“I love to play,” says pannist Mia Gormandy. “It’s an experience that’s impossible to describe in words.” The love shows. When this young woman takes the stage, whether it’s before a coat-tailed symphony orchestra in the US or an open-air concert here in T&T, she plays with the assurance and mastery of a born virtuoso. She can still remember her first experiences with music when she was just 5 or so, when her parents bought her elder brother a pan. Her brother wasn’t exactly overwhelmed... but she was hooked. “I was way more interested than he was,” she says, “so the lessons turned from his lessons to my lessons. Also, my father is a self-taught pianist, so we played a lot together when I was growing up.” At the moment, the young woman is into her second year at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where she is pursuing a Master’s degree in ethnomusicology. This follows close upon the heels of a Master’s in Music in Steelpan Performance at the Northern Illinois University, where she studied under the incredible Liam Teague and steelpan master, Cliff Alexis.
Gormandy sees these men not only as teachers, but as supporters and mentors. Together with her parents, and steelband leader and music teacher, Odessa Vincent-Brown, they form a formidable cadre of mentors under whom her early talent couldn’t help but grow and flourish. “I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors throughout my life,” she says warmly. “Without them, I would not be the person I am today.” The self-described pan jumbie find her greatest pleasure in performing on stages all over the world, and her CV reads like the glittering itinerary of a seasoned traveller. She has stood on stage at events such as her alma mater NIU’s World Steelband and World Music Concerts, and the St. John’s Anglican Church in London, and shared performing space with foreign artistes like Victor Provost and Andy Narell. Most recently, she was the opener at the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra Concert in Florida. “My experiences were unbelievable,” she recalls. “I love to travel, and what more can you ask for when you travel doing something that you love? I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities and to all the people who made it happen.”
However, she’s probably even more tickled by the idea of performing in the company of her own countrymen. “I’ve performed in Australia with Trinidad All Stars, both as a band member and as a soloist. I also shared a stage in Canada with Mavis John, Anselm Douglas and Tara Woods, the award-winning queen of calypso who sings as Macomere Fifi. I also performed in Austria with the St. Joseph’s Convent Choir and Pan Ensemble.” And for all her travels, Gormandy is never far from Trinidad, and the Trini pan scene is never far from her heart. “I do go home very often,” she says, the ache of homesickness quite evident in her words after seven years of studying abroad. “So I definitely call Trinidad home.” She’s been a hard-core Neal and Massy All Stars player since the age of nine, and even had the unusual experience of playing against them in 2006, when, as chance would have it, she was part of an NIU student contingent who had flown in to play with the TCL Group Skiffle Bunch. “When I first heard I had to perform with Skiffle Bunch, I was in shock. How could this be? Soon after, I realised that I would be supporting Liam Teague and that comforted me.
Working with him is always a joy! I was welcomed into Skiffle Bunch panyard and I enjoyed my experience there. However, I would always be an All Stars at heart.” Gormandy has also been instrumental – apologies for the pun – to many local musical events such as All Stars’ Classical Jewels concert at NAPA, Jewels on Steel at Queen’s Hall, and the East Indian competition Caribbean Tarang. While she has explored other musical avenues such as piano and voice, the lure of the pan sticks keep drawing her back in. Gormandy thinks there’s so much more that Trini musicians can offer the world, and, though little more than a youth herself, has had enough experience in her career to be able to offer these words of advice to other young musicians: “Keep practicing! Keep an open mind, and most importantly, stay hungry...not literally, but keep wanting more for yourself musically.” By the time you read this, Gormandy will most likely be stepping into her finest stage duds to perform this evening at a concert organised by The Classical Music Development Foundation and the Calabash Foundation. The concert is called “In the Footsteps of Mangoré” and will also feature Cuban artiste, Paquito D’River. Exciting stuff, and it’s a great foreshadowing of things to come. And music lovers will be happy to know that the Great Brain Drain won’t be in force in Gormandy’s case. “I hope to finish school soon and possibly move back to Trinidad where I can officially start my career full-time.”