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Yes to the music, always
According to Auburn Wiltshire, project manager of the Music School in the Panyard project, the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism will support the initiative through the purchase of $300,000 worth of musical instruments. Trumpets, saxophones, clarinets and trombones were bought to be used in the pilot pan centres, Casablanca Pan Theatre (North), Republic Bank Exodus, Sangre Grande Cordettes and Potential Symphony Pan Theatres (East), Couva Joylanders (Central) and Junior Sammy Group Skiffle Bunch (South).
Efforts at formalising music learning using the steelpan are not new. As recently as 2005, music publisher Simeon Sandiford released a double CD package titled Pan in Education, a comprehensive collaboration with pan composer Mark Loquan to codify a learning process for music based on the centrepiece of the steelpan.
As an instrument, the steelpan is notable for its accessibility to neophyte musicians and provides an excellent first point of contact for learning essential music principles that can be applied to all instruments in an ensemble. Music education is a critical part of the education curriculum in the United States and when budget cuts endangered these programmes in the 1990s, musicians rallied to save them.
Today, it’s a rare school in the United States that has a football team without having a “band” programme, a music education system that aligns success in performing in a marching band with supporting the school’s sports teams. If there’s anything surprising about the Music School in the Panyard project, it’s that it’s taken so long to become a part of the education agenda.
Woven into the cultural history of Trinidad and Tobago is the success that music, as expressed through the steelband, has enjoyed in calming troubled communities, bringing identity and pride to disenfranchised young people and creating sustainable careers as musicians for many who might not have had such an opportunity otherwise.
Mindful of both heritages, Director of Culture Ingrid Ryan Ruben urged students coming to the workshops to “honour that space” and the creativity that was spawned in the country’s panyards. This programme, a valuable addition to the myriad efforts to make music education available to school-age children, is distinguished by its choice of the hearth space of the panyard, many of which are in need of a more robust reconnection with their communities.
Linking music education to panyards offers an opportunity to reinvigorate the role of these spaces beyond their popularity in the run-up to Panorama and Steelband Music Festivals and return them more directly to being positive influences and attractors for young people. The project is still in its earliest stages, and over the next three years music schools are planned for all panyards in Trinidad and Tobago.
Even more compelling is the Artiste-in-Residence Initiative which will bring students and tutors into meaningful contact with musicians like Errol Ince, Roy Cape, Pelham Goddard and Leston Paul whose contributions to the music of this country have been transformative. These are valuable, marquee ideas, but for the project to truly succeed, there will need to be more links between the new effort and existing programmes for music education.
Collaborations with the work being done in the programmes of UTT at Napa and integrations with existing music education in the school system, inclusive of music and instruments from other cultural traditions, would do much to ensure that every possibility for panyards to serve as a catchment for curious young people is leveraged.
The project would also be enhanced by continued monitoring and support from both the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism and the Ministry of Education as well as private-sector support of a project that has the potential to become a critical intervention in communities over the next three years.
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