“....Having traveled and seen how schools in foreign countries treat the instrument, and in many cases have better instruments and facilities to practice, we really need to wake up in Trinidad and put things in place for the school children to have the opportunity to learn and perform at a much higher standard.” Barry Mannette
WST - For those who are not familiar with your accomplishments - tell us a bit about Barry Mannette?
Barry Mannette, founder of Starlift Junior Steel Orchestra
Barry - “First - thank you for choosing me as one of the persons to interview; I am truly honored by the privilege to have my thoughts and comments on the same forum as many of the greats in steelpan.
“I have been playing Pan from the age of 9 years but my first Panorama was with my father’s (Vernon “Birdie” Mannette) band, Invaders, at the age of 13 years. Since then I have gone on to perform with many of the top bands in Trinidad and Tobago such as Phase II Pan Groove, Starlift, Desperadoes, Renegades, Humming Birds Pan Groove, Valley Harps and the UWI (University of the West Indies) Festival Steel Ensemble to name a few.
“In 2008 I placed 2nd in the Steelpan Open Category of the T&T Music Festival and 3rd in the Soloist Category of the Steelband Festival. I have been arranging music for the steelpan from the age of 19 years, taking Starlift to the Finals of the World Steelband Festival in 2004 - (Ensemble Category). Additionally I was the founder and music director for the Starlift Junior Steel Orchestra, Music Instructor for the National Youth Steel Orchestra of T&T, Steelpan Instructor with the Music Literacy Trust of T&T and Music Theory teacher for the past seven years. In 2010 I took Starlift’s Junior Steel Orchestra to the Montreal International Steelpan festival and won the junior panorama competition and placed 2nd in the adult panorama. I obtained my Certificate in Music from UWI as well as my Bachelors in Musical Arts from UWI. I am currently pursuing my Masters in Music at Northern Illinois University.”
WST - Describe your creative process?
Barry - “I hear music all the time; many times I may just be liming with some friends or just at home relaxing and I just zone out for a bit and when someone asks what’s going on, its just because I heard a piece of music in my mind. So when I hear a song I would like to arrange, I immediately hear in my mind what I want to do with that piece. I would normally go on the Pan and work out the basic chord progressions, if I don’t have a score for the song, and then go on the computer and score it. Once I have the progressions and bass patterns figured out, then I start to create music that I believe would be compatible for the song, in terms of the theme or hook line or name of the tune. In most cases I use a combination of scoring and arranging by “vibes.” Sometimes I may bounce ideas off of some players and depending on their reaction sometimes I make changes or just keep it. But when the arrangement is finished, I go back and make sure and score the entire piece. I believe that too many of our great panorama pieces have been lost because they weren’t scored.”
WST - What are you most proud of as it relates to Pan?
Barry - “As it relates to Pan, I am most proud of the contributions made by both my uncle, Ellie Mannette and my father Birdie Mannette. They both played a significant role in the development of the steelpan. Ellie has done his work in the USA for many years to help take Pan to where it is today, and my father did the same right here in Trinidad. Many people may not know of the contribution he has made to steelbands right here in T&T but it is in the history books. He [Birdie] has done a lot - not just for Woodbrook bands such as Invaders, the band from which he was a founding member, also Starlift, Phase II etc., but for several others such as Desperadoes, too. I am very proud of what he has done and appreciate the recognition he received so far and continues to receive up to this day.”
WST - What has most disappointed you in Pan?
Barry - “My biggest disappointment in Pan is the fact that after all these years, the steelpan is not standardized. I believe that a panist should be able to go into any panyard or practice room and pick up a Pan and play, but this is not so. And I’m not merely referring to the note placement on the steelpan but the measurements to determine where holes are bored to hang up the Pan, how deep to sink, the grooving, the actual setting up of the pans. All these things should be standardized and although steelpan has reached very far throughout the world, I think we can go even further with standardization. Imagine hiring a pan side from Trinidad to play in Australia or Germany or France and they don’t have to worry about taking pans with them because the pans in those countries are standardized. Things would flow so much easier. I can say this from personal experience of going on several tours and freight for steelpans is always an issue.”
WST - What do you think about this recent youth movement as it relates to arrangers?
Barry - “I am very pleased with the youth movement as it relates to arrangers. For so many years Boogsie, Jit, Bradley and even Smooth have ruled the Panorama arena and I can say for sure that these “young” arrangers now, have played under these greats, studied their music and interacted with them. But the only thing in life that is constant is change, and now is the time for this youth movement to make a bold statement and show the world what we are capable of and even though we have learnt from the best, we can put our own style into an arrangement and make it successful.”
WST - Do you ever feel the need to compromise your music to satisfy the judges?
Barry - “Well this is just my second year arranging for a conventional band for Panorama but my experience with arranging for junior panorama for the past 6 years, is that sometimes you want your band to do so well that you try to give the judges what they want and eventually end up compromising your arrangement. Because let’s face it, everyone goes into a competition to win, no one goes with the intention of coming 4th, 6th or last, and the persons who determine the winners are the judges so you have to give them what they want in order to win, it’s as simple as that.”
WST - What are your thoughts on the state of Trinidad & Tobago’s junior steelpan musicians - both in schools, and for the annual Junior Panorama?
Barry - “I believe that we have some very talented junior steelpan musicians in Trinidad and Tobago, however the way they are treated by the persons in authority, leaves a lot to be desired. Both the junior panorama and junior steelband festival, need to be revamped in order for there to be any positive effect on the youths. Having traveled and seen how schools in foreign countries treat the instrument, and in many cases have better instruments and facilities to practice, we really need to wake up in Trinidad and put things in place for the school children to have the opportunity to learn and perform at a much higher standard.”
WST - If you had the power to change something in the Panorama scene what would that be?
Barry - “There are many things I would change in Panorama, beginning with the marketing of Panorama; it can be done in a much better way as to generate interest and finances. I would also change the system of what goes on in the “North Stand” for semis; in most cases it’s just a big lime and people don’t even seem to care about the steelpan, they don’t know which band played what song but people just go and have a good time, not even paying attention to the players who have practiced tirelessly night after night, the arranger who composed this 8-minute arrangement, the tuner who took his time to tune every note. Something really needs to be done about that. And finally, the criteria for judging panorama needs to be reviewed and changes made. People seem to go now for showmanship and not so much musicianship, and is really dampening the spirit of the arranger who puts a lot of musicality into an arrangement to see it get beaten by something that’s less musical. The criteria really needs to be looked at again.”
WST - What are two things in Pan that are totally intolerable and must change immediately?
Barry - “One thing in Pan that is intolerable to me is the disrespect that Trinis show towards the instrument and the players. Besides Panorama, many times I have played on the road for carnival days and sometimes the DJs don’t even want to show the steelpan some respect for a few minutes to lower or take off their volume when a steelband is passing, it’s just ridiculous. We need to cherish, love and respect our own; so many people around the world are doing it already.
“Another thing that must change immediately is the attitude of the persons in authority with respect to the steelband. There should probably be a separate Ministry for the Steelpan, that can deal specifically with the steelpan and the development of the players and the instrument itself, marketing it a profitable way and making it self-sufficient and pushing the gospel of the steelpan locally, regionally and internationally.”
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