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Published on September 28th, 2017 | by Robbie Joseph0
Lizzie Lowe – Pannist, Drummer, Tutor – When Words Fail, Music Speaks!
Lizzie is an amazing individual whose musical journey has taken her into challenging situations that have proven to be her stepping-stones towards the grooming of the outstanding musician she has become. Her drive and determination has seen her embrace challenges head on and her work rate is outstanding. All these factors coupled with her lovely demeanor have proven to be a winning formula. She is well loved and respected by her students and peers and is always up for a musical challenge. She continues her quest to spread the steelpan gospel far and wide. Panpodium caught up with Lizzie and was delighted to get the opportunity to hear her following views.
PP: When were you first introduced to the steelpan instrument?
LL: I was first introduced to the steel pans at the age of 11 through family, as my parents knew a man called Dave Edwards who lead a local Steel Band.
PP: What made you want to start playing pans?
LL: My brother and sister were in the local steel band along with a good friend Gail Forster. Both my brother and sister gave up the steel pans but I remember chatting to Gail and thinking it would be so much fun to try it out. My friend and I just thought to try it out one week and I remember absolutely loving the shape of the steel pan and how it hung there instead of a static piano or a guitar you have to wear. I also remember being told off because I was swinging the pan on my first night but it didn’t put me off, it just made me realise how delicate an instrument it really is.
PP: When did you start playing pan?
LL: I started playing the steel pans at age 12 with the local steel band, it was so much fun from the very start and I was completely hooked. I enjoyed the social aspect of it all too and the performing side was so exciting as a young person, I just didn’t know it was something I could make a living out of when I was older.
PP: What was the first steelband that you played for?
LL: North Tyneside Steel Band
PP: What steel bands have you played for?
LL: North Tyneside Steel Band, Steel Quake, Stardust, CSI, Phase II Pan Groove, Ebony, Colours Steel Band
PP: When was your first steelband panorama?
LL: Back in 2005 was my very first Panorama in London; I played for Stardust Steel Band and absolutely loved the experience. I hadn’t really been part of that culture before apart from playing the instrument in my local band and it was fascinating to see the way of life and all the mas costumes and hard work that went into learning a panorama piece.
PP: If you could play for any band in the world what band would you want to play with?
LL: I’d always admired Ebony Steel Band and playing for an amazing home country steel band was a big thing for me because of their complex music and determination. I joined them for panorama 2015 and I finally won my first panorama, which was an amazing feeling after 9 attempts over the years.
PP: What steelband competitions have you taken part in?
LL: Notting Hill Panorama from 2005 to 2015 with Stardust, CSI and Ebony. Trinidad Panorama in 2009 with Phase II Pan Groove.
PP: How many tours have you completed and where did you travel too?
LL: I haven’t been able to do any tours with steel bands as I teach my own steel bands and it would take too much time away from them. However, I have recently joined an LED drumming group and now tour with them all over the world. I have had the pleasure of going to America, Dubai, Georgia, Croatia, Romania and the Dominican Republic as well as all over the UK so far in the past year.
PP: What was the most challenging thing you have done to do with steelpans?
LL: I would have to say my first and only trip to Trinidad was quite challenging because I hadn’t seen that culture before and it was totally different to what I’d seen in London. The steel bands are so huge and learning the piece and finding someone who would willingly come to teach me my part every day was a bit of a challenge. I was playing with Phase II and the music was challenging in itself and then having to change parts for each stage of the competition seemed a struggle at the time because I’d never done that before but it was an experience I’d never forget and would love to have the chance to do again.
PP: What’s been the most inspirational moment in your life?
LL: I would genuinely have to say seeing some of the young people I used to teach alongside Wendy Doyle and Gail Forster and seeing them grow as pannists themselves and even tutors and performers in their own right. Carly Robertson and Joe Johnston come to mind first, they truly are inspirational and have many projects even away from steel pans and I can’t wait to see what the future hold for them both.
PP: As a steelpan tutor can you let us know what is the importance of the role to the steelband artform?
LL: Being a steel pan tutor you should have a good knowledge of the steel pans and the culture and be able to pass this onto everyone you teach. You should involve yourself in the culture and always challenge yourself to be the best player and leader to others you can be.
PP: What are the important qualities/skills that an individual must possess to perform the role of steelpan tutor?
LL: First and foremost you must have a passion for your instrument and a passion to teach others about the instrument. I’ve been teaching at Sage Gateshead for just over 12 years now and have never lost my passion for the steel pans and it still brings a smile to my face every time I play it. I always try to remember what it was like when I first played the steel pans and especially if I am teaching beginners. I want them to experience all that I did from the start. I take my time, explain all about the instrument and make it a fun but la learning experience from the start. You need to be able to cater to all individuals’ needs and be able to adapt some of the music to be more inclusive for certain participants. You must also give people confidence in their playing and if you feel they can be pushed further you must give them the opportunity to do so and also know when it is their time to move on to another more challenging group when needed.
PP: What is your favourite pan to play?
LL: My first pan to play at panorama was double seconds and all through my musical journey I have tried others but I still have a love for this pan. I like the low notes and resonance of the notes of the double seconds but would also like to try a double tenor for panorama as the layout of the notes is a bit more free and I think it would be great fun to play.
PP: Who are your inspirations both to do with pans and musically?
LL: The very first person I knew who played steel pans was Gail Forster and all though she doesn’t play so much anymore she was definitely my inspiration when I first started. When I started working at the Sage Gateshead at 19 years old I had a mentor called, Wendy Brown, now known as Wendy Doyle and she really showed me a lot of techniques that I hadn’t really been taught before. I remember strumming the double seconds part in Wooler, practicing for panorama and just not being as good as some of the young people there and that spurred me on to wanting to be a better pan player from then on.
Outside of the steel pan world there are lots of musicians in the Newcastle area that I have always looked up to and now I have the pleasure of working with, in different guises. There really is a diverse music scene in Newcastle which is growing and I look at all the musicians who I call friends or who I see out and about and it really spurs me on knowing I’m part of that culture too and hopefully inspiring young and old in our region.
PP: What is your vision for pan in the future in the UK and Globally?
LL: I’d like steel pans to be recognised as a musical instrument that is diverse as well as keeping its culture close to heart. All the pannists I know have a great love and passion for the instrument and this helps keep the culture alive. We need to work together more and cheer each other on at all opportunities and also work together with other artists to spread the knowledge/culture/diversity of the steel pan instrument.
PP: What are your musical aspirations for the future?
LL: I’m really enjoying playing and performing on the steel pans with the groups. I teach as well as tour with the LED drummers. I’d like to teach complex composed pieces to Colours Steel Band and for them to be recognised nationally in the steel pan community and music community as a whole. I’d like to work with more artists and be inspired by different cultures and instruments and to use that in my own music whether it is on steel pans or another instrument.
PP: What do you think needs to happen in the UK for the steelpan instrument and its culture to be more widely recognised on all musical platforms?
LL: I work in a relatively diverse part of the UK where steel pans are actually taught in quite a few schools and it’s really seen as a great instrument to learn. It teaches young people about working together as a team, rhythmic skills, confidence skills, leadership skills, music skills as well as much more and is also great fun for all involved. I see steel pans being used in many pop songs especially over the summer months but not as a main instrument and usually just a riff or easy chords. I think we have to remember it’s quite a new instrument compared to many others and has a very unique sound but the more of us pannists are using it in different ways and showing its diversity, the more open people will be drawn to this amazing musical instrument.