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Published on September 30th, 2010 | by Ranee Maharajh

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Steel Expressions Orchestra

 

(by Ranee Maharajh & Alvin Alleyne – Sept 30, 2010)

 

Alvin ‘T-Shirt’ Alleyne started playing steel pan in Trinidad as a young man in the late 1950’s with Valley Harps Steel Orchestra.  In the 1960’s, he played with Demfortunates and Shell Invaders, and he was one of the founding members of the Siparia Deltones Steel Orchestra.  ‘T-Shirt’ moved to Canada in 1975 and was already living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada for several years when he met Ranee Maharajh who, in the early 1960’s, played steel pan in Trinidad with her brothers in the Maharajh Kids Steel Band.

In 1988, Dr. Colin Walley from the University of Manitoba hired Jim St Rose and Albert John from Trinidad to make and tune pans for their Advanced Rhythms Summer Music Program.  ‘T-Shirt’ and Ranee both missing playing the steel pan and seized this opportunity to purchase a set of steel pans from Jim.  They convinced some of their friends to join them, and the Steel Expressions Orchestra was born.

 

Initially they practiced in ‘T-Shirt’ and Ranee’s living room, but when all the instruments were delivered and the players were in place, the band moved to their small basement.  Shortly thereafter, ‘T-Shirt’ and Ranee moved to a larger home with a comfortable basement which became the band’s permanent residence / panyard.

 

In 1989, after Jim returned to Trinidad, Albert stayed in Winnipeg as the drummer and arranger of the band until 1993.  During this time Steel Expressions Orchestra was kept very busy playing at Universities, Colleges, Malls, Folklorama (multicultural celebration), Western Canada Panorama, Winnipeg Carnival Parade, the Mayor’s Office, Night Clubs, Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature etc.

 

Herman Collins assumed the roles of arranger and tuner of Steel Expressions Orchestra in 1993 until his death in 2003.  He brought to the band a strong sense of history and respect for steel pan because in his younger days, he played with many of the top pan players and steel bands in Trinidad including Casablanca, Sun Valley, and the Trinidad & Tobago National Steel Orchestra.  Herman once placed second in the Trinidad National Pan Soloist Competition, but one of his favorite memories was of a young Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe standing on a milk crate in order to observe what he was playing.

 

During the years that Herman arranged for Steel Expressions Orchestra, the band performed at many private and charitable functions including Churches, the Pan Am Games, Union Parades and The Red River Ex Parade.  However, it was evident that the band’s focus had shifted from taking on as many paying gigs to concentrating on the art form.  Herman was an outstanding teacher who encouraged members of the band to take the reins.  He especially encouraged Ranee to start arranging, and in 2003 she reluctantly accepted that role to pay tribute to him after his death.  Today, Ranee is still their arranger.

 

Steel Expressions Orchestra now has a core of members who have been part of the band for over 20 years and they are proud to be able to perform at functions such as the Citizenship Ceremony at the Manitoba Legislature.  The band plays a variety of music chosen by the members which includes the Top 40s, Oldies, Calypso, Reggae, Latin and Classical.  Since members usually come to Steel Expressions with limited or no experience in reading music, Ranee took a different approach and devised a unique form of music notation which enables the players to instantly understand what notes to play or strum.  This tool is also used by players to memorize their notes when they are not in the panyard.

 

Steel Expressions Orchestra has gone through many phases and stages, and ‘T-Shirt’ has been the one solely responsible for keeping the band running smoothly.  He is a natural leader and has been a mentor and positive role model to the children in the band.  He treats all band members as part of his own extended family.  Originally, the band was focused on playing gigs, now Ranee continues Herman’s legacy and the focus is more on teaching the art form to the younger generation and to older folks who wanted to learn but never had the opportunity.

 

The current members of Steel Expressions Orchestra (adults):

 

Captain – Alvin ‘T-Shirt’ Alleyne

Arranger – Ranee Maharajh

Secretary/Treasurer – Roger James

 

Tenor – Ranee Maharajh, Rose Edwards

Double Seconds – Alvin ‘T-Shirt’ Alleyne, Roger James

Guitar – Knolly Thompson

Cello – Ranee Maharajh

Tenor Bass – Malcolm Jones, Ghislaine Alleyne

Low Bass – Ghislaine Alleyne

Drums – Peter Frigo, Kush Maharajh

Percussion – Frank Phipps, Roger James, David Edwards

 

Steel Expressions Orchestra (children):

 

Tenor – Savana Maraj, Danielle Robidoux, Keyshawn Gaskin

Double Seconds – Valia Louis

Tenor Bass – Ashton Gaskin, Jvon Louis

 

Website:    http://www.theworldonline.com/steelexpressions/


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