Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Darrielle Mylan-Charles - Trinidad & Tobago

“Compared to the past and what I've learnt, the sexism aspect of playing the steelpan and it being considered a "man's thing" has been mostly if not completely non-existent. We see more women playing the steelpan and being treated as another other player in recent times.”

She is a scholar with a plan and a mission. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist Darrielle Mylan-Charles shares her personal journey and future musical expectations.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

When Steel Talks ‘Celebration of Women in Pan’ logo

WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Darrielle Mylan-Charles?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “Darrielle Mylan-Charles is a student at the Academy for the Performing Arts. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor's Degree with a specialization in Music, majoring in steelpan. She attended St. Francois Girls College where she did music as a subject along with visual art and theatre. She grew up in Port of Spain. She is 19 years old. She plays with the Renegades Steel Orchestra both junior and senior, junior being for Panorama and senior being on the stage side as well as Panorama. She has been with the Renegades Steel Orchestra since 2009.”

WST - “How were you first introduce to Pan?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “Darrielle first got introduced to steelpan at the age of six in St. Ursula's Girls Anglican, where a teacher taught music lessons at C.A.S.E.A.T.A.L. Her first instrument wasn't the steelpan, but the piano. Her great great-aunt wanted her to be classically trained in the piano but Darrielle had other plans. At her music lessons she would've gravitated towards the steelpan until she eventually switched instruments.”

WST - “The steelpan is now an integral part of your life path. When did you first come to believe that you could both love the Pan and perhaps even make a career out of it?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “I first discovered that I could love pan and make a career out of it when I joined Renegades. At that time, I had also just started secondary school and at class they taught us all the different career paths in the field of music. I didn't quite understand how someone could've done it till I heard stories about the senior band touring all over world and such. I also had a good friend whose parents were music directors as well.”

WST - “Were there any obstacles along the way, or were you cautioned or perhaps dissuaded from focusing solely on the steelpan instrument as your passion in life?”

Darrielle Mylan-Charles
Darrielle Mylan-Charles

Darrielle M.-C. - “The obstacles I faced were of course SEA and CXC [exams] at that time. I also face challenges now, where the need for steelpan or perhaps music educators in Trinidad isn't a very substantial way to live if I were to solely focus my career on the steelpan. I was also cautioned by people about the same topic.”

WST - “You play other instruments as well; talk about this?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “I partook in the Pan Initiative program that they had a couple years ago where I learned the basics of the clarinet, guitar, piano, percussion. It's been a while since I've played any of those instruments, but I can say I've played them.”

WST - “Who are your music inspirations and influences - not only relative to Pan, but also in wider music genres?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “I've never given much thought about influences in other genres, but my mother as well as my grandmother are my biggest influences in music. They are the reason why I'm so invested in steelpan. They've always made sure that I continue with my music. They are no doubt obviously my support system as well. In terms of inspirations, recently I've become interested in Mia Gormandy and her work ethics, skill, etc. I just completed a course with her at UTT (University of Trinidad & Tobago) actually. Introduction to Ethnomusicology.”

WST - “Compare your experience as a Woman in Pan in 2017, with what you have probably heard, or be aware of, regarding women in Pan - decades before you, and challenges they faced?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “Compared to the past and what I've learnt, the sexism aspect of playing the steelpan and it being considered a "man's thing" has been mostly if not completely non-existent. We see more women playing the steelpan and being treated as another player in recent times.”

WST - “Do any members of your family play Pan?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “My mother used to play pan, as did my cousins.”

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

Darrielle M.-C. - “My advice would be to never stop practicing. If you miss even a day of practice bet your bottom dollar you'd notice it. Especially if you go to university and have to play for your lecturers. Be prepared to work extremely hard. Be prepared to have sleepless nights. It would all pay off in the end.”

Darrielle Mylan-Charles
Darrielle Mylan-Charles
(image courtesy ‘PAN IZ WE’)

WST - “Talk about your recent 2017 Panorama experience/ performance with Renegades in Trinidad and Tobago?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “My recent Panorama with Renegades has been the best one yet. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to go to France with the band. This pushed me out of my comfort zone as I had to juggle schoolwork, Panorama, performances while in France and finding time to actually enjoy the trip. This was a challenge and I enjoyed it thoroughly.”

WST - “In your opinion, what do you think is the place of the annual Panorama competition, with respect to the overall art form in Trinidad & Tobago? And is Panorama a curse or a blessing?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “To me Panorama is both a blessing and a curse. I consider it a curse because of the way that it has transformed over the years. Now, I haven't been around that long, but before it seemed as though people played in bands for the love of the instrument. Now, it seems as though people play for the money they receive at the end. On the other hand, I consider it a blessing because the overall experience is one-of-a-kind. Performing on the big stage, becoming part of an overall unit, sort of like a family away from home, meeting new people - nothing compares to it.”

Darrielle Mylan-Charles, right
Darrielle Mylan-Charles, right

WST - “If there was one thing in Pan you could change immediately what would that be?”

Darrielle M.-C. - Pan Trinbago.”

WST - “What is the greatest challenge the steelpan music artform faces in Trinidad and Tobago today?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “The greatest challenge facing steelpan itself is the under-appreciation of the instrument. I honestly believe that the instrument and, by extension, culture, is put on the back burner except for around Carnival time. Festivals and shows that showcase pan in itself are becoming less and less and it is very saddening.”

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

Darrielle M.-C. - Jit Samaroo & Mia Gormandy.”

WST - “What is your vision for Pan a decade from now?”

Darrielle M.-C. - “My vision would be for pan to be more appreciated. I would also like to see the history of steelpan as well as bands be a part of the curriculum for primary and secondary schools. Pan should be one of those go-to instruments like the guitar, violin or piano for example, would be, internationally.”

Their Story, Their Voice, Their Life, Their Dreams - click for more stories

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