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US Pannists flock to hear legends

April 23, 2001
By Terry Joseph

SCORES of pan enthusiasts from across the US on Saturday converged at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn for a symposium designed to measure progress made by the instrument over the first 60 years of its existence.

Titled "Whey Pan Reach", the symposium was forced to shift location, after the original classroom space assigned it was quickly over-subscribed. At the head table were eight of 12 Pan Legends being celebrated.

Speaking on behalf of college president Dr Edison Jackson, Medgar Evers provost Dr Mary Omolu apologized for the cramped accommodation and transferred the symposium to the spacious Norman Johnson Lecture Hall.

Pannists from as far as Florida and California heard first person accounts of how the legends got into pan, an exercise that went for such length that at its conclusion, questions from the floor could not be accommodated.

Mounted by the TT Folk Art Institute, with president Les Slater and journalist DaltonNarine as moderators, the symposium heard first-person accounts from CliffordAlexis, Clive Bradley, Ray Holman, Neville Jules, Junior Pouchet, Emmanuel"Cobo Jack" Riley, Earl Rodney and an unusually effusive Jit Samaroo.

Each speaker recounted the process by which he got involved with pan, some including soul-baring anecdotes that left the audience visibly astonished. Samaroo told of a deal that saw him teaching a friend to play the cuatro, in exchange for his first pan lesson.

Even from those legends who, at first, could not read notes, there were stirring pleas for pannists to become musically literate. Among those pressing for improvement in this regard, Holman was most forceful. He warned that any further pan progress would be impeded by players' inability to decipher scores.

Alexis described the experience of members of the Northern Illinois University Steel Orchestra, who mastered three pieces for last October's World Steelband Music Festival in mere weeks, while Trini pannists, learning largely by rote, took up to six months to achieve the same degree of proficiency. The NIU band placed second in the festival finals.

Rodney brought a different perspective to the talks, dwelling on the intensity with which early players dedicated themselves to the instrument, his "migration" to Port of Spain and the breaks that came from that level of exposure.

Bradley's presentation was liberally sprinkled with humourous anecdotes that lightened the mood of the evening. Riley recounted the experience of being a soloist,even as his band proceeded in orchestral formation. Pouchet said at the time of his intervention, he had no idea it would eventually be appreciated as a social breakthrough for the instrument.

But it was the Dean of the Honourees, Neville Jules, who turned heads by debunking a number of claims made last year by fellow pan-pioneer Ellie Mannette. It was not Mannette but he who first put rubber on the pan sticks and invented several of the orchestral voices normally credited to Mannette. It was some of these provocative statements that led to complaints from the audience when Slater announced that no questions could be entertained.

PanTrinbago representative, Abdul Reid was vociferous in his protest. "You can't just have the people on the stage talking down to us and we don't have the opportunity to question them further," he shrieked.

But alas, it was all the evening could accommodate, as the auditorium had to be cleared by 8.30 pm. Slater promised it would not be the last such facility for interaction between the enthusiasts and the legends.

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