band located in Brooklyn, New York. Brooklyn is an area that is bursting with talent and opportunity for young people in the community. Amongst these opportunities, steelpan doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves to be put on the mainstream. This results in steelpan related matters being less prioritized in our community.

Arielle Chase
Arielle A. Chase

“Another challenge that I have faced is the amount of time that we can allocate for practice. Luckily, our band is comprised mostly of active individuals who have a multitude of other responsibilities and extracurricular activities such as dance, internships, jobs, and more. It becomes difficult to juggle a steady practice schedule to accommodate our eager and energetic players. After work, school, afterschool programs, volunteering, SAT prep, dance rehearsals, and homework, there isn’t that much time left to participate in an activity like Steelpan.

“One challenge that I know that every captain and manager can relate to is dealing with a multitude of different personalities. Running a smooth practice can be a bit tricky when you’re trying to fit everyone’s preferences, issues, and dislikes into a formula that works. ”

WST - “In addition to your steelpan music duties you are pursuing a professional career. How do you balance the demanding rigors of the two?”

Arielle C. - “As with anyone who is in participating in more than one demanding activity at once, the balance between the activities would be time management and prioritization. Personally time management is still a skill that I'm trying to master myself but setting deadlines and making sure that all of my tasks are completed in time sure does help me along the way. It also helps to tell myself that if I study vigorously then I can reward myself with a little extra practice time. When the demands for school and pan do fall out of balance, I tend to actively focus all of my energy on school and use my love of pan to get me through the practices and the committee meetings.”

WST - “Have you ever had challenges in illustrating/explaining the actual concept of the steel orchestra, and/or your own role in it - to co-workers or friends?”

Arielle C. - “Yes! The challenge that I have had is that the steel pan is not an instrument that only sounds like “ping pa ting ting”. I have explained that there are a series of instruments that constitute a steel orchestra, which in essence is the same as any orchestra. For example, instead of lead voices, strings, and bassoons we use the tenor, guitar and bass pans, respectively. I have also had to explain that my own role in the orchestra is overseeing how the orchestra functions. I make sure that all the pans are maintained and all the players have their music for the performances. ”

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

Arielle C. - “If I had the power to change to something in Pan it would be the perception of it. The steel pan should be held to a much higher standard. There are many times when we've rolled racks down the street for J'Ouvert or an outdoor gig and bystanders have felt the need to pound the six bass or knock their finger on a cello just to hear the sound. If we were rolling a piano on wheels, no one would come up to it and fiddle with the keys. If we left a guitar on stage during an intermission of a show, no one would pluck the strings of the guitar just for a sound. I understand that people are curious about Steel Pan because it might not be an instrument that they were exposed to frequently but there is still an amount of respect and professionalism that should come with it.

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

Arielle C. - “I’ve been most proud the fact that the steelpan was not only the sole instrument to come out the 20th century but also an instrument invented in Trinidad and Tobago. From its inception until now, the love of pan has spread to other countries. This is something that all people from the Caribbean should take pride in.”

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

Arielle C. - “What disappoints me the most is that there is still disunity in the pan fraternity. Pan has the potential to be taken to such a higher level. How can that happen if the entire community isn’t on the same page? As supporters and advocates of the instrument that hails from Trinidad and Tobago, we all need to embody the motto “Together we aspire, Together we achieve”. All too often we hear this same complaint of disunity but it is disheartening to see lack of progress being made to overcome it.”

Arielle A. Chase practices with CrossFire before the band takes the stage at New York Panorama
Arielle A. Chase practices with CrossFire before the band takes the stage at New York Panorama

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

Arielle C. - “My advice to young female panists would be to have a high level of confidence and humility. The sooner that females realize that they are just as equally yolked as their male counterparts in anything that they do, the better. More confidence fuels an eagerness to learn and the ability to lead. Humility fuels self-awareness. The moment that a young lady understands the struggles that other women went through before them to gain equal rights in the world including steel pan, the more appreciative that young lady should be of the opportunities that she can grab. Hopefully this humility would encourage young ladies to keep learning and persevering. The most important thing that I wish every young female would keep in the back of their mind is their self worth. ”

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

Arielle C. - “To be honest I’m influenced by all types of music. As long as the music is good I’m always moved and shaped by it!”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Arielle C. - “As a player, Panorama is the largest performance to take part in every year. It is exciting, nerve wracking, and the most exhilarating experience to share simultaneously with 80+ people. It is the time that you can showcase what you have been doing all summer and to be proud of it. Panorama after a long intense summer of practice is like the Easter after the Lenten season and if you know me, you know how much I love Easter.  

“As a captain, Panorama is like a progress report of your band. You get to observe how much you've grown as a body. From the talent of the players, the reaction of the audience, and the comments of the judges, you can determine how far you've come and how far you have to go. You also get to witness development of your players as people and the experiences of the guest players that pass through to play with the band. ”

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

Arielle C. - “The greatest challenge that the steelpan music art form faces in New York today is the resources needed to function. A busy city as the Big Apple provides limited spaces for pan yards. New regulations are making it harder to host efficient fundraisers and to have extended hours for practice. Even the largest showcases of the Steelpan culture, which would be J’Ouvert and the Labor Day parade, are being downscaled and heavily regulated. The biggest concern for the New York Steelpan artform is to continue to thrive or grow despite the conditions.”

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

Arielle C. - “My vision for the steelpan movement is very simple. I would like for it to transcend to a point where there are no limitations. There should not be anything holding a panist back from what the avenues that they want to explore with the instrument. There should not be anything holding a group of players back from travelling to perform with the instrument. There should not be anything interfering with a child’s curiosity in learning music theory and applying it to any pan that they wished. All bands should have abundant resources for their players and their instruments. We should be able to groom and produce more upcoming tuners and arrangers, male and female. Steelpan. It would be nice for a steel pan to be expected and welcomed on any like any other instrument would. It would be a dream to see a worldwide effort through unity of all steel pan groups to make these things happen.”

Arielle A. Chase with CrossFire at NYU performance
Arielle A. Chase with CrossFire at NYU performance

Six years later (2021) - Arielle Chase is now Dr. Arielle Chase-Blair; she is a Doctor of Pharmacy

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