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Renegades Vacation Youth Music Camp to Set Stage Towards Healthier Minds Through Arts and Entertainment

Sandra L. Blood

When Steel Talks

Trinidad and Tobago - Arts and Entertainment, a necessary strategy to counteract academic failure; social and emotional instabilities!

Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra
Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra

Arising out of one of the Ministry of National Security’s 2012 outreach crime prevention programmes in tandem with the University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT), was a one-day Inductee Seminar at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, that apprised of attracting eight national steel orchestras to facilitate a two-year music workshop for their Positive Adolescent Network (PAN Yard) Initiative – the advantages: to “play, create, perform and record.”


Fashioned after Birdsong Steel Orchestra’s music programme, “The pan yard based Music curriculum seeks to provide a foundational framework in Music, which can be of benefit to all students from ages 7-17 for reasons of musical and / or human social development”, says curriculum development officer, United Kingdom’s Professor of Music at the University of Trinidad & Tobago, Katy Gainham.

Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra
Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra

Back in the 1960s-1970s, the second president of the then Steelband Association, the late George “Sonny” Goddard made a series of attempts at getting the nation to buy in to the arts as an artery for positive and meaningful life, but that was never to be as music – integral to arts and entertainment – pursued as a career, more so, pan as a structured activity on the school curriculum, was taboo.

But, some 45-odd years, in 2012, Gainham says, “It is well known that students who participate in structured and supportive group activities show fewer behavioural problems over time, with benefits to the community overall including school and home communities”, citing creative engagement in music-making activities as a stimulant to important cognitive centres in the brain, she said established research indicates that such activities, “lead to benefits and improvements in other areas of academic life for the school student.”

Despite being fascinated by the respective legacies Beethoven, Barry White, Tchaikovsky, Joe Lewis Trinidad & Tobago), Alvin Eailey, Winton Marsalis, the Philharmonic Choir bestow, we are still challenged to see the good in arts and entertainment so much so, that over time, while we scorned pan, it took international people to align themselves with our indigenous instrument for us to realize its full and true potential clearly, as the UK professor actually says to us, “Pan yards offer a very special mix of formal and informal learning. This is in large part what creates and holds the social cohesion and mutual respect so evident in pan yards.”

With his vision then, the late “Sonny” Goddard believed Trinbago can produce musicians, people, of supreme quality through music thus, one such steel orchestra, today, that has recognized that and readily accepted the feat to partner with the Ministry of National Security to use music to achieve greatness is reigning hat-trick and nine-times Panorama champs, Renegades Steel Orchestra of east Port of Spain.

With each of the eight steel orchestras focusing on their respective communities, Renegades engaged between 80-100 candidates in their five-week July-August music camp at their stage-side pan quarters on Oxford Street, Port of Spain, seeing manager, Michael Marcano excited that under his watch, many young people, “can harness what they have never gotten the opportunity to and may have never”. Marcano cites this as a life-long intervention with far-reaching individual and community gains.

Managed by project leader, Ministry of National Security’s Beverly Chase; supported by camp coordinator Helen Adams, the band’s captain, Candice Andrews and workshop music director, Desmond Waithe, the holiday period, spoke to orientation of campers and assessments of both campers and tutors.

Campers were assessed on musicianship capabilities, aptitude adaptation, theoretical and practical music and performing arts learning ability, level of confidence, and general discipline while tutors, on the scope of knowledge, expertise, discipline, and management style in preparation for the two-year structured after-school and/or weekend classes to commence September 2012, where the formation of a jazz, symphony and steel ensemble, respectively, and a choir are anticipated to emerge.

Should this two-year opportunity be positively embraced in its entirety, participants would walk away as certified Grade Five musicians and confident, responsible performers – enriched socially, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, professionally, morally, physically, and mentally – poised ready to uplift and harmonize communities and marketable for career opportunities, from age nine.

Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra
Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra

As the late Lloyd Best stated in 2001, “Panyard is the real learning centre,” stressing on, “School in Pan.”

This concept, harnessed in the right way, can help curtail idleness and hopelessness, that when coupled with poor discipline, bad influence and wrong supervision whether foundationally encouraged or developed along the way, easily create a playground for Satan!

But what can we, as adults, do with our free time? What can we do with children during their free time together with or apart from school work? Learn music! Play an instrument! Sing aloft! In Queens, NY, they are saying, “Hand in the guns and be rewarded up to 200 dollars”, but in Trinbago, we are saying, hand in all illegal and nefarious thoughts and activities, and be heavily rewarded with sound talent ultimately securing sustainable salubrious wealth.

The August (summer) vacation is drawing to a close, and some children did well at exams and may continue the upward trend while some didn’t; some dropped out of school, some are planning to run away, while some have already made connections with the under-world, but the reality is, despite parents/guardians’ most difficult challenges, it is incumbent upon them to be proactive and make proper provisions for their charges during free time or not, pointing to the development of healthier minds.

Reflecting on the just concluded Olympic games in London, we recognize that every child isn’t cut from the same sporting template as that of the world’s youngest javelin gold medalist, Trinidad and Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott, and while concerned over the vast percentage of children with nothing meaningful to do during free time, particularly, given the nature and intense spiraling of crime, many holiday and non-holiday camps/workshops offer music with focus on pan.

There are actually many young music-Walcotts in our midst…it’s just to find them. Why music? Why pan?

Through pan and music, many significant benefits can be derived. It’s an education non-surpass!

Music and pan can be conduits to delinquency and crime prevention depending on quality as quality determines level of outcome and sphere of opportunity.

The only percussion instrument invented in the 20th century; why not encourage an alignment with greatness?

In the 21st century, however, Trinidad & Tobago still grapples with music and pan’s fullest scope and significance.

Referred to as a mystery instrument, British Rachel Haywood says in her article Mysterious New Instruments as she speaks on Nottinghill Carnival, “Pan needs to be exposed to audiences as a valuable and expressive instrument in its own right, not just a clever novelty for the inner city and only heard at Nottinghill Carnival. This is the future challenge for British pan.”

The wider world considers pan necessary to human development but requiring diverse types, styles and levels of education and discipline to reap substantial benefits as similar to Olympic competitors more so, medalists.

Having recently completed a live 10-year study on ‘high-risk’ communities on The Evolution of Delinquency and Crime… interacting with minor and heinous criminals in and out of prisons, respective parents/guardians or relatives, random adults, and observing students at over 80 educational institutions including primary, secondary, vocational, colleges, and universities, internationally, I conclude that there are four main causes for delinquency and criminal activity:

  • Unawareness of the difference between education and sound education (giving credence to why many do not know they are not well-educated);
  • Inappropriate and/or inadequate education (that enables inappropriate behaviours);
  • Laziness (which emanates from not exercising the brain in the right way that ultimately manifests into lack of zeal/ambition to seek or do anything worthwhile); and
  • Innate weakness (which speaks loss of self, low spirit, loss of centre). These major ills lead to frustration, vulnerability, and social and academic failure.  

These major ills lead to frustration, vulnerability, and social and academic failure.

Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra
Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra

The PAN Yard Initiative, as Professor Gainham said of music, “Active participation in music creation and performance also builds confidence in learning and presentation, which can be transferred in other areas of study”, and the community in which Renegades resides, contains a huge volume of people who require such exposure and experience.

As mentioned earlier, music has significant benefits. They are as follows:

Music benefits you Physically: Muscular endurance; correct posture, breathing techniques and coordination are essential requisites for a musician while, depending on the instrument played and genre of music performed, musicians are at times required to engage in choreography to enhance the entertainment.

Music benefits you Socially and Morally: Music encourages excellent discipline and builds character. It’s much more effective than controlled substance to ease frustration and control anger. It helps develop excellent interpersonal and intercommunity relationships, team-spirit and a strong support system. As Gainham says, a pan yard should be used for, “Music-Making as the Heartbeat for Community Development.”

Music benefits you Emotionally: Many people tend to become extremely emotional over minor issues and at times, many are unable to control their anger conjuring up inexcusable reasons. Someone who is music literate and/or who plays an instrument, can avoid harming self, another or property through redirecting emotions to music – score a melody, compose lyrics, relax with an instrument or host a signature concert. Music can also be an antidote for boredom and grief.

Music benefits you Spiritually:  Music impacts the spirit, raises self-esteem, hence the cry to not allow unfavourable lyrics and raucous melodies to take control. Music can be a soothing and healing therapy.

Music benefits you Intellectually and Professionally: If well-adjusted to the regimens and disciplines of music, learning and developing skills become easy while, meaningful professional opportunities arise.

Music benefits you Mentally: Music impacts our thoughts. Music can also be a stabilizer.

Though having experienced slight teething problems, adeptness in pan, flute, guitar, key-board, trap-set, saxophone, and in vocals, is anticipated out of the two-year camp.

Among others, tutors are Sebastien Herbert, Vance Romain, Andrew Brumant, Sheldon Peters, Earl Caruth, Andrew Charles, Michael Lindsay and Candice Andrews.

A Talent Showcase and Graduation Ceremony held on August 19th at Renegades carnival pan headquarters culminated this phase of the camp.

In this their second endeavour at facilitating a music camp, Renegades Steel Orchestra thanks the Ministry of National Security for their initiative, UTT, parents/guardians who so graciously recognize the short and long-term advantage of the camp, volunteers, bpTT, and all other stakeholders.

Sandra L. Blood is a life skills consultant, lecturer, motivational speaker with 39 years pan-playing experience.


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