Sat | Feb 22, 2020

Roxanne Fletcher: ‘Panning’ between banking and music

Published:Sunday | September 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Roxanne (left) assists a member to use the JN Bank smart ATM machine in the bank’s Half-Way-Tree, St Andrew branch. The pannist maintains a healthy balance between work and music.

When Roxanne Fletcher plays pan, she goes into a different plane.

As she rehearsed with the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra recently, the rhythm, created with every strike of the contoured steel drums, seemed to electrify the Miss Curvy Jamaica 2018 contestant.

"Pan music is unique and beautiful. The sound is crisp, clean and is very relaxing," Fletcher said as she performed an interpretation of the jazzy Bob Marley hit We Jammin with the orchestra.

With antecedents in Trinidad and Tobago, pan has crossed borders and touched the hearts of many, including Fletcher.

A mobile teller at JN Bank by day, many of Fletcher's evenings are spent playing music, which she says has captured her heart.

"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 her only two quick 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, Fletcher 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 produced by the round contours in the pan.

Pan is growing in popularity in Jamaica, Fletcher believes.

"Persons are usually very receptive to our performance at functions. We have played at events such as the annual UWI graduation, Relay for Life, Tabanca Tuesday Carnival, and at private events," she said.

Samantha Williams, captain and music director of The UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra, credits Fletcher with teaching her the art of pan music. The UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra currently has 50 active members and celebrates its 41st anniversary this year.

"I had no prior experience in pan music when I joined the orchestra. I credit her for what I have accomplished," Williams said.

"Fletcher is a very skilled player, who has an impressive high level of discipline 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," Williams added.

She said that Fletcher's skills in pan music were demonstrated when the orchestra competed in the International Panorama held in Trinidad and Tobago in 2015, in which approximately 24 bands from 10 countries participated.

"We had prior arrangements to use the bass pans that the organisers made available to us as carrying our bass 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 was different from the ones we played in Jamaica," Williams said.

In a few days, Fletcher was able to learn the new layouts, overcome the difficult tones, and prepare adequately for the competition, although in the end, the band did not place.


Nine-hour rehearsals weekly


On average, Fletcher spends up to nine hours every week rehearsing.

"I rehearse on Mondays, Tuesdays, 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."

Fletcher believes that others, especially those in high-stress jobs, could similarly benefit from the soothing rhythms of pan music.

"The destressing factor of pan music is not only gained through playing, but also through listening to the music. Many times I would record the rehearsals and then listen to them for a while at home," Fletcher said.

She added: "Another therapeutic benefit that pan provides is that it creates cohesion among us as band members and makes us a close-knit family. After work, you look forward being with your pan family to unwind, which, in turn, engenders an excellent work and life balance."

Fletcher's dream is to own a pan one day, but the price is slightly prohibitive, she said.

"A tenor pan from Trinidad costs about US$1,100, and I have started saving towards purchasing one," she said. She hopes to own her own pan by the end of the year.

A member of the St Matthews Anglican Church in Allman Town, St Andrew, Fletcher is also focused on starting a music programme at her church.

"It's one way to keep young people involved and out of trouble," she said.