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From Antigua to Paris: Joy Lapps and her Music

How to get what you really want? If you follow the lead of musician Joy Lapps, the path is in the opposite direction: in order to play music, go to the most prestigious business school in the country.

"I was too scared to apply to a music program," Lapps explains. "When I picked up a brochure on Schulich School of Business [York University], I applied because there was an internship where you got to travel."

Thinking of someplace where she could be surrounded by music, Lapps initially wanted to go to Africa. "But there were only Masters programs at the associated universities there. Then I chose Brazil. However instruction was only in Portuguese. That left Europe."

Musical travels

Lapps' roots are on the island of Antigua. By chance, while performing at a music festival there, she had picked up the CD 'The Passage'. The album was a collaboration between Andy Narell and Calysociation.

"Narell is one of the people not native to the Caribbean or of African heritage who has really embraced pan, learning and understanding different styles," said Lapps.

Calypsociation is a pan school in Paris. Lapps then researched to find a Schulich-associated university where she could do here internship that was close to the pan school. Then, while her fellow classmates at the Université Paris-Dauphine, were attending museums and looking at architecture, Lapps was at the music school, studying and playing steel pan.

The story gets better. "Everyone knows that on internships, you're supposed to take easy 'bird' courses," says Lapps. "For some reason, I took an extremely difficult course in French Statistics. I failed it along with two-thirds of the class and was required to do a replacement course." She then proposed an independent study course that required marketing and translations for said pan school.

Lapps returned to Canada with newfound confidence and enrolled in the music program at York University and eventually obtained a Master's Degree in Composition. One of her goals is to change the face and expectations around how pan is perceived.

Pan and Jazz

"If I pull out a pan, people assume the genre and imagine themselves on a beach. But it does not have to be that way. I challenge that. I invite experimentation. Yes, pan has a style and we pick instruments for sound and the feelings that they evoke. I love to play in Panorama and Pan Alive. It's great fun. I don't discount the beauty, history and cultural connection. However, as a musician, I don't want to be put into a box."

"Years ago, Andy Narell would complain when trying to hustle jazz gigs, 'Nobody needs a pan'. But that is changing." 

In her Master's thesis, Lapps studied the work of jazz musicians, Rudy 'Two Left' Smith and Othello Molineaux who played pan with with Jaco Pastorius. The instrument is now heard in major jazz festivals and other unexpected venues all over the world.

Mixing it Up

Lapps' current CD, 'Morning Sunrise' is a beautiful album that incorporates begine and zouk rhythms of the French Caribbean, along with samba, jazz and of course, calypso. Featured on it are the members of her regular trio, drummer extraordinaire, Larnell Lewis and lyrical bassist Andrew Stewart. Michael Shand joins in on keyboards, along with numerous other talented guests.

Four years spent in business school were time well spent. "The skills gathered in business administration, motivation, management, come into play in most things," said Lapps. This includes the music business. Many other musicians around Lapps also benefit from her studies.

"My passion was personal finance. I'm the one to say to them, you have to invest, no one's going to do it for you, get critical illness coverage, do your taxes! They can't say, that I never told them," she laughs.

Canada's 'Princess of Pan' would like to see pan soloists and ensembles, in concert halls  everywhere. "I'd like to see it as much a part of programming as an orchestra."

I wonder what she'll will do to make that happen. Maybe a PhD in Physics?

© Gloria Blizzard is a Toronto-based writer