Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Shannon Mc David - Trinidad & Tobago

“I must say performing on a Panorama stage is the most invigorating experience. I feel such a thrill - like there’s an energy running through my veins the second the stick touches the pan. It’s like electricity. For me, playing pan (or music) is like entering a new world....While I’m playing I listen to everything from the iron man to the tenors; so every run, every drop, every hit of the iron drives me. I often laughed when people told me I was dancing out of time sometimes but I knew that I was dancing to someone else’s part.” 

She is a scholar, an intellect, a serious practitioner of the performing arts. This, in addition to being a budding scientist and of course a panist, who knows a thing or two about winning Panorama performances - as a member of both the 2009 & 2010 champions Silver Stars Steel Orchestra - and the 2018 Renegades Steel Orchestra. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - Shannon Mc David shares her feelings, experiences, expectations and passion for  the steelpan instrument, its music, the art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Shannon?”

Shannon Mc D. - “My full name is Shannon Mc David. Born into a very musical family. I’m a fun-loving, dog-loving woman who enjoys playing music. I have a Bachelor of Science in General Agriculture from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. I have an interest in the environment and sustainability of our natural resources; as well as, I’m concerned with the effect of climate change on our environment. I’m trilingual (French and Spanish) and currently learning German as a fourth language. I’m a devout Roman Catholic and owe all my success to God for his strength and guidance. I also enjoy writing, songwriting, history, yoga and dancing. I was heavily involved in sports as a child; I took part in gymnastics, swimming, track and field and tennis.”

WST - “How and when did you first become involved with Pan? Take us through your musical journey?”

Shannon Mc D. - “I first started playing pan in primary school, Newtown Girls’ R.C. School, under the direction of Ms. Vincent-Browne. I was 10 years old at the time and was put behind a Guitar pan but I didn’t stay on this pan for long. Soon enough I was playing Cello pan and this remained my primary pan for a number of years. I was involved in many festivals and performances with this ensemble.

“I joined the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra in Summer 2003. Whilst a member of the stage side, I was drawn to the Double Seconds pan and eventually made the switch in 2005 for Pan In The 21st Century with the tune, ‘In the Mood.’ I spent many wonderful years with the band and had the pleasure of winning Panorama in 2009 and 2010. I later moved on to the bp Renegades Steel Orchestra in 2015 playing ‘Jam Dem Hard’ for Panorama. I have since played three amazing Panoramas with the band and look forward to many more. Also in 2015, I began my Bachelor’s Degree in Music at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. My primary instrument to this day remains the Double Seconds.”

WST - “You are a member of the 2018 Trinidad & Tobago National Panorama champions, Renegades Steel Orchestra, performing with the band in recent years. Tell us about being a female player in this championship band?”

Shannon Mc D. - “I’m quite proud to be a member of bp Renegades. I feel proud to wear the jersey and have people recognize the band, even more now that we’ve won Panorama this year. There are so many ladies in the band and I must say we receive nothing but love and respect. There’s always some event held by the band and I appreciate the togetherness the band keeps even after Panorama. Being a part of this winning Panorama has been an exciting experience for me. We played the selection “Year For Love” by Voice and that atmosphere was definitely felt throughout the panyard.  I absolutely enjoyed the music and loved the vibe in the yard this year.”

Shannon Mc David
Shannon McDavid

WST - “What are those eight/ten minutes like on stage for you, performing in Panorama - how do you feel?”

Shannon Mc D. - “I must say performing on a Panorama stage is the most invigorating experience. I feel such a thrill like there’s an energy running through my veins the second the stick touches the pan. It’s like electricity. For me, playing pan (or music) is like entering a new world. I get so lost in the music yet found in my comfort zone. While I’m playing I listen to everything from the iron man to the tenors; so every run, every drop, every hit of the iron drives me. I often laughed when people told me I was dancing out of time sometimes but I knew that I was dancing to someone else’s part. In 2013, I started writing a narrative of the experience called One Song. I finished it in 2016. It details the entire experience from practice to Panorama stage. I will always admit there’s nothing like playing on a Panorama stage!”

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

Shannon Mc D. - “It’s such a beautiful instrument and we can do so much with it musically. I love the history of how it was made and how it became the instrument we play today. I admire the veterans for the sacrifices and the struggles they endured to ensure that this mere oil drum became something more than anyone could have ever imagined. It is the greatest invention of the 20th century. And I wouldn’t like to see its traditions go down the drain. While I could say that playing the steelpan brings me joy, I believe that my real passion for the instrument comes from its history and my desire to see it continue to thrive within our culture.”

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

Shannon Mc David with Renegades Steel Orchestra
Shannon Mc David with Renegades

Shannon Mc D. - “I listen to a wide range of genres and artistes. I love the usual soca, calypso, pop like any other young person. I love Latin music and country music. Jazz, classical, rock, soft rock. I more or less like all genres or at least enjoy one tune from each genre. I grew up hearing David Rudder and Luther Vandross from Mummy and religious music from Granny. I’m a huge fan of John Legend and Alicia Keys and listened to everything from  Earth Wind & Fire to Ed Sheeran, Janis Joplin to Kendrick Lamar, Nina Simone to Aventura and so much more.”

WST - “What is your favorite Panorama arrangement?”

Shannon Mc D. - “My favourite Panorama arrangement is ‘It’s Showtime’ - Silver Stars. Followed by Battle Zone - Silver Stars; Pan in A Minor - bp Renegades; Pan by Storm - Fonclaire, and ‘Year for Love’ - bp Renegades.”

WST - “Who is your favorite arranger and why?”

Shannon Mc D. - “I have a few favourite arrangers. Edwin Pouchet, my first arranger, because of his scintillating runs and dynamic jams; as well as his vision for steelpan and ability to push the limit on what tunes can be played on the instrument. Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, because of his obvious genius and ability to put simple lines together that create a unique sound. Duvone Stewart, for his ability to use countermelody like no other, as well as, his ability to tell a story through his music.”

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

Shannon Mc D. - “Personally, I was never dissuaded from playing pan. I would say the opposite has happened in my experiences where my family (especially my mom) encouraged me to play pan. I got involved in pan because of my mom’s love for pan. Matter of fact, both of our love for pan came from my grandmother who recently told me of her stories in pan. Obviously in her younger days, it was not acceptable for ladies to be involved in pan. She used to sneak out to go listen to steelpan.”

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

Shannon Mc D. - “Yes. My mom plays bass with Phase II Pan Groove. Two of my cousins play with Supernovas. My god brother plays with Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra.”

WST - “What is your opinion on the current state of Pan in Trinidad & Tobago?”

Shannon Mc D. - “It needs an intervention. We have the intention but actions need to be put in place to ensure a better future for steelpan in Trinidad and Tobago.”

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

Shannon Mc D. - “Enforce standardization of pan. Almost every Double Second pan I’ve played is different in some way.”

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

Shannon Mc D. - “I’m most proud of the unity and camaraderie between bands and players today as compared to how it was back in the day. We really need to stick together if we intend to push steelpan forward in the future.”

Shannon Mc David
Shannon Mc David

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

Shannon Mc D. - “That we don’t have a good governing body to represent the steelpan community.”

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

Shannon Mc D. - “Panorama is a blessing. At the moment, it is the main platform to display our artform. Considering it a curse would mean depriving many people of their joy and livelihood. Panorama provides job opportunities for many young, upcoming arrangers, as well as, a way for students to earn some money. Apart from the financial standpoint, Panorama is an integral element of the Carnival experience. Unless we stop considering it a possible curse, we cannot expect the rest of society to appreciate and accept it in the way we do. ”

WST - “You may have come across acquaintances (such as non-Trinbagonians) who did not understand what you mean when you say you ‘play pan’ - if this has ever been the case, talk about how you shared your steel band experiences, and their reactions.”

Shannon Mc D. - “Luckily, I’ve never had such experiences. Moreso, I’ve been the one surprised when I speak to foreigners who tell me that they know about steelpan. It makes me happy to hear that. And in turn, they are proud to tell others that they know an actual panist.”

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?”

Shannon Mc D. - “Don’t get distracted. Always have respect for yourself and demand a certain level of respect from your male counterparts. Most of all, have fun with what you do. Remember that women bring a certain flair and finesse to steelpan so revel in your beauty.”

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

Shannon Mc D. - “My hope is for steelpan and its traditions to remain relevant in society. As technology develops and music changes, I really hope that we don’t lose the true essence of steelpan.”

Shannon Mc David with Silver Stars
Shannon Mc David with Silver Stars

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

Shannon Mc D. - “No.”

WST - “What is next for Shannon Mc David?”

Shannon Mc D. - “Graduate with First Class Honours with my Bachelor of Arts in Music. The rest is in God’s hands.”

photos provided by Shannon Mc David

   Shannon Mc David performs with Renegades Steel Orchestra during the 2018 Trinidad and Tobago National Panorama finals

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