Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan


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Meet Kimberli St. Clair - Trinidad & Tobago

“I am proud of the fact that there are still some people who genuinely love the instrument and just love to play. Those are the people that show that there is still hope for the art form. I am most proud of the fact that women have been allowed into this art form, for I have never found this much contentment. If ever I feel unhappy, arranging is my safe haven.”

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - arranger, panist and entrepreneur Kimberli St. Clair unapologetically shares her intellect and unconditional love for the Steel Pan instrument, its music, and the art form.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Kimberli St. Clair?”

Kimberli C. - “I am 22 years of age and a final-year student at the College of Science Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago pursuing my Bachelor in Music Education. I am the treasurer of First Citizens Supernovas Steel Orchestra and the Arranger for Tunapuna All Stars Steel Orchestra. I am known to be kind-hearted, generous, industrious and passionate in everything that I do. I attended Bishop Anstey High School from 2006-2011 and El Dorado East Secondary School from 2011-2013. My dream is to be one of the most favored female arrangers, and expand my musical institution to implement and standardize the teaching of music and our national instrument from the preschool level, to ensure that the culture and our prized possession of our country may be better appreciated by our own.”

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

Kimberli C. - “To be completely honest, I was not a fan of steelpan at all. I started classical piano at the age of five under the teachings of Miss Maureen Clement. I grew up believing that steelpan was closely associated with noise. Anytime I heard it, I would dismiss it totally, by either turning off the radio or changing the television station. In 2007, my mother insisted upon my entry into the birdsong Academy Summer Camp. Under the tutoring of Mr. Terrence Sealey, I learned to play every steelpan that was available to me at  birdsong and my love for the instrument was born.”

WST - “Being female, were you cautioned or perhaps dissuaded in any way, from becoming involved in the steelband art form?”

Kimberli C. - “In the beginning, as I mentioned before, my mother insisted upon my entry to birdsong and I think it was the best thing that I have ever done. However, in the early part of my new-found love of arranging, I was cautioned by many about the dangers of [being] a female within the realm of competitive men. I am still dissuaded by many, who say, “Girl, that band not helping you. Leave them.” But I reply to those statements by saying, “Remember the struggle now and remember your words when we do make it!” Even though I am being dissuaded, my family and a few who I keep very close to my heart are also encouraging me.”

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

Kimberli St. Clair
Kimberli St. Clair

Kimberli C. - “My personal motivation for my dream along with my family and those close to me keep my passion alive. There are many times it seems too difficult when the people around you don’t have the same love and drive for the instrument.”

WST - “Which Pan is your favorite and why?”

Kimberli C. - “The Double Seconds Pan is my favorite “hands down”! I love this pan mainly because of its intense range, which allows me to do a lot in terms of writing. I adore this instrument almost as much as my piano. I have never regretted investing in the pair that I own! J

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

Kimberli C. - “If I had the power to change something, it would be the way panmen are treated. I believe that an arranger’s job can never be completed to its full potential and as such, players should be held higher than their current positions. In this economy, we need to understand that these players come from all over the country on their own will, to produce one of the greatest shows on this earth (in my opinion of course), and many of them incur more cost than we reimburse them. I would aim to provide better incentive for these musicians, as they are our most prized possession for this art form.”

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

Kimberli C. - “I am proud of the fact that there are still some people who genuinely love the instrument and just love to play. Those are the people that show that there is still hope for the art form. I am most proud of the fact that women have been allowed into this art form, for I have never found this much contentment. If ever I feel unhappy, arranging is my safe haven. ”

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

Kimberli C. - “What disappoints me the most is that most people no longer play pan for the passion and joy it brings. We live in an age where the passion of Panorama is rooted in the amount a player can make per round or simply, players will only play with a band in winners row. Players in our era have no idea of the value of our instrument and how difficult it is to maintain a steelband.”

WST - “In 2017 you were the arranger for Tunapuna All Stars. How was that experience?”

Kimberli C. - “This, along with the previous two years with this band has been an experience that has built on my inner strength and personal motivation. This year, due to the constraints on the unsponsored bands along with the late remittance to players proved to be the most difficult year for me. There were many nights where I went to rehearsal with three players, or no frontline, rhythm, or full practice. I think I was only afforded the luxury of having two full band practices.

“All in all, the comments reflected the lack of commitment and this year made me realize that being an arranger is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. The idea of your success dependent on the commitment of everyone who has to play your music can be quite frustrating, as I mentioned before, when we live in an age where the passion of Panorama is rooted in the amount a player can make per round. Tunapuna All Stars is one of those bands whose stageside has dissolved and I am now working tirelessly to change that. ”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Kimberli C. - “Panorama to me is a means of showcasing some of the best work of the bands here in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a way to keep the culture alive and allow our aspiring musicians to enjoy that accomplished feeling after their long nights of hard work.”

Kimberli St. Clair
Kimberli St. Clair

WST - “You are the CEO of Musical Ventures Institute of Learning. Tell us about this organization?”

Kimberli C. - “Currently, it’s a sole trader service where I provide affordable tutoring to students in both Practical and Theory. I make learning music a fun and thrilling experience for them. They have recitals and participate in the ABRSM (The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) examinations where they have only been successful. My aim is expansion to include preschool kids, adults and elderly persons.”

WST - “You've traveled around the world through Pan. What has been one of your most memorable experiences?”

Kimberli C. - “My most memorable experience has to be my trip with Supernovas to Haiti for the Carifesta festivities. For me, it was a culture shock in terms of the livelihood of the citizens there. The extreme poverty in the areas we passed through really made me realize how comfortable we lived back here. The performances there were electrifying as well because these Haitians lit up at the sound of the instrument and literally danced in the rain as we performed. They showed true appreciation for our instrument.”

Kimberli St. Clair with band
Kimberli St. Clair with band

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?”

Kimberli C. - “My advice is simple. Keep your head up and stay focused on your dream. Remain humble and thank God through every step.”

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

Kimberli C. - “My musical influences range from my Music Teacher, Miss Maureen Clement who has taught me the true meaning of musicianship and has inspired me to lean toward teaching others - to arrangers like Mr. Amrit Samaroo, Mr. Duvone Stewart and Mr. Raf Robertson, who have influenced my career in arranging.”

Kimberli St. Clair with students
Kimberli St. Clair with students

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

Kimberli C. - “My vision for the steelpan instrument is to see it standardized all around the world and taught through all levels of school.”

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

Kimberli C. - “No, not at this time but I thank you for this opportunity and for your role in the steelband community.”

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

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