Celebration of Women and the Steelpan Art Form

Tribute To Women In Pan

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Meet Selena Antoine - New York, USA

“I have always felt that there is a difference between hearing a band play a song, and actually playing within the band to hear the song.  The vibe is so much greater when standing in a band and I love the feeling.  With Panorama, it is like that feeling amplified by a thousand and it’s like the ultimate high.”

Musically gifted, bright and multi-talented.  In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks - standout panist Selena Antoine shares her thoughts, outlooks and expectations on Pan, and the steelpan art form overall.

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

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WST - “Tell us about Selena Antoine?”

Selena A. - “I am a student, musician, dancer, and many more things to come. I hate to limit myself so I want to be known for many things.”

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

Selena A. - “I first started learning about steelpan around the age of 8 or 9 with my siblings and cousins at a program where Sesame Flyers  was teaching pan as one of the classes offered.  I hated it then and the overall program was not run well so our parents stopped taking us. A couple years later I was reintroduced to pan at my middle school, Philippa Schuyler, and was taught by my amazing teacher Ms. Nyasha Rhoden.”

WST - “Do any of your family members play, and what is their opinion of your involvement with the steelband art form?”

Selena A. - “I had two brothers who also played but they stopped for reasons such as moving or school.  I also have cousins who have played but never continued it outside of their school teachings.  My family is pretty happy to see me enjoying myself in something and proud that I am playing a unique instrument.”

WST - “Were you ever dissuaded relative to, or encounter push-back for, pursuing your passion for pan?”

Selena A. - “Funny story actually:  I love pan a lot and I always wanted to be around it.  So, several years back I wanted to go and support a band by coming out to one of their practices to listen but, I didn’t tell my mom about it. When she found out she was furious and didn’t allow me to play for Panorama that year.  It was so heart-wrenching to be taken away from pan like that but it definitely made coming back to play the next year so much better.”

WST - “And what keeps that passion for the instrument going?”

Selena A. - “I love the way music has the ability to evoke different moods.  I have always felt that there is a difference between hearing a band play a song, and actually playing within the band to hear the song. The vibe is so much greater when standing in a band and I love the feeling. With Panorama, it is like that feeling amplified by a thousand and it’s like the ultimate high.”

Selena Antoine performing with ADLIB Steel Orchestra
Selena Antoine performing with ADLIB Steel Orchestra

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

Selena A. - “I am most proud of the relationships I have formed with the pan people around me. Those are the people I truly hang out and have fun with. Through those connections, many opportunities and doors have opened up for me too. Opportunities such as traveling to places to play pan, networking and teaching have come my way.”

WST - “The contributions of women to the steelpan movement are undeniable. Do you believe women are finally getting that acknowledgment?”

Selena A. - “I do believe women are getting acknowledgement.  I would however, love to see more female arrangers and drummers out there.  I think that many people feel surprised when they see that it’s a woman behind the music, or playing the drums and I’d want it to be more of a norm.”

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

Selena A. - “It would probably never happen but, I would love for there to be an anonymous Panorama one year. Meaning, whatever bands that register will not know who will arrange for them. The arrangers will pick their bands from a hat and won’t be able to let anyone else, besides the necessary people needed, know whom they will be arranging for as well. The only time people will find out who arranged what for what band, will be as results are called.  This would spice things up a bit and also maybe temporarily get rid of the biased talk and favoritism from people who like to bicker over the “politics” of bands and arrangers. I know the talk comes with the art so it’s just an experimental idea.”

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

Selena A. - “The overall support within the pan community. Yes, there will always be differences in opinions but that shouldn’t always be a reason for tensions to separate players and/or bands.  We are literally all here for the same reason and that is pan (which I feel that people have been forgetting) so, why not work together and support each other to bring pan up as an instrument, movement, lifestyle, culture, learning tool and more.”

WST - “In general, what would you say to the thousands of young female players all over the world who are dreaming of following in footsteps such as yours?”

Selena A. - “Do what you want to do and try what you want to try. Don’t be afraid to try something new or controversial even.  The music/entertainment life is the most judgmental so staying dedicated to your work and people are things that will get you far.  Stay confident, never conceited or cocky.”

Selena Antoine performing with ADLIB Steel Orchestra
Selena Antoine performing with ADLIB Steel Orchestra

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

Selena A. - “There are not any exact who and whats because I enjoy listening to whatever it is that I like.  Whether It be soft rock, pop, R&B, country, soca; I listen to what ever I am in the mood to hear.”

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

Selena A. - “My favorite arranger would have to be Marc Brooks.  I’ve played his arrangement for years and I enjoy how his music always has a story to it.”

WST - “And do you have a favorite arrangement?”

Selena A. - “It is currently a tie between his (Marc’s) two Junior Panorama arrangements - ‘Buss Head’ and ‘Top Striker.’”

WST - “What makes being a member of ADLIB & NY Pan Stars steel orchestras so special?”

Selena A. - “Being a member of NY Pan Stars was truly amazing.  It was where my true implementation into the “pan world” started. There I learned what Panorama is, music scales, musical terms, techniques, and made friends who turned into family.  Being a member of ADLIB is definitely fun because I am there during the Panorama season. It is cool to see all the personalities of people from my band coming together with ADLIB and others to create our Panorama team.”

Selena Antoine performing with ADLIB Steel Orchestra
Selena Antoine performing with ADLIB Steel Orchestra

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Selena A. - “Panorama is my time to free up a bit.  The excitement of learning a new arrangement, getting to hear what the arranger puts down and to learn or make up a story of my own to the arrangements. I feel like Panorama is a good time to learn about the arrangers and what their style is like as well. It is what I look forward to to end off the NY pan season.  One of my goals is to travel and play as many Panoramas as I can in different states and countries.”

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

Selena A. - “Panorama is a blessing for me. Because I am a full-time student, I do not exactly get to be fully indulged in pan during school semesters. Not much really happens with pan during that time as well. When Panorama season does come around, I am on break and life is all about pan. More time to invest myself in music and to just have fun overall. With that being said it is kind of a bummer that bands work really hard for months to get their time on the stage and once that time is done, there is not much to look forward to after. The Panorama arrangement they pushed all other things aside for to learn and drill, does not usually get to be used again.”

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

Selena A. - “The current challenge is that players are holding the mindset of “me” and not “we” or “us.” That mindset is detrimental because the pan world is one that thrives on a sense of community so, if there are large numbers of people only focused on advancing themselves then that whole community gets pushed down.”

WST - “What is the greatest challenge the steelband music art form faces in New York today, in your opinion?”

Selena A. - “Having a place to practice is the greatest challenge for NY bands as a whole. We are running out of options. Many people do not appreciate our art as we do.  They hear it as just noise so we become a nuisance.”

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

Selena A. - “I want to see steelpan everywhere! So much that I do not have to explain what it is every time I bring up its name. So much that kids grow up with learning pan on their minds, just as easy as it is for them to have the thought of wanting to play guitar or piano. Panorama maybe being televised for everyone to see.”

WST - “When you are not involved with Pan, what is your main focus?”

Selena A. - “I am a full-time student studying to become a veterinary technologist, and I have also recently been getting myself involved in acting so that takes up the rest of my time.”

WST - “Some people are still vague about the steelpan instrument, what it is, and even more so, the concept of a full-size Panorama orchestra.  Are there still times you encounter co-workers or friends, people in general - to whom you have to explain the steel band art form?”

Selena A. - “I run into this all of the time with classmates and coworkers. I always end up going with the explanation of “You know that sound in the beginning of the little mermaid song?” And that usually gets their understanding to then further explain more. If I do get to the topic of Panorama, I usually say that it is like our Super Bowl for the year.”

Selena Antoine with ADLIB Steel Orchestra
Selena Antoine with ADLIB Steel Orchestra

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

Selena A. - “I would just like to see more pan events throughout the year so that Panorama isn’t the only big thing we look forward too.”

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

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