Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Megan-Leigh Langton-Attang - Trinidad & Tobago

“To the young female panists reading this who are dreaming of becoming involved with the steelpan as a career I say, “Yes, please do. There is room for you.” I think the only limitations on steelpan start with the individual holding the views. Don’t be afraid to pick up steelpan as a career at home or abroad. Be prepared to work hard and be creative, but most importantly, have fun. You can be a composer, a conductor, an arranger, a musical director, a solo or group performer. You can be part of the administrative and managerial teams which help organize and develop the art form if being a part of the mostly musical aspects seem daunting.” 

She is a millennial. Bright, articulate, intelligent, witty and funny - and did we say multitalented.  Equally at home with a video game as she is with a pan... The pan DNA looms large inside her through  the genes passed on to her through her Mom. In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - panist Megan-Leigh Langton-Attang shares her outstanding experiences beginning at a tender age  with the steelpan instrument, its music, the art form and more.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Megan-Leigh Langton-Attang?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “I am a twenty-two year old woman who loves anything creative. I am the only female child for my parents. I always have ideas and I want to make them a reality. I like anything that resonates with my emotions at the time and I have a desire to create that effect or response with anything that I do. I started playing pan when I was four and haven’t stopped since then, save for the brief hiatus now and then during my time at secondary school. I focused on the steelpan at the University of The West Indies where I was awarded a Bachelor’s degree in Musical Arts (Special). I love to learn and apply new things while having fun.”

WST - “Talk about your introduction to the steelpan instrument?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “I’m not sure when I first knew of the steelpan but my first real memory of it was my mother teaching me ‘Amazing Grace’ on the tenor pan for a church function. I didn’t want to learn the song or do it but my mom said “Please.” I was four and I don’t remember the performance or the responses I got to it either, if any. I don’t think I had any real interest in instruments except for playing the odd notes on the piano in the living room now and then.”

WST - “What has made the steelpan instrument so attractive to you, what fuels your passion?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “My parents often encouraged me to learn more since I learned quickly and remembered just as well, if not better. After a while, I started to become more interested in developing technique, control, speed and eventually learning to read music. I wanted it all - I still do. What made me attracted to the steelpan evolved as I grew older. I wanted to solo as well as the members of Tropical Angel Harps. I wanted to travel like Clarence Morris and Curtis Jones did.

“Now, I think it’s more focused. I want to see what else I can do with pan, what sounds can I produce from the instrument, how well am I able to express emotion with it, how do I begin having a signature sound? I really love composing music now and just playing with chords to see how they resonate. I still want to travel and play pan but I also want to showcase how much pan has developed, how it’s an instrument for any occasion, and what a beautiful sound it makes.”

WST - “What is it like having a Mom - a player herself - so passionate about steelband?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “My mother often regaled her experiences of playing with a ‘town band’ and how rewarding yet arduous and exhausting it was. I found that exciting. It’s what made me go to other bands and play when the band I was with did not make it to finals. Every band is different even if we play the same instrument - steelpan. There are different cultures, expectations and ambiences. It allows me to learn and experience new things that I wouldn’t even think I would learn in a panyard. Pan has attracted so many people from maybe every walk of life and it’s even more rewarding meeting those people and making memories with them that I can cherish.”

WST - “Does anyone else in your family other than Mom, play pan? ”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “My elder brothers have played pan a couple of times as we were children and teenagers but now only my little brother plays.”

WST - “How do you deal with the long hours of practice?”

Megan-Leigh Langton-Attang
Megan-Leigh Langton-Attang

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “I deal with the long hours of pan much better now than when I first started playing Panorama. The actions are the same but the perspective has changed for the better. I eat, hydrate, take breaks as necessary, stretch and use protective gears such as hand wraps and earplugs. It’s important for musicians to stretch and use protective gear when necessary, especially in a physically demanding and loud environment. I do feel like going home early many nights but I stick it out because “teamwork makes the dream work.” I recall many nights as a youngster sleeping in the driver’s seat under Tropical Angel Harps rhythm section float in the Savannah and in the pan yard as we took breaks while waiting to perform or rehearse again.”

WST - “As a woman in Pan, have you ever been discouraged from being involved in the art form?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “There have been times when I felt discouraged because I would always be compared to someone who had more musicality than I, or I felt like I needed to be at someone else’s level. Sometimes the comparison comments people made to me as a child and teen had me feeling very discouraged and feeling like I should quit playing all together because I felt like I would never live up to that standard. During my time at The UWI, I found great support and encouragement from my peers and the staff. I know now that I don’t have to compare myself to anyone else unless I want to. Competition is rewarding when I overcome the challenges but comparisons can be insidious.

“Sometimes travelling to places can be a bit scary especially for the first time. In choosing a band, the number one priority after deciding whether I liked the tune is safety. If there’s no way for me to safely reach home every night, it’s not an option. If I don’t feel safe in an environment, it’s not an option. If someone is behaving untoward to me, I make a complaint and nothing is done, it’s not an option. Yes, I want to experience new things but I can only do that if I’m alive and well.”

WST - “You are part of Trinidad’s Supernovas Steel Orchestra; talk about your overall involvement with the music organization?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “I am not actually a part of the Supernova Steel Orchestra. I played with Supernovas for the first time in 2019 and it was a new experience musically since I branched out to the double tenor pan during my time there. The drive to Surrey Village always felt like a movie scene happening and there was always a clear view of the skies. However, I was a member of the Tropical Angel Harps Steel Orchestra for many years with both the youth and senior band. I also was a part of the Pan for Blue competitions with my primary school, Edinburgh Government Primary School. I helped out with my mother’s band Central Primary Schools Combined. I was the Vice Captain of Tropical Angel Harps Youth Steel Orchestra for a Panorama season. In 2009, I was selected along with another member of the youth band to become members of the National Youth Steel Orchestra. In 2010, while I was a member of the Tropical Angel Harps Youth Orchestra, I competed in the Ministry of Education’s Biennial Music Festival Competition Non-School Solo Category and placed second. I also travelled with Tropical Angel Harps to Cuba for a week-long Culture Expo event. I was a part of many steel bands’ Panorama players line-up over the years, ranging from the Single Pan category to the Large Band category.”

WST - “What advice would you give to young girls and women who are part of Trinidad & Tobago’s present-day steel band community?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “My advice to young girls and women within the steelband community is to listen to their bodies. Sometimes in an urge to meet up to someone else’s playing standard, we begin to push ourselves in unhealthy ways and the consequences can be long-lasting. It’s really important to know your pace and how far each day you can push yourself. It is possible to get to the goal that is inside your mind, but the human body needs breaks to rest and recover. Injuries are also not the end of the road. I urge young women in the field to let their passion guide them and to choose growth every step of the way. I injured my hands in the penultimate semester of my degree program and it felt like my world was over. I was doing too much with not enough stretching, resting and recovery. It has forced me to step back and analyze what I was doing so I could implement better practice habits moving forward. I was fortunate to graduate on time by following the advice offered to me by medical doctors, lecturers and colleagues.”

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

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “I think my first favourite arranger growing up would have been Clarence Morris. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I really liked how the middle pans would always have something prominent going on, and then just switch and be the aggressive phrases that change the mood of the arrangement. I really liked how he’s not afraid to give runs to the basses. I like to look out for Liam Teague’s arrangements, since playing his 2017 arrangement of “We Are Conquerors” was moving for me. His music has so much texture and listening is an experience within itself. I really liked Duvone Stewart’s 2018 arrangement of “Year For Love” by “Voice” with the Renegades Steel Orchestra. Keisha Codrington’s arrangement of “Iron Love” by Nailah Blackman with the El Dorado East Secondary School for the 2019 Junior Panorama Competition was quite exciting as well.”

WST - “Who are your musical influences?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “My musical influences list just keeps growing. Everything that I listen to and like contributes to that. The composers of the video games I recall playing or watching influenced me a lot. Video game music was the first real set of music that I would listen to ad nauseam as I played.

“My musical influences outside of video games extend to film and 20th Century music and anything else that I like. I particularly like the music for the Harry Potter movies, the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series, the Hunger Games movies, and the Wonder Woman movie.

“In terms of steelpan arrangers, Glenford “Grandpa Joe” Sobers always had these really nostalgic sounding arrangements. Len “Boogsie” Sharpe always creates this pulsating feeling with his music. Barry Mannette was my individual pan tutor while I was at The UWI and he really encouraged and challenged me to think ahead for my future in the art form. His sessions were always very warm and inviting - I always felt like I needed to be ready because I didn’t want to disappoint his trust in me. The music lecturers at the UWI also challenged me to do better and be ambitious. While they may not have directed my listening interests, they have helped me to widen the scope of what I thought was possible and to pursue it with nothing short of excellence. I think it’s made me look at pan with a new appreciation for it and fuels a newfound passion for the instrument and the art form.”

Megan-Leigh Langton-Attang with Silver Stars Steel Orchestra
Megan-Leigh Langton-Attang

WST - “What is the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steelband musicians from your perspective, that of a player/performing artist?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “I think the greatest challenge for steelband musicians is feeling appreciated or welcomed. Many persons end up leaving bands that have great music or accolades just because all the hard work is ignored or even scoffed at. Many steelband players have become quite proficient at the instrument and bands that ignore that or play favourites miss out on what those players can bring to the table. Formally trained steelband musicians hesitate on playing with bands because while the money may be attractive, the headache and stress are not.”

WST - “What is the greatest challenge facing this current generation of steel orchestras - specifically in Trinidad & Tobago?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “I think the greatest challenges for this generation of steel orchestras in Trinidad & Tobago are finance and human resource issues. Steel orchestras can benefit a lot from persons with a business savvy mind to gear the band towards making income year-round. This is especially important for bands that compete in Panorama since Panorama is known to have made bands go into debt. I think bands should make more of an effort to cultivate an environment that players would continuously want to come to. Bands need to have more pull factors than push factors.”

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

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “The desire for others to see the steelpan the way I and so many other people before and after me do keeps my passion for the instrument, the music and the culture going. Steelpan is an integral part of the history of Trinidad and Tobago in the 20th Century. Steelpan is more than just Panorama or classical music, Steelpan is for anything - born with humble roots in a small twin-island in the Caribbean.”

WST - “Are there any other instruments you play?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “I play many percussion instruments such as the timpani, snare drum, marimba, xylophone, bongos and the bass drum. I hope to resume percussion lessons in the future. My skill at percussion instruments developed during my time at The UWI but the interest started in the panyard when the bands I’m in would bring in various percussionists and the required instrument to play. I was fascinated then as I am now.

“I’m looking forward to becoming more proficient in voice as well, and maybe other instruments from different categories.”

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

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “If I had the power to change something in pan immediately, I would change the lack of events to showcase the diversity of steelpan. Innovation doesn’t seem to be encouraged. I like Panorama as much as the next pan player, but I also liked Pan in the 21st Century. I like hearing bands at the Music Festival. More than pan-centric events, I’d like to see more steelpan in other genres as well.”

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

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “I’m most proud of being able to give advice to fellow musicians on technique, stretching, caring for the hands and general musicianship when it comes to playing pan.”

Megan-Leigh Langton-Attang with brother Quinn and mom Shelley-Jeanne
This photo was taken in 2016. From left, my brother Quinn, my mom Shelley-Jeanne and myself. We were performing with the New Age Trendsetters.

WST - “What disappoints you the most relative to the steelband movement?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “The most disappointing thing about steelbands is watching the destructive nature of egos and how they destroy the very thing they seek to create. People want to be in positions of authority without really having a clear vision for the people they want to lead.”

WST - “Do you believe women are finally getting the acknowledgment and opportunities they deserve in the art form?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “I think women are definitely being acknowledged with the work When Steel Talks does. With regards to the opportunities, I think so as well. There are more female arrangers, panists, captains, section leaders and women in both administrative and management roles. The influx of women in steelpan is a wonderful thing for both the art form and the culture. I think there is less focus on gender and more on who’s skilled and capable of getting the job done. Now that there are more women in the field who are just as skilled or even more skilled than the men in the field, it levels the playing field. Persons know now to keep an open eye for the talent and work ethic from the female gender as well.”

WST - What would be your advice to the thousands of young female panists all over the world who are dreaming of becoming involved with the steelpan instrument as a career move?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “To the young female panists reading this who are dreaming of becoming involved with the steelpan as a career I say, “Yes, please do. There is room for you.” I think the only limitations on steelpan start with the individual holding the views. Don’t be afraid to pick up steelpan as a career at home or abroad. Be prepared to work hard and be creative, but most importantly, have fun. You can be a composer, a conductor, an arranger, a musical director, a solo or group performer. You can be part of the administrative and managerial teams which help organize and develop the art form if being a part of the mostly musical aspects seem daunting.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “Panorama is an intangible piece of culture to me. It is both a thing of the history books yet living and evolving just as we do. Panorama is invaluable and I hope to see it grow as well. I love the crowd for the semi-final rounds of the competition. It’s always amazing to see so many people coming to experience the culture as it lives and breathes. Panorama is a gift that keeps giving in my opinion. It’s exciting to perform for the crowd and the judges every time. I think the recent influx of soca music has revitalized the competition in ways people may not have expected or known was necessary to the competition.”

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

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “Panorama is both a curse and a blessing. It’s a curse because it’s a complex competition that takes a lot from those who contribute to it, especially the bands - from the managers to the players. The competition is expensive to compete in and doesn’t go as smoothly as it should sometimes, but it won’t always be that way. It’s a blessing because it’s history in motion and we all contribute to the culture and history of Trinidad and Tobago. We may not be individually recognized each time but we all know we were parts of groups and teams that contributed to the art form and culture.”

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

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “My vision for the steelpan instrument is to see it included in other genres of music and see it in different performances. I re-emphasize that steelpan is not just for Panorama and Music Festival. I’d love to see pan be a part of performances worldwide. I’d like for pans to become more common in concert halls, educational institutes from the primary to tertiary level, pop music and classical music in the broader sense of the term. I hope to contribute to that vision.”

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

Megan-Leigh L-A. - “The steelband matters I would most like to bring forward are that of stagnation and the lack of innovation happening at the local level in Trinidad and Tobago. I see a lot of “We can’t do this or that” happening. I’d like for persons to channel the ambitiousness they first had when playing and learning the instrument, especially those who may feel strained by bureaucracy or financial limits. These hurdles are part of the journey and I’d like for those in the field, both men and women, to work together to keep the art form growing and improving.”

“Here is a link to my original composition Footsteps Creeping.”

photos provided by Megan-Leigh Langton-Attang

Megan-Leigh Langton-Attang’s first ever Panorama experience with the Tropical Angel Harps Steel Orchestra playing Clarence Morris’ 2007 arrangement of Pan Lamentation. She is the small girl in the frontline among the tenor players.

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