Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Cheryl Cummins-Holder - Canada

“Being a member of Panatics Steelband Network is being part of a family. We vary in ages and we have siblings, mothers and their children, and friends. We look out for each other by keeping in touch outside of practice. We celebrate each other’s accomplishments and support each other in times of sadness. We protect each other, laugh together and respect each other. Learning notes and dynamics of an arrangement can be done by any steelband but Panatics is family.”  -- Cheryl Cummins-Holder

Steelpan can quite probably be described as “her rock.”  Pleased as punch to sometimes have the opportunity to play alongside her daughter and son in Canada’s Panatics Steelband Network, Cheryl Cummins-Holder is also the Public Relations Director for the music organization.  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks she shares her love for the steelband art form.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about yourself - who is Cheryl Cummins-Holder?”

Cheryl C.H. - “Good question... I am British-born of Bajan blood... a wife, and mother of an amazing daughter and son who are also pan players. I am a Medical Dosimetrist in Radiation Therapy by profession, and I am also a vacation consultant specializing in cruises and other types of travel. Music is essential for my well-being... it’s my kryptonite.”

WST - “How and when did you first become involved with Pan?”

Cheryl C.H. - “I started playing pan by accident. My children always wanted to learn and we were invited to a drop-in session being offered by the Oshawa Sounds of Steel (OSOS) back in September 2012.  While the session was under way I was just hanging around, waiting for the kids.  For some unknown reason, I wandered over to the alto pan, stood behind it and picked up the sticks. The instructor walked over and showed me some notes and the rest is history.  I played alto and 4-pan with OSOS for 6 years. I have been with my current pan family, Panatics Steelband Network since 2014.”

WST - “The steelpan is an integral part of your life.  When did you first come to believe that you could both love the Pan, and still be engaged in all your other endeavors?”

Cheryl C.H. - “The first summer that I practiced with Panatics in preparation for the annual Pan Alive competition in Toronto was when I realized how addictive pan could be.  I was at work 8 hours out of the day, then returned home to make a quick dinner for the family. Afterwards, it was guaranteed that one of the kids would have a soccer game which was followed by the mad dash to Scarborough to pan.  Trying to keep on top of the notes was stressful and many tears were shed. We were at practice till the wee hours and I had to be at work early the next morning but I couldn’t quit.

“And then came the moment I was waiting for... my first Pan Alive...It was a total rush. The arrangement for ‘Like Ah Boss’ wasn’t easy but the ‘musicality’ was incredible. I learned how to truly enjoy the piece and I played my little heart out. Balancing between the fear of dropping a stick and the reassuring smiles from my section mates. To combine the camaraderie, sharpness of the uniforms, the movement and high energy of the band, the bright lights and the positive vibes coming from the crowd... I can still feel my heart racing when I think about it. Definitely some of the most exhilarating seven-and-a-half minutes of my life.  I realized at that moment that I would definitely be back again the following year.”

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

Cheryl C.H. - “During the first few months of 2019 I dealt with the loss of three family members close together... one of them being my father.  I went through a period of intense grief and depression.  I lost focus where pan was concerned and questioned my ability to play.  I realized eventually that my dad would be disappointed if I gave it up.  I decided to play as if he were watching and I found strength in the support of my Panatics family to help me get through.”

Cheryl Cummins-Holder
Cheryl Cummins-Holder

WST - “Talk about being a member of the Panatics Steelband Network?”

Cheryl C.H. - “Being a member of Panatics Steelband Network is being part of a family. We vary in ages and we have siblings, mothers and their children, and friends.  We look out for each other by keeping in touch outside of practice.  We celebrate each other’s accomplishments and support each other in times of sadness.  We protect each other, laugh together and respect each other.  Learning notes and dynamics of an arrangement can be done by any steelband but Panatics is family.”

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

Cheryl C.H. - “My kids are part of the Panatics family as well. My daughter Syenne is a bass player and my son Darrien plays alto.”

WST - “What do your family and friends think of your involvement with the steelband art form?”

Cheryl C.H. - “Most of my friends and family think it’s cool that I’m a pan player and think I must have an amazing memory...lol.”

WST - “You may have come across colleagues/acquaintances 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 steelband experiences, and their reactions?”

Cheryl C.H. - “I haven’t come across this situation.”

WST - “What is the biggest challenge for Pan in Canada from your perspective right now?”

Cheryl C.H. - “I feel one of the biggest challenges is that Pan music often takes a back seat when it comes to the Caribbean music scene in Canada.  It is hardly heard on air and seems to be only prevalent during select events during the summer.  It would be great if there were more non-competitive events for players and fans to participate in, but I’m aware that a lack of funding and practice space are probably the reasons why this is not the case.”

WST - “Which pan do you play, and do you have a favorite “voice” in the family of steelpan instruments?”

Cheryl C.H. - “My first love is alto pan but I have played 4-pan as well.”

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

Cheryl C.H. - “Most proud moment was a performance the kids and I did when they were in high school.  It was for a combination of my son’s music and my daughter’s black studies classes. We made it interactive and the students had a blast guessing the song titles and experimenting with the pans.”

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

Cheryl C.H. - “I’m very “old skool.”  I do not like the sound of the digital pan. The tones will never compare to the sound of steel to my ears.”

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

Cheryl C.H. - “I am a heavy-duty Beres Hammond and Alison Hinds fan. In terms of pan I love to listen to Suzette Vidale, Gareth Burgess, Mark Mosca and Winston ‘Pappy’ Frederick.  My favourite band is Skiffle Steel Orchestra.”

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

Cheryl C.H. - “I would love to see more pan bands participating in the Toronto Caribbean Carnival parade as it was before. ”

WST - “What is your vision for Pan in Canada in the near future?”

Cheryl C.H. - “More live pan events... preferably non-competitive, for all to enjoy.  Especially youth bands because they are the future of the pan movement.”

WST - “What would you say to young women who are looking to follow in your career path in the arts?”

Cheryl C.H. - “Not a career path... pan is my stress relief...lol.”

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

Cheryl C.H. - “No.”

WST - “You are one of many health care workers in Pan.  How has this COVID-19 pandemic moment impacted on your life experiences, and perspective?”

Cheryl C.H. - “The appreciation and support from the community for healthcare professionals have been heartwarming. It gives me reassurance. Unfortunately, situation is keeping me and my Panatics family apart.  No jokes and stories at practice.  No learning new songs.  No forgetting the strum.  Annual performances postponed and/or cancelled.  However, I do believe that we will get through this and the music we create when this is all over will be sweeter than ever.”

WST - “What is next for Ms. Cheryl Cummins-Holder?”

Cheryl C.H. - “As the Public Relations Director for Panatics, I look forward to exploring more performance opportunities for us.  We will be celebrating our 30th anniversary in April 2021 and plans are well underway.  For myself I plan to step out of my comfort zone and develop my pan skills even further to become a soloist. I would love to share my music with my community and put smiles on people’s faces and warm their hearts.”

photos provided by Cheryl Cummins-Holder

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