This weekend we had the steel pan events in our Crop Over season, and this year I was fortunate to attend the event - Pan Fusion. Now for me one of my all time favourite pastimes is listening to live music, and good performers, and Pan Fusion did not disappoint. The performers did tributes to Adrian “Boo” Husbands, one of the island’s musicians who passed away earlier this year. The musicians played tracks dedicated to him, as well as some of his tracks, and shared memories of him. And they also paid tribute to good music – from blues, jazz and disco, to calypso old and new. There was the fantastic Dane Gulston out of Trinidad. He was a phenomenal pan player who made the music come alive, and he played alongside the incredibly talented Zig E Walcott and Sugar (an ensemble of local artistes) who sounded as sweet as their name. They also had a host of other fantastic performers including Nicholas Branker and a special appearance by Red Plastic Bag. It definitely was a fantastic night and one of the highlights of my season as I was able to attend with a few good friends.
In truth however, I love almost all music (good music of course), and have done from the time I was small. Singing, listening, playing instruments... All aspects of music. I truly believe that it runs through my veins. I think about it a lot when I watch my nephew – who is now three years old, and who could definitely sing before he could talk! His rhythm and timing is excellent, and I definitely think that we have music in our blood. When I was younger, I always wanted to learn to play the flute. I loved to listen to James Galway, and secretly wanted to be able to play the flute like him one day. However I also wanted to learn the sax (and play like Dave Koz or Kenny G!) and the clarinet. I had a love for orchestral music, and was fortunate to play in my school band. Sadly I never learned to read music properly, possibly my greatest regret and something I wish I had done when I was young and my brain was a bit more malleable. Instead, I found clever ways to memorize all of my pieces by ear – something I was very good at, and a feat which served me well until I tried to do music exams. I also sang in a trio as a teenager, and had (probably still have) a vocal range that ran me somewhere in the alto/tenor range, but in addition, I was also in many a school and church choir. I always loved to sing and hear acapella – voices matched in harmony – and I continued to sing well into adulthood.
As I got older I had my sights set on a different instrument altogether - the steel pan. I always loved the steel pan – listening to it and watching pan groups perform. I love how the harmony comes into play when there is a steel pan orchestra playing together. After years of longingly watching local groups play pan with envy, I finally built up the courage to find some lessons. I was determined to learn to play the steel pan. I cannot even remember how I located the steel pan teacher, but I called him up and arranged some lessons. It actually took a lot of courage - I wasn't sure that my adult brain could learn an entirely new skill. He played with one of my favourite local Pan groups – Mosaic steel orchestra - and I was secretly pleased to find out he was a Trini – aside from loving their accent, I felt he was authentic enough to know about pan and I went for a lesson. In fact - I went for quite a few lessons. And having learned a number of scales, I even learned to play a few tunes. But it didn’t take me long to realise that there was something empty about the experience, and I really felt as if something was missing. I finally pinpointed it after going to watch him perform with the group one day – what was missing was the orchestra.
In reality, I had to admit to myself – I don’t think pan is meant to be played alone. I don’t know why I was so surprised; as an alto singer I always said that alto’s aren’t meant to sing alone. But for me this was my lesson – I needed my orchestra. And my orchestra is my support network, my friends and family without whom I could conceivably play, but without whom life would be empty, and lack body, lack harmony. This is a lesson that I have had to learn repeatedly over the years. I am fiercely independent, and definitely do not like to rely on other people. I have spent all of my adult life single, and I am fairly introverted, needing a certain amount of solitude to function. But like the steel pan, I think I sound best with other instruments around me, complimenting the sound I make, and rounding out the music with matching harmony. For me this means my close friends, my sisters and other family members (including my nephew the latest addition) and the other persons who I keep around me. On our own, we can function and we could probably do ok, but as a group we are a fierce orchestra, bringing music wherever we are. For me, this is a lesson not to forget to let others in, and accept help from time to time. In life as in music we must complement each other, and work together. We cannot attempt to drown one another out, to outdo one another, instead we must blend together into a coherent sound. And when I don’t do that, then the sound is off. It is a good reminder to me when this happens to bring things back into balance with the harmony.
And I send to you and yours music, laughter and Big Love from a small island.
PS the above photo was taken in Grenada a few years back, at sunset.