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Caribbean

Published on October 13th, 2014 | by Trinidad Express Newspapers

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Time to rejuvenate pan literacy

The proliferation of music stands in steelband performances, signifying widespread sight-reading by pan players, might be mistaken for a faddish overnight sensation on the Trinidad and Tobago pan scene. Yet this detail marks a noteworthy  advance that defines just one reason for celebration this month of the tenth anniversary of the Music Literacy Trust.

That initiative, undertaken in 2004 by private- and State-sector businesses, aimed to raise to a new level, the compositions and arrangements for pan which, until then, had been created and communicated to fellow pan players only or mostly by rote. On that basis, over the 20th century, pan both as instrument and as music had established its unique sound and genre locally and internationally. Advances of pan did draw upon literate and formally trained musicians, but the tradition held which identified basic pan playing as an unschooled and non-literate ability, refined through learning by ear. This tradition might be interpreted as the root of a widespread belief in T&T that talent, rather than hard work, is a sufficient and indeed better basis for accomplishment.

Even if that was true in times past, professionalism in the modern world demanded a less laissez-faire approach. Fortuitously, vision, leadership and commitment were available in 2004 from fertiliser manufacturer Yara Trinidad which, not coincidentally, was then headed by a noted Panorama composer named Mark Loquan. The Yara initiative was later carried forward by Trinidad Nitrogen, National Gas Company, Phoenix Park Gas Processors, PowerGen T&T, Trinidad Gas Company, Methanex Trinidad and the Massy Foundation. Such corporate support was not rooted solely in advertising returns, but also in social responsibility demanded from the private sector by the country’s first Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams. As funders and far-seeing organisers, these companies have contributed to today’s image of pan players as certifiably accomplished musicians. Moreover, a musical database has been built through retrieving and transcribing  pan arrangements from the past. This decade-old pan literacy drive has created an archive which can at least save this branch of the Carnival arts from sharing the much-lamented fate of becoming Ash Wednesday discards

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