Published on March 23rd, 2015 | by Jenny Webb1
Pan-Jam Cambridge 2015
For many years Jenny Webb and Yasmin Emerson who play as Pan-Jam an acoustic steel pan duo in Cambridge, had held a dream of bringing bands together in a collaborative project. Bands in the Eastern region are typically small community bands and there are no steel orchestras. Jenny had had an amazing few years travelling down from Cambridge to London each week to play with Nostalgia and CSI, and wanted to bring the experience of playing in a big steel band/orchestra to the smaller bands in our area.
Jenny said “I wanted the day to challenge them with new tunes, take them out of their comfort zones, inspire them and at the same time to forge relationships between the local bands, which could be built on in future.”
“I shared the ideas for the project with my players at Cambridge University Steel Pan Society (CUSPS) who were enthused by the idea and they agreed to underwrite the costs using some of their winnings from the Heart FM talent competition.”
Yasmin sought advice from friends who had organised successful music workshop events in the past. “I noted the things that work well for them including providing food and drink, finishing with a performance.”
Emails were sent out to friends in the local pan community to determine the level of interest and it became clear that there was a lot of support for such an event. In addition to bands, enquiries were received from individuals with all levels of experience who also wanted to be part of the day.
Delphina James had previously offered to work with the local bands and so she was invited to be the guest tutor and arranger. Chesterton Community College in Cambridge have a set of steel pans which they are keen to incorporate more widely into the curriculum. They offered us the loan of the school hall free of charge.
On the day the bands arrived between 9-10am and set up alongside each other. This allowed all the bass to form a backline, the tenors to form a frontline and the other pans formed rows within. CUSPS brought their drummer and percussion and there were spare pans for those who didn’t have their own. These were provided by Jenny and Yasmin from the pans in their own collection. The first hour was also used to socialise and chat so that people could begin to get to know each other. The workshop started at 10am promptly and Delphina quickly brought all the pannists to order. She’d opted to teach ‘Magic Drum’ a tune which many of us never thought we’d get the chance to play. Delphina’s experience of pan as both a player and an arranger was the essential ingredient that would satisfy three of the aims of the workshop – to challenge, to inspire and move away from comfort zones. She patiently took her time with each and every player to ensure that everyone learnt their part and no-one felt ‘out of their depth’ or left behind. This included assisting the bass player for Sawston Steel who is blind, ensuring she knew how he wished to be taught, to make learning easier and build his confidence.
As the layers of tune came together the smiles on the faces around the room grew broader and the team spirit built. The ‘big sound’ that we wanted was there and the players all felt it!
The afternoon session saw the completion of the tune and ended with a free concert. Each band played two or three tunes from their own set-list and duos and soloists who had prepared tunes were sandwiched between the main bands. CUSPS played Sam Smith’s ‘Stay with Me’ and S-Club 7’s ‘Reach’ (a tune which is proving a real hit with the student population!) sPANgle from Norfolk played Amazing Grace and Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ and Sawston Steel presented a Latin set; Quizas/Perhaps, Sway, and Brazil. In between these tunes, Yasmin played Erik Satie’s first Gnossienne, Jenny and Teggy played ‘Say Say’ and Jenny and Yasmin did an arrangement of Charleston followed by The Hammer. Each band had chosen tunes that were completely different in style and it was wonderful to see the versatility of the instrument on show.
The concert built to the big sound performance – the performance of the whole ensemble playing Magic Drum. The sound of the combined band – thirty players in a school hall with great acoustics – was something to behold. It wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t have to be; it was a huge amount for the players to learn in one short day, and they were all proud to have played as well as they could. Everyone played their hearts out; faces were full of concentration and sheer joy at achieving such an enormous and unified sound.
Delphina said, “For me, the day went super-fast. I can’t believe that these bands exist and I’m glad. They all play well and I felt the passion for Pan from everyone. The idea is fantastic as each band brought something different to the day and they got to experience playing in a large ensemble. I can’t wait for next year!”
After the day the feedback was incredible and humbling. “What a magic day! Loved every moment of it. Lovely to spend time with lovely people I know already, lovely to get to know new people.” “Fabulous day – the most amazing sound and experience!”
All the bands were keen to do it again in 2016. Next year it is hoped that the event will be increased in size to accommodate fifty players as other bands have already expressed an interest in taking part.