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The World

Published on January 2nd, 2017 | by Aoife McCarthy and Robbie Joseph


Meet – Aoife McCarthy – an aspiring, caring and talented musician.


“Music is a world within itself; it is a universal language we all understand!”- Stevie Wonder.

I started playing the steelpan instrument six years ago. One of the girls in my tutor group at school was learning and asked me to join, as she knew I wanted to pick up a new instrument at the time. I said I would think about it and tried one of the Easter courses held by Chris Storey at Hornsey School for Girls. I have never looked back since that inspiring experience. I started playing double seconds then moved to bass and all the instruments in between but once I moved to Tenor I rarely played anything else. I enjoyed playing pan at school; it was one of the things I enjoyed about school. Sometimes I enjoyed it a bit too much, bunking lessons to go practice in the pan hut. One of the most stressful, but rewarding memories of my school days was Music for Youth concert.

One of the girls had to withdraw and I managed to learn the tune on the guitar pans in under a week. This was the moment when I realised that I loved to challenge myself. Even though we did not win, it is one of my proudest moments. The efforts applied by everyone was phenomenal, this feeling of pride has only been recreated three other times in my life, with all the moments to do with the steelpan.

In 2010, I joined Pan Nation Steel Orchestra. This action enabled me to develop as a player and challenge myself with music of a higher complexity. I have also met some of my closest friends through joining Pan Nation. Not long after I joined Pan Nation we performed at the 1,000 Steelpan Festival on the Southbank in London. This was an amazing attempt at breaking a world record in memory of the late Crystal Holder. Even though I had never met her I was moved at how someone could affect an entire community so much that they would come together like that to honour you. It was an inspirational moment and allowed me to start meeting other panists who were not part of Pan Nation Steel Orchestra. This was also my first time to go to the UK National Steel band Panorama competition. Unfortunately, as much as I begged my mother to let me perform, I was not allowed to enter until I was eighteen years old.

2013, was an exciting year for Pan Nation Steel Orchestra as we hosted our first Winter Christmas concert. This was nerve racking, as apart from school concerts I had never performed to friends and family before. This along with other performances has since helped to build my confidence. An inspirational moment for me was watching Pan Clash competition for the first time that year. I had never been to an intimate pan event at all. It was amazing to see the house band, Endurance, play. But even more amazing was seeing Jenny Gilberg win! Not that there are not plenty of inspirational, talented women in Pan Nation but this was one of the first women to hold her own in a competition. It was a bit surreal three years later when I played next to her in the UK National Steelband Panorama!

Up until this point, all my steelpan experiences had been linked with Chris Storey. He had been my music teacher at school and then my manager with Pan Nation. Not to say that it had not been amazing but I did not know any different to be able to say that Pan Nation was (and is) the best place for me. The opportunity to change this came with the 2015 National Steelband Panorama competition. I was finally 18 and allowed to enter! I played for Endurance Steel Orchestra, as they were the only steelband that I knew multiple people from, and most of Pan Nation was playing for them so I felt comfortable. This was the most stressful but also one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was some of the most complex music to date that I had played and the intense practice enabled me to develop at an extremely fast pace. Entering Panorama has made me work harder than I ever did before (some did not think it possible but there you go). This work ethic was extremely helpful when later that year I took part in the Pan Explosion competition. I played double tenor with Pan Nation’s under 25’s ensemble. This was a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun. It enabled me to start arranging, something I had not even thought about before and play a different instrument as I had not played anything other than tenor since joining Pan Nation. Even though we did not win both competitions I did not mind. I enjoyed the experience of being able to stretch work and myself insanely hard to produce something I was (and still am) proud of.

That brings us to 2016. Not the best year for the world but an amazing year personally. Pan Nation went to Rotterdam Carnival; I arranged my first piece for them, Superstition, I played with Ebony Steelband at the National Steelband Panorama competition and we won. I started the Pan Nation blog with two others, Aleah and Ewa. It has been a lot of hard work, sometimes putting my education in second place, but I have loved every moment of it. I have always preferred to be behind my pan than in a classroom or revising. This year has been so much fun and about 75% of the fun has been pan related.

2017 looks to be a super packed year as well. I plan to play at Panorama again, both at National and Junior levels. I hope that with Aleah and Ewa we will make the Pan Nation blog get bigger and better. I also want to arrange more musical pieces and work on my soloing. I am now also writing for Panpodium, which is an honour.

With all these things, I think it is quite clear what my vision is, both personally and for the pan community at large. Through playing at Panorama, I wish to stretch myself as a player. I am far from a perfect player but I will strive to get there for as long as I can pick up my sticks! As for writing, I wish to spread the pan gospel far and wide message. I want everyone to know about it and appreciate what we as panists do. I have managed to combine the two things I love and it is amazing. I want to inspire younger generations to play pan so that in another 50 years time pan is not just surviving but thriving!


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