Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Inge Schlüer - Trinidad and Tobago

“I’ve grown up around Aunty Pat, hearing her thoughts over and over about the treatment of pan and our culture. It has help shaped my own thoughts on the issue at hand, so therefore I continue her cry for our art form. We really don’t deserve the Steel Pan. It’s just used as a ‘quick fix’ for carnival. What comes after panorama for these pan men?”

She is thoughtful, forward thinking and multi-talented. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - musician, performing artist, manager, scholar and educator Inge Schlüer shares her heartfelt reflections, experiences and views on Pan, and the steelpan art form overall.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Inge Schlüer?”

Inge S. - “I am a lover of culture! I enjoying traveling and experiencing the cultures of the world.  

“My life has been completely devoted to the arts. From birth I have been involved in groups such as the Lydian Singers, National Sinfonia Orchestra, St. Augustine Chamber Orchestra, Caribbean School of Dance, etc.

“I enjoy performing to a variety of audiences ranging from performing with Kurt Allen in the Calypso tent/Dimanche Gras stage, to performing with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Queen’s Hall, to Los Alumnos de San Juan in a Parang event, or be it with a Spoken Word poet in the underground music scene. I love being on the stage!  

“I am also a lifelong learner! I enjoy gaining information and I’m self-motivated.  I hold a BA Musical Arts (Hons) from the University of the West Indies (UWI) and a M.Ed. International Education from Framingham State University.  

“Currently I am the music teacher at the International School of Port of Spain where I get to not only share our culture with my international students by teaching them the steel pan, but I also learn from their individual cultures.”

Esther Batson and Inge Schluer
Inge Schlüer and teacher Esther Batson

WST - “What were your earliest experiences with Pan?”

Inge S. “I started playing pan in primary school with Elizabeth Flocker, sitting pan exams in the Creative and Festival Arts Centre, UWI. My first pan ensemble experience was hearing the Lydian Steel perform alongside the choir at most concerts with people like Ben Jackson, Avis Bruce and Kareem Brown. However the violin and piano were my main instruments growing up under the tutelage of Ms. Esther Batson and Sylvia Robin. Although Ms. Batson was very devoted to the steel pan movement she encouraged me to focus more on my violin playing, of which I have no regrets to date.”

WST - “You are an organizer, musician, performing artist and educator. Which role defines you best?”

Inge S. - “I would consider myself primarily a musician who uses the musical knowledge I have obtained over the years to share with others in various aspects. Be it sharing my musical knowledge with my students, sharing my talent on my instruments whilst performing or giving musical advice whilst judging an event.”

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

Inge Schlüer
Inge Schlüer

Inge S. - “Funny enough, in my earlier years I really did not enjoy listening to steel pan or even playing the instrument. It was only until I was in a steel pan-arranging course at UWI, that my curiosity and passion grew for the instrument.

“In the course I had all the theoretical background I needed to arrange music, but I was lacking the feel for the instrumentation of a steel orchestra. It was then a friend of mine took me to the Trinidad All Stars in order for me to fully understand each section of the steel orchestra. I would be in the yard every single night listening to how each part was built on each other. From then I fell in love with the instrument.   Now I can say my joy comes from going to the yards and listening/analyzing the pieces as they work on them from beginning to end. Listening to the changes in the arrangements throughout the Panorama season. These arrangers truly have a gift and it’s something we should cherish as Trinidadians!”

WST - “Is ‘Pan In Danger’ in Trinidad? Or worse?”

Inge S. - “Yes and No.

“.…Because even though we as Trinidadians have not yet fully put proper measures in place to help sustain the development of pan as an instrument and an art form, other countries have been working hard to develop the instrument. I’m also almost sure that if George Whitmyre, and Harvey J Price, of the USA did not patent stages of the process of formation of the pan, there would have been no big attempts by Trinidadians to try and make improvements on the instrument. (These are just my humble thoughts). I am however happy to see advancements such as the P.H.I., E-Pan, iPan and G-Pan.  

“The steel pan is being taught in universities all over the world and this is a positive step towards its future development. But I must ask why isn’t there a Steel Pan making/tuning course in the Pan degree at UWI? How would the upcoming generations learn how to sustain this craft/skill?  

“Don’t talk about the event that is Panorama, which is on a quick decline… How can you add salt to the wound by putting a separate event that has absolutely nothing to do with pan at the same venue? Shame on the organizers who sanctioned such an event as ‘Pan on the Greens’, you clearly care just about money and not steel pan. We the spectators of the actual pan event not only have to fight for parking due to the overflow of people who didn’t even come to hear pan, but we also have to fight to actually hear the bands on stage.  

“I can go on and on but these are just a few points...”

WST - “In a moment of reflection and frustration with how Pan was being treated, the late great Pat Bishop said, “Trinidad doesn’t deserve Pan.” From your perspective has Trinidad moved beyond this cultural schism with the instrument? Or do you too sometimes experience and feel this frustration?”

Inge Schlüer and Pat Bishop
Inge Schlüer and Pat Bishop

Inge S. - “I’ve grown up around Aunty Pat, hearing her thoughts over and over about the treatment of pan and our culture. It has helped shape my own thoughts on the issue at hand, so therefore I continue her cry for our art form. We really don’t deserve the Steel Pan. It’s just used as a ‘quick fix’ for carnival. What comes after Panorama for these pan men? Panorama itself has become just a political game. Gone are the days when you judge a band based on the actually arrangement and performance of the band itself. It all has to do with the people in charge, some of which have good intentions for the art form and others - well... And as Aunty Pat would say, “Until all have crossed none have crossed, and some we have to carry”.”

WST - “What is it that makes Pan so powerful?”

Inge S. - “To me there is no other percussive instrument that gives off such a vibrant energy when put in great quantity. There is no other instrument to my knowledge that has such a wide dynamic range. I think the steel pan is capable of radiating the most power of all instruments. This alone sets the steel pan apart from other instruments.

“In my opinion, there is no other pitched percussive instrument that can stand alone and produce such warm tones, whilst successfully bringing out the different colours of an arrangement. I’ve heard great orchestral pieces played on the steel pan that have brought tears to my eyes.”

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

Inge S. - “The evolution of the pan itself! I am really happy to see where the steel pan has reached today having heard the stories from the tamboo bamboo and other traditions that preceded the steel band. The refinement of the tone of the instrument as well as the development of a more chromatic instrument have been great achievements made by these steel pan innovators.  

“I am also very amused when I see these middle/upper class supporters coming out to the pan yards in more recent times. Pan has come a long way from being the instrument of ‘rough necks’ and the lower class in society.”

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

Inge S. - “The lack of the ability to progress beyond this point...”

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

Inge S. - “I am a big lover of calypso, and there is none other like Lord Kitchener... he is a big musical influence to me. Not only for his lyrical genius, but also for his ability to play with the language of music with his melodies and counter melodies, etc. GENIUS I TELL YOU!”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Inge S. - “Panorama to me is not about the ‘competition,’ but simply a place where I can go to hear the final arrangements of an arranger. I take keen interest in listening to see how the arranger interprets the music.   

“However, over the years I have lost this appreciation for Panorama. How can I appreciate an arrangement if the original composition is not easily accessible to me?  

  1. I don’t think I should have to go searching on When Steel Talks to find the songs that are to be played by bands.    
  2. I don’t think arrangers should be composing their own song for their own arrangement.  

    I miss those days when arrangers used the popular songs being played on the radio. I think the audience was better able to appreciate the arrangements because they knew the song!  

    Now I can also understand the side of arrangers who may say ‘gone are the days where the music on the radio actually had a sensible melodic line and more than a four chord progression’.”

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

Inge S. - “Panorama was once a blessing that has developed into a curse.”

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

Inge S. - “I think the greatest challenge comes from the leadership of the steel pan movement. I will say no more on that topic.”

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

Inge S. - “I would like to see the steel pan as a conventional instrument found in any orchestra around the world and not seen just as an exotic Caribbean instrument.”

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

Inge S. - “Yes, I think they are finally getting the acknowledgement. Gone are the days when the woman was not welcomed in the pan yards. A lot of my female friends have been making their mark as pan arrangers, adjudicators and panists.”

WST - “What is the responsibility of the artist to the art form - be it Pan, Mas or Calypso?”

Inge S. - “I think the responsibility of the artist is to continue striving for excellence in the art form, and not just settling for mediocrity. If we as people in the arts don’t continue to fight the hard fight for our culture we will drown in the ‘Papi show’ that is politics. We cannot settle for being just puppets in this political showcase.”

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