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Published on July 30th, 2017 | by Robbie Joseph0
Meet Donna Munroe – Teacher, Musician and Leader with a passion for the steelpan.
Pan Podium has known Donna for many years and holds her in high esteem. The young lady always has a smile and kind words to share with everyone she encounters. Music in particular, steelband muisc, is her passion. Donna is currently an executive officer of the Contrast Steelband, chairperson of the BAS Youth Engagement Sub-Committee and holds the post of Director in a new Community Interest Company, which she has set up called, Contrast in the Community, which is still in the early development stages but has great vision for musical cohesion in their community. Donna is a fully qualified mathematics teacher who combines this demanding job with all her other steelpan and community activities with great love and enthusiasm. Read on to get to know a little more about Donna.
PP: When were you first introduced to the steelpan instrument?
DM: Over 25 years ago although I feel like it’s always been a part of my life
PP: What made you want to start playing pans?
DM: My Aunty Pat and a few other family members were in Contrast Steel Band for a good while before I started to play. As a child I used to watch them at practice and they would take my cousins and I on gigs with them at the weekends. They were always really enthusiastic about it, were all great friends and seemed to have loads of fun. I used to love being around them and they made me want to play too.
PP: When did you start playing pan?
DM: I started playing when I was 10, so that would be in 1994 when my aunty asked me to join the Saturday band class. The class was previously taught by the late, Cy Jacques, founder of Contrast Steel Band, but my aunty supported him until she eventually took over when he retired. I actually feel quite old now. ‘Wow that was 23 years ago’!
PP: First band you played for?
DM: I started off in the Saturday band class which was called the Leicestershire Arts in Education Steel Orchestra (now called the Leicestershire Schools Music Service Steel Orchestra) – don’t ask me why they couldn’t have chosen names that were easier to say, that’s why we’ve always just called it the Saturday band lol.
PP: What steel bands have you played for?
DM: I joined Contrast when I was 12 years old and I still play for them now. I’ve never played for anyone else unless it was for panorama. The bands I’ve played with for UK Rama are Eclipse, London All Stars and most regularly with Real Steel.
PP: When was your first panorama?
DM: I can’t remember the exact year it was, but it was the late 90’s and I played ‘Countdown’ with Eclipse, which was run by Kurt Jagdeo. I think I was about 14 years old at the time, so yeah I was young and hype! I would actually love to see this recording again. I can’t find it anywhere!!
PP: If you could play for any band in the world what band would you want to play with?
DM: Contrast Steel Band of course! But if I couldn’t choose my own band then it would have to be Despers or Pan Fantasy from Canada.
PP: What steelband competitions have you taken part in?
DM: Actually, not many. UK National Panorama and Pan Explosion competitions. Can you believe I’ve never been to Trinidad, not even to watch (hangs head in shame). It’s definitely something I want to do but something always crops up and I don’t go.
PP: How many tours have you completed and where did you travel too?
DM: I haven’t been on any proper tours in a long while now. I remember going to Rotterdam a few times and taking part in their carnival many years ago. I think we were actually the first Steelband to do that!
PP: What was the most challenging thing you have done to do with pans?
DM: Becoming part of BAS’s youth engagement sub-committee (YESC) and more recently becoming the Chair of it, which is even more challenging! We are a very small group of individuals with so much energy and vision for the future of UK pan, but we don’t have resources (mainly money and support) to be able to see things through. Because there is a lot of negativity about BAS and they way it is currently operating, it means people are reluctant to buy in to what we are trying to achieve through it, and therefore it’s hard for us to implement change.
PP: What’s been the most inspirational moment in your life?
DM: Finishing my teacher training as and achieving Qualified Teacher Status as a secondary mathematics teacher. The training year was really difficult as I wasn’t in a very supportive school and I almost gave up halfway through! I’m glad I didn’t though as it’s now such a rewarding job and is much easier now I’ve found my feet in a new school. I have to thank God for seeing me through that year, I don’t know how I managed to do it along with everything else I have going on.
PP: As Chairperson of the BAS YESC can you let us know what is the importance of your role?
DM: Ensuring the committee is well coordinated and that everything done is in the interest of BAS’s main aims – which is really hard if I’m honest as they are not clear-cut. As the Chair, I am not above anyone else in the committee in terms of making decisions and stuff, we do that together. I guess I’m just the one that nags the others to make sure tasks get done in a timely manner, as well as being the main point of contact for the committee.
PP: What are the important qualities/skills that an individual must possess to perform the role of Chairperson of BAS YESC?
DM: That’s a hard one to answer, as there’s so many! I’d say good communication skills and a seriously high level of commitment to the vision! Sometimes you can feel demotivated as it can feel like you’re constantly hitting your head against a brick wall. There are always obstacles blocking the route you want to take and the things you want to do, but you have to be resilient, push on and find a way through, even if the route ends up being a longer one. This is where patience kicks in – something I struggle with. YESC’s advisors Tara Baptiste and Patrick McKay have been a great support to us (and definitely to me personally) during my time as Chair and I am so grateful for them both.
PP: What role do you play in Contrast Steel Band?
DM: I’m one of the 3 members on the management committee along with Pat Munroe and Thelma Davis-Simon, I’m also the tenor section leader aas well as the Director of a new Community Interest Company I’ve set up called Contrast in the Community, which is still in the early development stages.
PP: What is your favourite pan to play?
DM: I have always played tenor so that’s definitely my favourite. I briefly played guitars but I didn’t last long, it just wasn’t me. I love listening to chords more than I do playing them!
PP: Who are your inspirations both to do with pans and musically?
DM: Honestly, my biggest inspiration is my aunty Pat Munroe (and no I’m not just saying that because she’s my aunty lol). Her love for youths and pan is so infectious and I’m 99% sure that’s where mine’s came from as I have always spent a lot of time with her right from a young age. The way she gets them to engage with the instrument and her music and then fall in love with it is beyond me! Musically I enjoy lots of arrangers’ music, but particularly arrangements by Leroy Clarke, Clive Bradley and Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe.
PP: What are your hopes for pan in the UK?
DM: I hope that pan can be used to motivate change, open mindedness and pan community cohesion. There’s a lot of greed, competition and pan politics in the UK at the moment and this is sadly filtering down to the next generation. If we want to influence change and to gain greater respect as musicians and youth cultivators, we’ve got to promote more cohesion around the country, work together and support one another a lot more so that those in power can see the benefit of having strength in numbers. Maybe, then they will actually take what we do seriously and our voices will finally be heard. This is something that YESC is striving to achieve through the next generation, it’s been proved that it’s impossible to get old leopards to change their spots (hint hint lol). We have a lot of plans for the future that we are working on and I know that people don’t really know about them just yet. Trust me we’re not just here to put on Pan Explosion every year!
PP: What is your vision for pan in the future in the UK and Globally?
DM: My vision for pan in the future is that it is eventually recognised as a proper instrument, just like a violin, flute or guitar is. At the minute it’s just seen as an oil drum that makes happy music on the beach, I don’t feel like it’s respected in the way that it should be.
PP: What are your musical aspirations for the future?
DM: I LOVE pan and the pan culture, I can’t imagine ever not playing or being involved with pan somehow. I think that I will actually continue to play until I physically can’t play anymore, but my real passion is to motivate youths to reach their potential whether musically or otherwise. I aspire to be someone who plays a part in helping that to happen, and if I’m able to do this through pan, it would be a huge bonus.
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.
DM: Cohesion between pan people and everyone singing from the same hymn sheet, as well as standardisation and accreditation for pan in UK schools. I hear people saying that BAS should be doing so much more towards this, and I agree that it could be, but it’s not down to just the executives to make it happen! I know this has been going on for a long time, but since I have been involved with BAS there’s always a lot of talk and nothing much to back it up. It’s easy to moan about what’s being done wrong, but I don’t see what people are doing to try and HELP put things right! I personally don’t think there’s anyone in the UK that could fill, the Chairman, Pepe’s shoes right now, he does a lot behind the scenes that people don’t know about and I seriously take my hat off to him. I agree there needs to be a new vision and a better strategy, but we should be trying to achieve this through the organisation that already exists rather than throwing in the towel and starting again! If there are people around that can do a better job, then why haven’t they come forward and why aren’t they nominated during the AGM? I just don’t get it! BAS (through YESC) is currently reaching out to its members in the form of a questionnaire, which will be used to steer future discussions about the direction and shape of the organisation. The questionnaire is really important and needs to be completed by as many people as possible for it to be effective, but it’s been out for almost a month and sadly the response has not been great at all, so YESC will soon be contacting or visiting bands to try and encourage people to take part in this.