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Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Sherlanda Willie - New York, USA

“I would say “Go for it and give it all you have!” If you’re passionate about something, you will give it your all and not let anything or anyone come in between you and your dreams. I am the player that I am today because I worked at it. I love practicing and understand that nothing happens overnight.” 

Administrator, educator, or player - Sherlanda is Pan - Pan is Sherlanda.  There isn’t anything related to pan that you wouldn’t want this young lady to lead if success is your goal. She embodies that rare combination  of humility, grace, intellect, unlimited talent and beauty - and moreover she cares about people. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, Sherlanda Willie shares her feelings, experiences, and insight on the Steelband music art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Sherlanda Willie, and how and when did you first become involved with Pan?”

Sherlanda W. - “I am originally from St. Lucia, which many people tend to find surprising. I actually never had any interest in Pan as I preferred books to everything else from what I remember until at the age of 11. At that point, I got into St. Joseph’s Convent, saw that they had a pan room and out of curiosity decided to check it out. The rest as they say is history!!!”

WST - “Over the years you have become one of the most recognized members synonymous with New York Pan - as one of D’Radoes most experienced and top players - tell us about being a woman player in the champion D’Radoes Steel Orchestra.”

Sherlanda W. - “Truthfully it’s no different than any other band that I have ever played with where there is no (or very little) difference between being a man or woman in the band. I can say that there’s a sense of family at D’Radoes so much so that from the time I started playing there, even though I came from another band, I was never made to feel like I did not belong. I believe that had I been a man with a genuine love for the instrument I would have been welcomed in the same manner.”

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

Sherlanda W. - “It has always been the versatility of the instrument that keeps me fascinated. There is truly no piece of music that cannot be arranged to be performed on Pan. I also love to see the excitement and happiness on people’s faces when they get to see a band perform live. I often wish I could stop playing just to capture those expressions of awe, joy and love that I see on the faces of an audience member or spectator.”

WST - “You play many instruments in the steelpan family - tenor, seconds, guitar, bass, quads to name a few. Which do you like the best?”

Sherlanda W. - “I have never been able to answer that question. I will be in the Panyard and want to play an arrangement on every one of the instruments because of my love of music and performing. For example, say the arranger starts with the bass, the line will captivate me, and I will feel that I absolutely have to play the bass so that I can move with the music on six (6) drums. Then he may give the 4-Pan something and which naturally means that I would want to play that as well and the cycle continues until we get to the Tenor line. I do love playing the quads though, most probably because that’s the most recent instrument that I learned to play and still haven’t quite mastered.”

Sherlanda Willie on six-bass with D’Radoes Steel OrchestraSherlanda Willie on six-bass with D’Radoes Steel Orchestra

WST - “In your life in Pan, you have had the roles of educator, administrator and player. Talk about the respective roles, and which do you prefer?”

Sherlanda W. -

  1. “My role as an educator taught me so much about patience and the fact that not everyone learns at the same pace. I also learnt a lot along the way, because in teaching others, you’re also teaching yourself new things. As an educator I wanted the kids that I worked with to learn music theory in addition to learning how to play the instrument. I, however, never had a formal education in music so I would have to brush up on what I knew, while also learning new things to bring to the table.

  2. “As an administrator, that was also something I enjoyed as I do like working behind the scenes and am an organized soul by nature. It would sometimes be frustrating as in that role I also had to work with other people who often did not believe in meeting deadlines or follow through; but at the end of the day, as I’ve been told on many occasions, getting things done and meeting set goals makes me happy.

  3. “Of course my favorite role is that of a performer! I just love being behind a Pan, or even the Congas, Cowbell or anything that makes music while on stage, especially with people just like me. Nothing better than walking off stage sweaty from having too much fun!!!!”

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

Sherlanda W. - “It would most likely be the fact that it’s not as widely recognized as it should be. I would love to see the pan as an offering in schools, on the same level as the violin or piano.”

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

Sherlanda WillieSherlanda Willie with D’Radoes Steel Orchestra

Sherlanda W. - “I think that what I’m most proud of, as simple as it may seem, is listening to a movie soundtrack (I do that a lot!) and hearing several pan compositions on there. It’s always a welcome surprise that Pan music is considered “acceptable” to make it to a movie soundtrack.”

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

Sherlanda W. - “I’ve always had a problem with the power structure and the fact that as much as everyone wants change there just doesn’t seem to be a happy medium between the young generation and the old generation. As a result, there can never be forward movement. There’s also very little follow through. There will be a plan to make changes, there will be one or two meetings and then nothing. Then months down the line something would happen, everyone would get angry, there’d be talk about change, then meetings, then nothing. A never-ending cycle.

From a New York perspective, I am always disappointed with the way Pan and Panmen and women are treated, specifically Panorama night. Horrible sound systems, no video or live streaming, just “Oh, it’s Panorama, let’s just get them on and off the stage so that we can move on to what’s really important to us. There’s really no need to ensure that they are treated fairly.” I mean, Basement Recordings comes into the yard, sets up their mics and cameras and whatnot, films the band and the result is a professional sound, why are they never contracted for Panorama? Or any other company that knows anything about getting the right balance for a Steel Orchestra for that matter. That’s just common sense to me.”

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?”

Sherlanda W. - “I would say “Go for it and give it all you have!” If you’re passionate about something, you will give it your all and not let anything or anyone come in between you and your dreams. I am the player that I am today because I worked at it. I love practicing and understand that nothing happens overnight. I also like to share my knowledge and in doing so have learned a lot. So another piece of advice is to listen to people who have come before you or who are genuinely trying to help, and remain humble.”

WST - “Have you ever had challenges in illustrating/explaining the actual concept of the steel orchestra, and/or your own role in it - to co-workers or friends? ”

Sherlanda W. - “I never really have. I will tell them about the instrument, they may have a few questions, but nothing that cannot be easily explained.”

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

Sherlanda W. - “I have always liked listening to music so I don’t really have a “Who.” But I do prefer music of yesteryear and any recent music that has a bass line and chord structure that’s complex. Many times you’ll find me humming a bass line and I have no idea who sang the song. I will sometimes even know all of the lyrics and the same will apply. I think because of how I listen to music, mostly the background, when I arrange something I tend to start singing the bass first, and it’s almost always complex.”

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

Sherlanda W. - “Done the right way I see it as a blessing and could generate lots of revenue. Then there’s the actual competition season. I absolutely love walking into the yard to hear what the arranger, most recently B.J. Marcelle has in store for us. The atmosphere when you walk in the yard, the buildup to that one night, it’s an indescribable feeling. On the night of [Panorama], seeing the bands put their game face on, and knowing that even though it’s a competition, everyone is just happy to be there and see all their friends from other bands. It’s a feeling of unity!”

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

Sherlanda W. - “For me it’s walking into any prestigious music school for kids and seeing the steelpan instrument offered. Case in point, my nephew recently started a program at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, and it would be awesome if when signing him up, his parents had the steelpan instrument as an option.”

Sherlanda Willie on quadrophonics with D’Radoes Steel OrchestraSherlanda Willie on quadrophonics with D’Radoes Steel Orchestra

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

Sherlanda W. - “That’s a tough one! I would say that there are three that I would I say are my favorites and each for a different reason. The first is Clive Bradley, I never met him or played any of his arrangements but when I was younger, about fifteen, I travelled to St. Martin with a band from St. Lucia and we got to perform at an event with Witco Desperadoes. They performed many of his Panorama compositions and I just fell in love!! To this day I can listen to anything he has arranged, and it will put a smile on my face. Fast forward to a few years after that and I was in CASYM and heard one of Arddin Herbert’s arrangements for the first time. There’s something about the way he arranges that goes above most people’s heads and I have always loved playing his music and learning from him. He made me the player I am today as he pushes you to do your best always!!! I also recently learned that I love B.J.’s music as well. You just never know what he’s going to come up with next and the music he gives the background especially the basses, is felt in my soul.”

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

Sherlanda W. - “Just like everyone else always, the matter of band rehearsal spaces really needs to be addressed. There has to be someway we as a group can come up with a solution to that problem. It could be sponsorship, grants or concerts or whatnot so that a band can say they “own” a space. I think it’s possible, it will just take a really big effort and maybe everyone is just not ready to go down that road.”

WST - “What is next for Ms. Sherlanda Willie?”

Sherlanda W. - “I have actually been asking myself that same question for months now. Ideally, I would like to go back to being an administrator, and educator while playing every so often. I have been looking into possibly opening a school the likes of Brooklyn Pre-school of Science, but with a focus on music instead. It’s going to take some work, but that is my goal and I will do everything in my power to reach it!”

   Sherlanda Willie performs with D’Radoes during the orchestra’s 2017 Basement Recordings Panyard recording session

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

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