Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Elizabeth McPherson - Brooklyn, New York

“I see Pan on the same level as all of the other traditional instruments in the world, like the piano and the guitar. I would love to have a conversation about Pan with a complete stranger without having to explain what it is.” She has an unwavering commitment to a better future by investing totally in our youth.

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist, educator and performing artist Elizabeth McPherson shares her reflections, experiences and views on Pan, and the steelpan art form.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Elizabeth McPherson?”

Elizabeth M. - “I was born and raised in Brooklyn from Trinidadian and Jamaican parents. I grew up playing multiple instruments in school, some of which include the piano, clarinet and trumpet. I received a Bachelors degree in Mathematics and a Masters degree in Math Education and I’m currently teaching math at a high school in Brooklyn, NY.”

WST - “When and how did you first become aware of the steelpan instrument?”

Elizabeth M. “I always knew about the instrument, but my first personal experience with the instrument was the summer of 2005. I was left in a room alone with a bunch of different pans around me and I immediately tried to play songs that I knew on the piano on different pans; exploring the tones that each pan had to offer. I eventually ended up playing double tenor and the rest was history.”

WST - “You are an organizer, performing artist, educator, steelpan player. Which role do you cherish the most?”

Elizabeth M. - “Definitely the role of an educator. It has been the most rewarding and the most fulfilling role that I have taken on as a panist. While that role can be tedious at times, it’s amazing how fast children can develop into great young musicians right in front your eyes.”

Elizabeth McPherson
Elizabeth McPherson

WST - “The contributions of women to the steelpan movement is undeniable. Do you believe women are finally getting that acknowledgment?”

Elizabeth M. - “While women are heavily represented throughout the pan community as players, there are very few arrangers, band owners and managers. I believe that with time, there will be more of a balance, but at the moment this is still a heavily male-dominated industry.”

WST - “What is the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steelpan musicians in New York?”

Elizabeth M. - “I believe that the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steel pan musicians are these invisible walls that divide us as a community. Whether these walls are built by ‘spectators’ who dislike our culture, the skyrocketing costs of renting a yard, or even by those who are members of our own steel band community; the challenge to the current generation will be to tear down those walls and unite all pan members despite our differences in hopes of pushing our instrument to the next level.”

Elizabeth McPherson
Elizabeth McPherson

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

Elizabeth M. - “I’ve always been passionate about music growing up; however, what keeps my passion ignited specifically for pan are the kids that I’ve taught over the past few years. Growing up, I used to watch the adults sit down for hours and watch us play and I couldn’t understand why, but now I do. To sit there and listen and reflect on how much these kids have matured into young musicians is amazing and it keeps me returning back each and every year.”

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

Elizabeth M. - “I would definitely want to take down the invisible walls that I’ve mentioned earlier, that divide our pan community, especially the walls that are built by our own members. There is so much politics involved in the pan community that it is sometimes distracting us from what we’re really supposed to care about.. which is the music.”

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

Elizabeth M. - “I’m sure if you would ask me that question each year, my answer would change. But the highlight of last year for me was when I was practicing with a young lady by the name of Kaila. While I was practicing, she joined in and we sounded like one instrument. I know that seems like something small, but a few years prior to that day she didn’t how to play at all. Her technique and how she touched her instrument was so on point and I just couldn’t believe how much she has grown! That was definitely a proud moment.”

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

Elizabeth M. - “The politics is what disappoints me the most. I would love if we all could come together as one community and think of ways to advance the instrument together, instead of being divided.”

WST - “What would be your advice to the thousands of young female panists all over the world who are dreaming of becoming involved with the steelpan instrument as a career move?”

Elizabeth M. - “My advice would be to understand yourself and be confident. For me, I get satisfaction when someone listens to a song that I composed or arranged and they tell me that it sounds like me. There are enough copycats in the world, figure out who you are as a musician, move with confidence and everything will fall into place!”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Elizabeth M. - “Panorama is a celebration of hard work, time and dedication. While it has stopped being exciting for me a long time ago I do get satisfaction from seeing the younger kids get so excited to play their hearts out.”

Elizabeth McPherson
Elizabeth McPherson

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

Elizabeth M. - “That’s a hard question to answer. While I do appreciate the essence of Panorama in what it’s supposed to represent, as I get older,  I ask myself if Panorama is really celebrating quality music, and is Panorama really worth the financial burden? Being that pan is a fairly recent instrument, there are many people still alive today, who grew up witnessing first-hand the evolution of the instrument and took part in building the traditions of the instrument that we still practice today. Sometimes I feel that the people who are so caught up in tradition may inhibit Panorama from changing in a way that will add excitement to Panorama again.”

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

Elizabeth M. - “I see Pan on the same level as all of the other traditional instruments in the world, like the piano and the guitar. I would love to have a conversation about pan with a complete stranger without having to explain what it is, or explain that it can play a song in more than one key.”

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