Roxanne Fletcher plays the steel pan during a rehearsal session.
The rhythmic charm of steel pan music was the alluring influence that led Roxanne Fletcher to become a member of The UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra ten years ago. She maintains that no other instrument produces the melodious and enrapturing sounds emerging from the gentle beats of mallets on the cylindrical percussion pans.
“Pan music is unique and beautiful. The sound is crisp, clean and is very relaxing,” said Roxanne, a contestant in the inaugural Miss Curvy Jamaica, held in April of this year.
She remembers well, as if it were yesterday, how her affinity for pan music began.
“I was in my second year on campus, when I saw a flyer inviting persons to join the orchestra. I turned up for the rehearsal, liked what I saw, and I’ve been hooked to the music since. It took me two weeks to learn the basic techniques,” she related, pointing out that it was always her desire, as a youngster, to learn music.
“I had the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument, including pan, while I was attending Holy Childhood High,” she explained, “However, being an athlete at the time, I wasn’t able to extend myself to take up music.”
Now an accomplished pannist, Roxanne plays double seconds and tenor bass pans, which produce the harmony and baseline.
She noted that playing steel pan is somewhat like playing drums. The pannist uses mallets similar to drum sticks, but they have a rubber bottom to gently hit against the notes which are the round contours in the pan.
A Mobile Teller at JN Bank, Roxanne believes that steel pan, which has its genesis in Trinidad and Tobago, has increasingly become popular in Jamaica.
“Persons are usually very receptive of our performance at functions. We have played at events, such as: The UWI graduation, Relay for Life, Tabanca Tuesday Carnival, and at private events,” she outlined.
Samantha Williams, captain and music director of The UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra, said that Roxanne was the one who taught her pan music.
“I had no prior experience in pan music when I joined the orchestra. I credit her for what I have accomplished,” Miss Williams declared.
“Roxanne is a very skilled player, who has an impressive high level of disciple when it comes to rehearsals. She is one of the longest active members. She is knowledgeable about basic rhythm, and is able to replicate and interpret beats correctly, which is an important attribute of a pannist,” Miss Williams explained.
She pointed out that Roxanne’s skillfulness in pan music was demonstrated when the Orchestra competed in the International Panarana held in Trinidad in 2015, in which approximately 24 bands from ten countries participated.
“We had prior arrangements to use the base pans that the organisers made available to us, as carrying our base pans from Jamaica would have been too costly. But, when we arrived seven days before the competition, we realised that the layout of those pans were different from the ones we played in Jamaica.
In a few days, Roxanne, who plays the tenor bass, was able to learn the new layouts which would be very difficult for the average pannist. To further complicate the issue, the music arrangement was a complicated one. Despite these issues, she was able to prepare adequately for the competition. Unfortunately, our band did not place in the competition,” Ms. Williams said.
Nine Hours of Rehearsals Weekly
On average, Roxanne spends up to nine hours weekly in rehearsals to hone her steel pan music skills.
“I rehearse on Mondays, Tuesday and Saturdays,” she related. “It may seem a lot of hours for the week, but rehearsals are enjoyable, therefore you never notice the hours. The music is also an excellent way for me to destress at the end of the day.”
Her dream is to own a pan one day, but the price is a slightly prohibitive just now.
“A tenor pan from Trinidad costs about US$1,100; and, I have started saving towards purchasing one,” she disclosed.
A member of the St. Matthews Anglican Church in August Town, St. Andrew, Roxanne is also focused on starting a music programme there.
“It’s one way to keep young people involved and out of trouble,” she maintains.
The UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra currently has 50 active members and celebrates its 41st anniversary this year.