Ellie Manette
Ellie Mannette
Celebrated pioneer, Elliott 'Ellie' Mannette, has developed a new pan, one that broadens the range currently available to solo artistes, by offering them several more notes than were hitherto available from a single instrument.

Called the Quaduet, the four-piece instrument even exceeds the combined potential of today’s most popular choices of solo pans, the double seconds (contralto) and tenor (soprano) pan—and then adds some.

At its high end, the Quaduet not only matches the most popular configuration of the tenor pan, peaking at F, but goes right down the scale to A Flat, in the octave below the current bottom end of the double seconds format

Speaking from West Virginia to the Sunday Express about his latest invention and other developments, Mannette, who in 1960 created the very double seconds he has now upstaged, said the idea behind the new pan is to give players the ability to do more intricate tunes. "With the Quaduet," Mannette explained, "the player will no longer have to alter the key of songs that have a very wide range, or transpose from original notes where an octave expires."

The Quaduet also offers the soloist another significant physical advantage over existing choices of instrument. Mannette’s new four-piece pan is played with a single pair of mallets which, he assures, deliver both the bass notes and soprano sounds with equal sincerity.

Mannette, 73, denied a recent newspaper report that he plans to retire this year. A founder of the legendary Invaders Steel Orchestra of Woodbrook, he is artist-in-residence and an adjunct professor in the College of Music at West Virginia University (WVU). He has been involved with the development of the instrument for the past 55 years and is also credited with pan’s most lasting innovation, the changing of the shape of its playing surface from convex to concave.

Mannette’s pans are on display at many of the world’s finest museums, including the Smithsonian Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Contemporary Art Gallery. His instruments are also used in hundreds of schools, colleges, and private and community programmes in the United States and elsewhere.

Since 1991, he has been working at WVU’s steelband studies programme, which teaches all aspects of the steel drum, including tuning and construction courses. Among the innovations in panmaking-technique currently being tested in the programme, is the replacement of sledgehammers by the use of water-pressure to sink drums.

He plans to come home in October, to showcase some of the results of his research over the past 30 years. He is not however one of the researchers listed to speak at the First World Conference on the Science and Technology of the Steelpan, which takes place from October 16 to 18 at the Crowne Plaza (formerly Holiday Inn) Hotel.

The Sunday Express understands that the October trip comes as a result of a personal request from Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and will involve an interface with the Culture Ministry and the University of the West Indies. "I am bringing a group with me to show some of our techniques," Mannette said. "They may not be better than anyone else, but they are great. They want to come down and play and work on some drums."

Mannette, whose work in promulgating indigenous culture last September earned him a US Arts Endowment Award, America’s most prestigious in the field (which came with a US$20,000 grant); is equally proud of the students in his programme at WVU. "They are all musicians. They play pan and build instruments equally well," he said.

"The students are also working on projects to come up with ideas for improving the sound of the lead tenors and there are other experiments going on that are very interesting," Mannette said. He has turned out 78 panmakers to date and currently has eight tuners and a number of builders in the programme, of which 15 students are doing the work for graduate studies credits.

"I know people back home criticise me and accuse me of selling-out Trinidad culture, but what we are doing instead is spreading it," Mannette said. "Nobody can steal the credit for pan anymore. What we have here is the advantage of technology and people who put money into research. At home, no one wants to spend money on experiments, so if you are interested in development, you have to work in an environment that affords that.

"I am not saying that I am better than anyone else and certainly I know how people in the pan fraternity are very sensitive, so I really do not want to step on anyone’s toes.

"But I feel that the home of pan is not moving fast enough to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago remains the leader," Mannette said.

More on Mannette.
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