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Girl Pat ------Beryl, Pat and Pat

by Von Martin from his book “Voices of Pan Pioneers of Trinidad & Tobago”

published with the expressed permission of the author

Voices of Pan Pioneers of Trinidad & Tobago book cover

The steel band movement in Trinidad and Tobago has been a man’s world … but not entirely so. In the roll call of the famous, the names of men are in the majority.  The inventors of the instruments, the pioneers - Ellie Mannette, Spree Simon and Victor Wilson; the virtuosos – Ormond Patsy Haynes, Dudley Smith, Sonny Roach, Rudolph Ollivierre, Lennox Mohammed, Boogsie Sharpe, Liam Teague, Philmore Davidson and Andy Narell; the innovators – Neville Jules, Anthony Williams, and Rudolph Charles; the arrangers - Earl Rodney, Clive Bradley, and Ray Holman; those who took steel band music to countries far and wide -  De Labastide, Hugh Borde, Junior Pouchet, Jit Samaroo, and Othello  Molineaux.

These men were in the forefront. But we need to pay tribute also to the women in the background in the early days of the steel band movement – the mothers, wives, sisters, girl friends – providers for their men many of whom never experienced regular wage employment, the patrons. Like the Unknown Soldiers, most of these women are nameless.

As the steel band movement matured, the contributions of the fairer sex to its development became more visible, and today women have prominent roles in the steel bands as players, arrangers and soloists. That journey to prominence began in 1951 with the emergence of a steel band named Girl Pat.

Hazel Henley of Girl Pat Steel Orchestra
Hazel Henley

The dynamic figure behind the founding of Girl Pat Steel Orchestra was a young lady named Hazel Henley. Miss Henley was in a professional occupation. She was a music teacher at a prominent school in Trinidad – Tranquility Intermediate. She came from a middle-class family who resided in the middle-class section of Woodbrook, in the capital city of Port of Spain, Trinidad.  

Among the other pioneers of ‘Girl Pat’ were Marjorie Boothman and the Maurice sisters, Barney and Pat.  Marjorie Boothman was a sister of the famous Holder brothers, Boscoe and Geoffrey.  Marjorie recounted that she had been a friend of Hazel for many years. They had first met in the 1930s when they were teachers at Tranquility Intermediate School in Port of Spain. “At that time,” said Marjorie Boothman, “Hazel lived on Alberto Street, Woodbrook and the young adults of their age group often held their get-togethers at the Henleys. In fact, the famous football team, Malvern, was born at Hazel Henley’s home with her brother Hamil as one of the team’s founders.”

“Hazel had a beautiful voice.” Boothman remembered. “We named her “Sarah Vaughan, the Divine One.” She sang with the Trinity Cathedral Choir; she had a lovely “contralto voice” and she played the piano as well.  Marjorie said she understood Hazel was born in the United States, to Trinidad parents. For her secondary education, she was sent to Trinidad to live with her aunt Winnie. She attended one of the premier secondary schools, Bishop Anstey’s for Girls. Her brother took his secondary education at Queens Royal College, one of the premier secondary schools for boys. Hazel’s home was the meeting place for all the young girls and boys.

The Henleys changed residence from Alberto Street in Woodbrook to Upper Picton Streetin New Town, near the Queen’s Park Savannah. The Henley’s residence continued to be a gathering place of young people in the Henley group and it was at Picton Street in Newtown that the ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ was formed in 1951. Hazel Henley gave the orchestra its name, which she took from a yacht which was anchored in the Port of Spain harbor.

The advent of ‘Girl Pat’ represented not only a breaking of the gender barrier in the development of the steel band movement, but the barriers of class were shattered as well. Later on, the barriers of ethnicity were shattered with the coming prominence of contributors  like Jit Samaroo, Bobby Mohammed, Steve Achaiba, Selwyn Tarradath, Junior Pouchet, Curtis Pierre and others, now too numerous to mention. Reflected in the history of the development of steel band is the multi-faceted and fascinating Trinidad & Tobago society.

The powerful influence of class stratification on the behavior of Trinidadians in the early periods of the steel band movement is illustrated by the experience of my bosom friend, Fuzzy Davis. Our friendship went far back to our days as young adults when we served in the country’s Defense Force, popularly called the ‘Army.’           

It was late Carnival Tuesday evening in 1965 when my friend and old Army buddy, Fuzzy Davis, was chipping down Tragarete Road in Port of Spain with his band returning to its home in Woodbrook. Hanging on his left arm around her waist was this beautiful young damsel. Looking very classy and delighted that she was in the arms of her beau, but little did she realize that her joy was coming to a sudden end. As the band reached the corner of Colville Street on Tragarete Road, an elderly lady just grimaced as she saw the young lady in Fuzzy’s arms chipping to the sweet music of ‘Invaders Steel Band.’ The elderly lady rushed into the band of masqueraders and grabbed her daughter from Fuzzy’s arm. The action was as fast as lightning. The action was not accompanied by words, except the ones she muttered under her breath to her daughter, “What are you doing with these steel band hooligans?”

Fuzzy protested weakly. Needless to say, he was embarrassed to the point of tears. But somehow he knew that it was futile to fight the powerful force of class prejudice. Somehow he knew that middle class society of that era frowned on women of its social grouping participating in any aspect to the activity of the steel bands, not even overt enjoyment of the music that was to become famous worldwide and accepted in cultural circles. Some families ostracized their sons who associated with steel bands. For their daughters to be associated with steel bands was unthinkable.

So the appearance of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ in 1951 signaled a change in attitudes to the culture of the steel band movement. As the band built a foundation and gained acceptance socially, it became clear that this aggregation of well-educated, talented young women with training in music, who were contributing to the musical development of the steel band was destined to play an important role in the history of the steel band in Trinidad and Tobago. 

Pat Maurice, a foundation member of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra,’ remembers Hazel Henley, the leader known for her strength and commitment as she did the groundwork for persons like herself and her sister Barney to become members of ‘Girl Pat.’ This was at a time when the participation of women in steel band activity was frowned upon. “Hazel,” she said, “was well equipped for the role. She was from a prominent family and she was a music teacher at a prominent school.”

Pat remembers that Hazel had decided to convene a set of meetings with the foundation members after communicating with their families. Pat said the steel band had always held a fascination for the girls. They all came from the Woodbrook and St. Clair areas of Port of Spain.

Their knowledge of the steel band culture was based on what they knew of ‘Invaders Steel Orchestra,’ at the time the unchallenged kings of Woodbrook.  ‘Invaders Steel Orchestra’ was therefore their main influence.

At that time, Pat Maurice was the youngest of the three Maurice sisters, and she was involved in choreography. She was in the junior group at the Little Carib Theatre, which was founded by Beryl McBurnie, the first Lady of Dance. Beryl McBurnie was the first person to put a steel band on stage in a theater when she had ‘Invaders Steel Orchestra’ provide the music for a performance of her Little Carib Dance Group.

Pat Maurice reminisced that she had been exposed to the arts studying classical piano during her early years. Starting when she was eight years of age it was easy for her to develop an interest in the Arts. Pat explained that she was always musically inclined so that when she returned from the island of Dominica after a vacation with her mother, she found that her two sisters had already joined the Little Carib Theater in the senior group.  Beryl Mc Burnie wanted to start a junior group then and wanted her to join.  She asked for my mother’s approval, and of course she consented.  “That’s how I became involved in the steel band,” said Pat Maurice.

Beryl had begun her career in the 1940s. She attended Columbia University in New York and studied under the famous Martha Graham. She subsequently performed in the United States under the stage name “La Belle Rosette.” She could have had a bright future abroad, but instead returned to Trinidad, and in 1948 opened the Little Carib Theater. That was the beginning of a rich and inspiring career of nurturing and building on the cultural art forms of Trinidad and Tobago, with a concentration on dance.

Pat Maurice continued. With the steel band now seen as an extension of performances within the dance routine, Hazel Henley came up with the idea of starting a steel band, an ‘All Girls Steel Orchestra,’ and she asked Pat’s mother for her participation. At the time Pat was very involved with a senior form class at Bishop’s Anstey High School. At fourteen years of age, it would be a tough schedule to do her school work while being involved with steel band and dance practice.

Despite this circumstance, she then became a member of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra.’  Hazel was able to get people like Ellie Robertson, Grace and Joyce Forde and Jean Ewing and Sammie Espinet to join as well.  Yvonne Alcala came in at a later stage. Some of the girls left to get married. There was Simia Didier and Pat’s eldest sister, Barney, for a very short time. “We were the original members of Girl Pat Steel orchestra,” Pat said. “We used to play out a lot at cocktail parties, and we gave concerts at the then-Roxy Theater in St. James, Port of Spain.”

“Emory Cook who was the first to record the steel band when he visited Trinidad then made a recording of us doing two songs, a Castilian tune and the Breeze and I, a bolero. In those days I was initially a tenor pan player but I was also substituted on the bass drums for certain tunes.”

Girl Pat Performance

As an extension of this development, “Girl Pat” got a lot of publicity and still there were people with raised eyebrows wondering how certain parents could allow their daughters to play in a steel band.  But the band was not playing on the road, although its members savored the excitement of hitting the road. Hazel Henley, their leader, and Ellie Mannette, who was the band’s pan tuner put paid to these longings. They strongly told us, “You all can’t make the road; you all really can’t make the road.”

Beryl McBurnie recognized what was going on with the group of girls socially and when Little Carib Theater was invited to tour Jamaica for that country’s Centenary celebrations, she invited ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ along with John Buddy Williams Orchestra.  So it was off to Jamaica on a Little Carib tour with ‘Girl Pat’ in tow and John Buddy Williams, the resident band at Little Carib Theatre.

The tour was fun-filled but there was much stress and pressure in fulfilling the exercise. Pat Maurice was playing her instrument in Girl Pat and also dancing with the Little Carib Dance Group. The stage managers had to arrange the program so that she would have enough time to change from one costume into the steel band uniform and vice versa. Lots of times, she would be changing in the wings of the stage and that caused a lot of excitement during the tour.

The girls in ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ did feel proud of their contributions to the advancement of the steel band movement. They mastered an instrument no one ever thought would accomplish such stature in today’s world of music. “It is sad though,” observed Pat Maurice, “young girls today are so unaware of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra, and their contributions. The fact that they are today involved in a movement created as a result of the pioneering efforts of Hazel Henley.”

Pat Maurice was indeed impressed though when she attended a Panorama show one year in Trinidad at the Queen's Park Savannah where there was an exhibition display of pictures of five of the ‘Girl Pat’ members in a glass case at the event. “Of course I had to correct them with the spelling of my name; they had it in a very strange manner.” She smiled. This encounter engendered the memories and excitement of going to pan rehearsals, in preparation for their performances at the Little Carib Theatre. Pat remembered going on tour once and her school’s headmistress was not at all pleased, and on one of her reports came the statement that read, “She should be more involved in dance, she has too many extra-curricular activities.” This obviously was ignored by her parents as Pat remained along with her sister in the steel band.

Now today, the kids don’t have time to sleep because of all the extracurricular activities she expressed. “Well I think that that has made me a better person throughout the years, anyhow for having those extracurricular activities,” she observed.

The girls in ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ enjoyed a most wonderful relationship with each other. Hazel Henley was the perfect teacher. She had a lot of patience with those who didn’t have a musical background naturally, to get what she wanted them to play, but she was a strict disciplinarian but not a martinet; there is a big difference there. Of course being involved in music, anybody who is artistic, there would be a slight difference in training.

Although the steel pan was conceptualized and introduced by the underclass, the role of the middle class had a major impact on the development of the instrument, hence groups like ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra,’ ‘Silver Stars’ and ‘Invaders Steel Band’ influenced the advancement of the steel pan in the society and it helped change people’s minds. Pat Maurice said this whole concept was really based on the behavior of the individuals who were involved at that time, because there were rivalries and there was lots of fighting. “You could depend,” she said, “that if one band encountered the other on the road this encouraged confrontational behavior.”

The method of settling people’s differences without attacking each other by throwing a bottle and engaging in violent behavior was a difficult adjustment to overcome. Trying to make people understand that you could settle your differences without pelting the pan and throwing a bottle was a challenge. Many citizens of Trinidad & Tobago worked diligently to resolve this behavior. The bad attitude changed in time and new methods of solving problems were acquired.

Coming out of the whole “Woodbrook” scene was the ‘Invaders Steel Band’ pan players who displayed a quieter mentality than uptown players. Beryl McBurnie made an observation, “This was art and it had to be portrayed in that particular manner, given that category of acceptance, all will be well.”

It therefore meant that steel bands located in different parts of the community would reflect the social environment they emerged. The kind of performances that ‘Girl Pat’ did for instance was an example. They played for cocktail parties and they only did concerts so they weren’t performing in the Carnival jamming, not even a block party. Once they held a private party at the house of founder Hazel Henley, where they practiced. Friends and family as well as supporters attended the event in the house which was then located at 79 Picton Street, Newtown.

Hazel Henley’s contribution to the steel pan movement is understated and sometimes overlooked. She devoted herself to the culture of the land in her efforts to advance the art of the steel pan in an era when women’s participation in the advancement of the steel pan was frowned upon and not regarded as admirable. Through her passion for the expression of the art form Hazel dedicated herself to teaching the girls. She offered herself and her home to continue this outpouring of exercises in performing and staging. This was an opportunity for the girls to maintain the expressions of the cultural traditions of dance, Carnival and steel pan playing.

For her efforts Gilman Figaro and the Board of Sunshine Awards in New York, honored Henley by installing her in their Hall of Fame, billed as Caribbean Rhythms in 1999 at Tribeca Performing Arts Centre, Manhattan, New York.

Pat Maurice expressed her delight with the advancement of the steel band movement from the days of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra.’ She said, “Every time there is a Panorama competition, I visit Trinidad to attend. I do not miss it. It is quite a pilgrimage. When there was a concern that pan would die, and I saw and listened to some of those bands perform, I was indeed pleased and felt satisfied that it is in good hands and will survive. There is so much talent, it has spread throughout the world, I go to Notting Hill Carnival in London, England and I will make sure I attend their Panorama, which has improved tremendously. There are a lot of young Londoners participating, she observed. This is good.” She also said “The instrument has advanced because of the contributions of people like Sterling Betancourt and others who have promoted the instrument tremendously. They have probably gotten their pans from Trinidad, they are beautifully tuned. This is why someone has to do something about the patenting of the pan, an American tried to do it sometime ago, but could not, we must get up, get up, get up.”

Although standardization has been talked about, it is difficult to standardize the instrument. When you think of each band with their tuners tuning the pans and the notes in different spots, it certainly reflects the uniqueness of the instrument. The government of Trinidad & Tobago has declared the steel pan, the country’s national instrument. More political and financial resources have been contributed to the advancement of the art form today.

Pat Maurice went on to speak of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ as a motivator for women as they practiced playing pan. She said the members of Girl Pat steel orchestra were of varied backgrounds in their knowledge of music.

“Some just had an ear for music and Ellie Mannette made it very easy for us, because he marked the notes so that when Hazel would play something on the piano, she would tell those who didn’t know, which notes to play and then everybody would just memorize it. That was how it worked. Everyone did not have a musical background but the ability to catch what was being taught by those who did not have a musical background proved to be very creative.

“Technically, when you think of players today, a lot of them do not have a musical background and they do not read music. There were just two or three members of the band who could have read music, but this was not how it was done. They played by adaptation to the situation. Hazel told them what to play, and for those who did not know their notes, they memorized it.”

Hazel Henley indeed played a major role in the lives of the girls in ‘Girl Pat Steel Band.’ In her declining years, a few of the girls had visited her: Ellie, Lorna Pierre, Myrna Chapman and Pat Maurice. Hazel during her illness was well taken care of by dear ones, who lived with her, Nisha Crawford with her two sons and Barbara Burnett who taught alongside with Hazel at St. Crispin’s Anglican School in Woodbrook. Hazel Henley eventually died in 2003.

The band, Girl Pat, did not survive the times of the early steel band era, because its membership changed; girls grew into maturity, some got married thus starting different lifestyles not having the time to devote to participation in the band, and some were brought in to replace those who left. Survival became a challenge and so eventually the band disintegrated.

After Hazel’s aunt was stricken with ill health, social activities in the house were ‘limited’; it became difficult for the band to practice there and as a result, life simply took a toll and people went in different directions.

It was sad that this didn’t continue as Hazel just could not accommodate the new thrust. She was responsible for her aunt, caring for her and trying to find new people with similar passions and commitment which were a needed requirement for the orchestra to function. Some members went away, some got married and left the area and so lacked renewing members. With this the band met its demise.

Clearly, ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ did play a tremendous role in enhancing the presence of women in the steel band movement. We note today the dominant presence of young women in steel bands worldwide. It should be easily reflected in the diligent efforts by the members of these early female steel bands to master the art and conquer the prejudices that followed them. The spirit of these women in pan was reflected in the song, “Woman on the Bass,” a calypso which calypsonian Scrunter composed and sang. As I continued documenting early contributions in developing the steel pan, I simply marveled at women’s experiences of and what ran through their minds during their performances. 

Ellie Robertson was another member of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra.’ Her nickname is Ellie, but her real name is Eleanor, everybody knows her as Eleanor.  She said she was delighted indeed to play with the all girls steel orchestra in 1951. She said they practiced regularly at Hazel’s home in Newtown and had Ellie Mannette as a teacher who helped them play the instrument. She said Kevin Dove, who was a member of ‘Invaders Steel Band’ used to come over and help them out by tuning their pans.

Ellie Robertson said in those days it was a “No No” to beat pan, because it was looked upon as a real disgrace. Everybody looked at the practice as real hooligan behavior. “We continued, despite this attitude. People began to recognize us, only because of the venues of stature we performed at.”

Ellie continued, on “We played at a Christmas show Olive Walke held at the Roxy Theater in lower Port of Spain, I would never forget that. I think that opened the eyes of everyone.

We played “Silent Night” and some lovely Christmas tunes and from then I tell you, people's reactions towards us were different.” After that, they came back and said, “Oh, they were wonderful.” There were still some individuals who needed to be persuaded.”

Even Ellie’s principal (Umilta McShine) of Tranquility School at the time chastised her negatively telling her she was very upset. She went to Ellie’s mother and said, “Marian, how dare you allow Eleanor to beat the pan.” Ellie’s mother ignored her, needless to say, allowed her to continue playing with the steel band.

Eugene Goin was the band’s manager whose responsibilities were to facilitate the group as they performed at events and made arrangements to accommodate the players wherever they went. A gentleman named of Shaw who was Guyanese, contacted Eugene with an invitation for the band to perform in Guyana. After speaking with Hazel the band accepted the invitation to travel and then departed for Guyana.

‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ toured Guyana some time in 1952, and there they performed for the governor and also played at a charity function in Georgetown, the capital. The band enjoyed much publicity especially in the Guyanese newspapers. Upon their return home, Ellie had photographs of the band going to Guyana and returning as well.

They were young girls playing in the band, and they came from good homes and good backgrounds and with these activities brought notoriety which put social pressure on them as they performed. Ellie observed, “I do not know what people said behind our backs, but they did speak, hence the reason the principal of Tranquility School came and asked my mother, “How could you let your daughter play pan?” But we thought it was fun. We never looked at it as a degrading act. I thought it was really a wonderful exercise.”

Beryl McBurnie, the premier dancer, played a wonderful role in developing the girl’s band. Appearances in her Little Carib Theater in Woodbrook, Port of Spain added prestige to the ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ and gave them a boost. Then journeying to Jamaica with the dance entourages, a separate act on the program not necessary for dance but music accompaniment, gave the band more prominence.

The girls were praised a lot, written about very much in the national newspapers, because their performances were really good. Ellie Robertson said, “I thought so at that time, but when I hear players perform the pan today, I marvel. It’s wonderful now that pan is taken more seriously; it is now part of the curriculum in schools and it is delightful indeed. I really wish I can play like I used to. I have a pan today.” She reminisced saying “I can just play a few notes, I can’t play fast anymore.”

The relationship and camaraderie among the members of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ was wonderful. They got along beautifully; those who are alive remain in touch with each other. They did a quite a lot. It was just fun, fun to learn the pan and be together, it was nice. Looking at the instrument, pan, today, the journey it has travelled is mind boggling for some. It has improved immensely from what it has been before, yet this pace in development has been a critical factor in the minds of some nationals of Trinidad & Tobago. An initiative taken by an American citizen to institute a Steel Pan factory in Columbus, Ohio evoked a measure of disgust and frustration by some of them.  Ellie reacted saying that “The only thing that gets me upset is, here it is you have a pan factory in Columbus, Ohio. Why is it that you cannot have a pan factory in Trinidad & Tobago? There are other factories in other places. To me I find the pan is getting more recognition from outside Trinidad & Tobago.”

By the 1970s, there were many girls now playing the steel pan. Many were performing as guest players from Canada, the USA and London. Some were playing with Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe and ‘Phase II Pan Groove.’ They were right up front, beating that pan. They played so well. Ellie said, “I thought in my day we were good, but these people were terrific.”

Ellie in her continued discourse asserted that Girl Pat certainly laid the foundation for the presence of young women in steel bands today. She felt saddened though that many of the youngsters are unaware of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ and their contributions. As a group of the day with their sense of camaraderie in playing the pan, their practice sessions were enthusiastic. The members first learned the scale, and then learned where the notes were. As time went on, they never looked at a sheet of music which is what is done now. Ellie said, “We simply played from memory, and would play the tune over and over, practicing it, until we got it right.”

The main band arranger was Kevin Dove who also tuned the band’s pans as well, but it was Hazel who taught them to play the tunes as she wanted them. She was a music teacher and she knew a lot about music and she helped us a long. “I took music lessons when I was young, from the time I was five I played the piano, you have to practice in order to maintain that skill.”

The role of women in the steel band movement has been amplified multiple fold, through the resounding success of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra,’ and other female steel bands. Their appearance at a time when the steel pan was being adopted by the middle class society in Trinidad and with the college boys forming Dixieland Steel Orchestra all contributed to the growth of the musical instrument.

The impact of Beryl McBurnie, that Trinidadian dance icon who became a legend in her time too, was a major factor as well in the growth and development of Girl Pat Steel Orchestra. Beryl merely promoted the culture and arts of Trinidad and Tobago through her life’s work and thus interjections in the movement and career of ‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ and facilitating her Little Carib Dance Company at the Little Carib Theatre in Woodbrook, Port of Spain.

‘Girl Pat Steel Orchestra’ after a few years of existence disappeared from the scene, for various reasons which were personal, from being married to migrating to other places and adjusting to personal lifestyles. But their impact on the pan scene was felt and could have been observed through the increased involvement of other women’s activities in the movement, be it performing, arranging or of a social nature. More understanding of the steel pan movement was appreciated by families.  Mothers became more conciliatory and allowed their sons and in some cases, their daughters to play the steel pan.

Pat Bishoop
Pat Bishop

One woman who was outstanding with her contributions to the art form and was looked upon as an authority; even an icon in her own way is Dr. Pat Bishop. I sought Pat out in the early 1980s to capture her contributions to the steel pan movement. She was a successful graphic artist and musical conductor.  She knew music and had arranged for several steel bands, amongst them Desperadoes Steel Orchestra from the hill in Laventille, Port of Spain.

Pat described her association with the steel band movement as a long association and a very improbable one, because she was not born into it, but came to it by a strange route of singing with ‘Esso Tripoli Steel Orchestra’ a long time ago, (somewhere in the late 1950s). “When “I was being too young to know better”.” Pat’s philosophy had a unique twist to it. She believed if one is serious about being West Indian, and one is serious about music, then there is no way one could stay apart from this incredible instrument that was around and there were people who were doing interesting things with it.

“This was by accident” she described. “I happened to be lecturing at the University of the West Indies, when I became involved with birdsong Steel Orchestra because they were on the campus. I was there too, at the same time I started to work with the Samaroo family steel band, not so much arranging for them but drilling and trying to pull out the music that one could hear in the pans but the players were not pulling out. By that time, I was running a choir so that one wanted to have orchestral accompaniment for one’s choir, that kind of thing.” 

This was an opportunity for Pat to achieve her creative objectives. If a person starts to work with as many as two bands, the practice is going to spread. She therefore touched base with steel bands from as far South, Trinidad as Point Fortin to Lopinot in the North, largely as a conductor and an arranger of classical music.

For example, one of the fundamentals Pat was interested in identifying was the extent to which the pan was capable of playing long melodic lines. Because it is a percussion instrument, and as you know, you can get a long note by rolling on the same surface, but you know - to connect those notes in the way that a nineteenth century composer would do for the violin was yet to be seen.

Pat said, “I needed to check that out. I had an interesting experiment with Fertrin Pandemonium Steel Orchestra who did 19th century music of Rachmaninoff and Chopin. We did the Slow Movement of the Second Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto where there was ample opportunity for seeing how far people play into the note and make the long phrase.” “Subsequently after that I worked with Fonclaire Steel Orchestra from San Fernando arranging for them, for the festival and generally just associating myself with a lot of bands.” Pat truly kept herself busy, with activities involving the steel bands of the land.

In Christmas 1981,there was a first for the steel band movement in which five bands with five choirs all together sang and performed Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. This was conducted by Pat Bishop. It was quite an extraordinary event; which occurred in the Jean Pierre Complex in Port of Spain at the concert entitled “Carols and Classics on Steel.” Among the bands performing were the ‘Samaroo Jets,’ ‘Skiffle Bunch’ and ‘Angel Harps’ from Point Fortin, South Trinidad.

Pat indicated that there were actually different styles of playing between Steel bands from the North compared to those from the South of Trinidad. She said that the South players, had a more direct approach in relationship with the stick and the pan. “It is far more direct, a well more emphatic way of playing.  The North players are what you might call, cooler about it.” She felt that she was not in any position to say that one is better than the other, but she was assured that one can make extremely exciting music out of the South players.

“If you give them something that has a lot of pep, a lot of runs, as they are really quite fiery people, they excite you.” Pat felt that a lot of it comes from the circumstances they play, for example, teaching Fonclaire Steel Orchestra, “We would work in the street, we would be reading music under the street light and it is very close to the guts and to the heart and roots of the music. When you get in to the North, you know, you can have the pans come over to your house and the whole thing becomes far gentler.”

Pat, at that time, said she had only drilled Steel Orchestras and never arranged a Panorama tune. By drilling, she meant you simply get in there making sure every section of the band plays what it is supposed to play, in the way it is supposed to play it, just conducting the rehearsals within the sections, putting it together, taking the tune down, making sure everything is the way it is supposed to be, which is sometimes very difficult for an arranger to do because he has got the music on his mind and he very often hears what he thinks he wants to hear. It can become quite helpful if someone comes in a detached way and simply disciplines the players to produce the music. “That’s one of the things I enjoy.”

She went on to describe that it’s a way of getting in there with a lot of fellows and bossing them around (Smiles) (Laughter). She then assured me in response that she was not the only woman who was involved in that kind of process with steel bands; somebody like Louise McIntosh actually teaches pan, and so does Merle Albino-DeCoteau. They are music teachers who also teach pan but there are not many of us who are going to be prepared or who are able to take the risk of staying up in various steel pan yards at all hours of night, it’s not easy.

Looking at the respect paid to her in this role she said, “So far, I have been very lucky, because it isn’t as though one is dealing with the easiest people in the world but I have found them to be very supportive, very responsive and as I have said I have worked with so many bands throughout the island, really just trying to pull up bands to a standard. You know you come across an arranger or a captain and his band working at something, there is a lot of potential there and they say come and give us a hand and you go and you do that.”

For instance, Pat had an interesting experience with the band, ‘Skiffle Bunch,’ which at that time was a pan round the neck group, and carried their pans with straps around their necks. Bishop conducted the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ with them for a recording in 1981. It was an amazing exercise. She did not know until she had done the work with them, how much music there was in the traditional pans, because there is not a note missing in that Hallelujah Chorus. They played for a children’s choir of about 50 little girls in the netball complex facility. They performed some folk carols for the audience.

The culmination was lovely, the children’s voices and these rather light pans, all got along like a house on fire. These children from an elitist girl school in Port of Spain along with the ‘Skiffle Bunch Boys’ from San Fernando performed beautifully, making beautiful expression music indeed and sounded angelic.

Pat expressed her firm belief that, with women becoming more mobile in the music industry, such a resolve intensifies their involvement in steel band music enhancement. This advancement is inevitable. She did not really take the position that it is a special factor for a woman to be involved in any one activity as opposed to any other. Pat said, “I am prepared to surrender cooking to any man; I think that would be an integral part of the whole business of mobilizing women in the steel band movement, but I don’t think it is a critical factor beyond the significance of women’s twentieth century emancipation.”

Pat Bishop noted a most memorable occasion in her tenure, occurred when she arranged Fonclaire Steel Orchestra’s test piece for the 1980 Music Festival. It was a competition they won, when they performed a classical song. It was the La Cenerentola Overture by Rossini. They also got the calypso ready for the competition. All this occurred entirely from scratch. “It was quite an operation” she said, “because there were no readers of music in the band.”

Pat’s task was tremendous, she had to do a whole lot and found it a grueling exercise because she lived and worked in Port of Spain. The band members lived and worked in San Fernando, and there was a lot of travelling back and forth on Saturdays. Practice was horrendous for everybody. They all had to cover a lot of ground in concentrated periods to achieve their objectives.

One way Pat was able to conduct the teaching process was to devise a method of writing out the music score so that members could read the sheet. To a large extent, everybody had a piece of paper. It did not have a conventional staff on it; but this was a way in which they could translate the contents from a piece of paper onto their pans. She said, “Had I not been able to figure that one out, I don’t think we would have gotten to finish the work in time. How did I figure it out?”

Basically she made sure that everybody knew the names of the notes on their pan faces. If for instance you had two Gs, a high G and a low G, well, she would write the G up high, or she would write it low, within a little box. There would be some instructions with respect to the key. For instance always play B Flat unless otherwise indicated, that kind of thing. It really worked. Pat had successfully done this before. Players had to do a lot of the learning for themselves, and for non-readers who in many cases did not know what the tune was like. They succeeded. Because it was sometime before a recording was made available for them to hear what they had let themselves in for, thereby it became challenging. It was great.

Pat used this method successfully. Really it is a handy tool to stumble on. This phenomenon was indeed characteristic of the pan player, who could not read music but played primarily from memory at a high level in such a music festival. Pat Bishop reminded me that they had been doing this all along, but the great thing about ‘Fonclaire Steel Orchestra’ was they had to read a lot of the music themselves even though they can’t read music, because she had worked out this alternative way of writing it down to the knowledge of the instruments which they themselves had.

This surely was a difficult task to accomplish. It would be simpler to just read the score. She said, “I had to do a lot of homework, translating across. I did most of the arrangement on paper, which was handy because I could try to texture the music in a way that was more closely related to the score. Now one of the problems about the classics is that you don’t get the textural differentiation you would get in a conventional orchestra. For example, you have a number of high pitched instruments, you have violin, you have flute and all the rest of them, but they all sound the same in the steel band. All the lines sound the same because it is a single textured instrument.”

What Pat began to do was to arrange in clusters, in other words, she would put like one high tenor, a double second and say a cello and they would play one line, instead of arranging horizontally as is the norm in which you give all the tenors the same thing, all the double seconds, all the cellos, guitars, tenor bases and so on. For example, to make a counter melody really sing through the basic melody, meant she had to split the treble pans and make differentiation between the weight and quality of sound, each line was playing, so that for the horn instruments she tried to get a low pan in, and for the violins she would leave the high pans on their own.

Pat is extremely knowledgeable about the attributes of the steel pan and its adaptability to various kinds of music. She is truly a gem. She began to develop her skill early in her career. In looking toward the future for the steel pan, it was her desire to see someone invent a stick that would give a finer touch as opposed to a softer round; a broader based point of contact on the pan to get a thinner sound, if you wanted to do light percussion work.

Pat said when she was working the Prokofief Classical Symphony with the Samaroo family, she found the Pizzicato violin that was the original on score, and it would have been nice to switch the sticks around.

Pat assured me that she was not at all inventive or technologically minded. In fact the idea of amplified pans never impressed her. A desire to see a microphone; don’t understand mixing boards, makes her, she says “really primitive with that kind of thing. I just like to be able to have as much control as possible over the techniques of playing.”

She said she liked people to work harder at that. She would like players to be more self conscious about the way in which their hands work with their sticks, the way in which the sticks relate to the pan face, that you don’t just play everything the same way, and it doesn’t only mean loud and soft, it also means weight, and the way in which you roll. It is the control of the wrist, that kind of thing. In fact, one really had a certain amount of classical training, whether in voice or another instrument one tends to look at those things rather more closely than say somebody else might, because you are so aware of the hand is laid on the piano key or keyboard.

As an arranger, Pat Bishop was very meticulous. What she aspired to is a situation in which, if the original composer came back and heard his music on the steel pan, he would say “Oh Gosh, I am sorry, I never knew about these.” “Really, you know you are doing Bach, and you would say Bach would like that.”  You would know then that you are going well. She said that the composition for the instrument is also a critical area that which she believes is neglected.

Steel pan arrangers and composers Ray Holman and Boogsie Sharpe, have been lonely torch bearers in this area she observed. Unfortunately their compositions are only heard for the most part at Panorama where they are invariably controversial because people feel they are wasting out the band by giving them things to play that nobody else knows. These are merely some of the kinds of criticisms and comments that are thrown around. Pat thinks if the festival is to mean something, increasingly a class of composition has to come out and it has to take precedence over the stuff that has been originated abroad. She said, it’s only then we are going to stretch the instrument. “I think that by playing classical music one stretches the possibilities of the instrument taking a kind of short cut.”

She continued, “In other words, the music is there and what you do is push the instrument to see how far it can reach. I am sure that a more valid direction is going to come out of the experience of men who know the instrument and want to make music specifically for it. Where it’s not being stretched and cramped and compressed out of its nature into something for which it was not originally intended.” She said a song like, “Pan Yard Rhapsody,” by Ray Holman for Carnival; to me was a milestone in composition. “I just hadn’t sat down with a tape and reworked what he did but I could hear some inventions that seem to break every convention rule which produced quite incredible harmonies and weird cross rhythms. I thought it was very staggering.”

Pat went on to tell me,  “I was doing a radio broadcast some time ago in which the object of the program was to play classical music performed by the steel bands alongside the original orchestras. That was very, very interesting. It said so much for the differences, and I had to end the program with “Pan Yard Rhapsody” because it was quite plain that it spoke of a far more authentic truth, it made a far more valid statement. “Pan Yard Rhapsody” was played as a Panorama tune which had tremendous impact on the audience and displayed the intricacies of a composer’s inventiveness.”

Another composer of imminent value and skill who composed a tune of impact in the 1980 Panorama was Clive Bradley with ‘Desperadoes Steel Orchestra.’ Bishop described Bradley’s composition with Desperadoes as unreal; she said it gave her goose bumps as she listened to the performance. It was simply out of this world. She said that is when the pan speaks with them in a most authentic voice, because Bradley was never trying to convert a piece of Chopin for the pans. He was working with an indigenous melody and going direct to the instrument and asking the instrument to speak with its own voice. That is why there is that dynamism. What you are getting is really a communication of something that a people have to say about themselves using their own, forged-out-of-garbage instruments, you know, “necessity is the mother of invention.” That is the beginning of it, the astonishing thing that in such a short space of time people have been able to ask it to speak with such authority. Bradley certainly is one of the past masters in the art of arranging.

As far as classical music is concerned, Pat was indeed an accomplished arranger with the steel bands. She has done so much of it that when the players present sounds like Beethoven or it sounds like Rossini, these runs, you think, “Gosh they are doing it with only two hands. I couldn’t do it with ten fingers,” she expressed, “It’s a remarkable circumstance, but I feel in my bones it does condemn us to the exotic, to the role of the exotic rather than propelling us into main stream music. If it is the only way the wider world can connect with the steel band is by listening to its own music played on the steel band, then I feel as soon as that happens let us try and see what will come out of compositions in which the steel band is an integral part of say the regular instruments of the regular symphonic line. What would happen to a nice little trio of oboe, tenor pan, and cello, I could start writing something like that at the moment, for an oboe and cello and pan. It would be real.”

She went on to say that the pan would be playing what it can do, which would mainly be percussive, the cello would be playing the sustained bass line and the oboe would be carrying part of the melody. Certainly she said, pan can replace the percussive section of a band, a six bass set has so much more to say than a tympani, that is the easiest thing to do away with or to augment, because the tympani just doesn’t have the melodic content. “You get more ‘Boom, Boom, Boom’ rather than ‘Tune, Tune, Tune’ which you do get with the six or nine bass.”

Pat said, “I think there are some areas in the existing repertoire in which one could quite usefully substitute some of the lines for additional texture; we just haven’t done that work unless the wider world is prepared to grapple with the fact that they do have a brand new instrument on their hands with a wide range of possible musical expressions, they are going to do themselves a disservice, and we will continue to languish.”

The instrument has been making an impact world over. It is fast developing in various countries, as in South Africa, Sweden, Japan, and several parts of Europe and some cities in the United States of America. Its social tendencies continue to draw various groups into its functioning capabilities. As a social appeaser, the steel pan has historically been used as a tool for good measurement to advance discipline and team spirit. In the formation years the steel pan emerged with conflict among its various groups, hence there were lots of fights amongst bands.

Obstacles such has sexism, class and other prejudices made it difficult for women to function in such climates. The conflicts amidst the steel bands at the time occurred mainly because of territorial upheavals, class and complexion differences and sometimes because of jealous behaviors amongst team to team conduct. In spite of all of this, competitions were held and proved to be healthy in advancing the steel pan movement.

Pat Bishop with her knowledge and wisdom functioned always at a high level of performance. Always in awe and amazement, she offered her contributions to the youth and the pan world tirelessly. She sometimes appeared as a judge at some of the various competitions. She pointed out that the relationship between judge and pan player has not been necessarily the most harmonious one.

She told me, “I myself detest having to judge. What it does, is that it prevents one from getting around to see one’s friends during any given year one is judging because they will say that judge is in such and such a yard, helping such, and such a band, and if the band does well, they say it is favoritism, if it doesn’t do well, the band itself will say well she was teaching us so she marked us hard, so you just can’t win there, and you lose a lot of music in the process.”

Pat explained, “You have to understand, it is a highly emotive business, in which the criteria of judging, which is essentially musical, are not readily understood by the rank and file pan player. The whole nature of practice means that pan men and women simply don’t seem to hear each other. They don’t even get to hear during the competition because the bands are so unwieldy that there is no way in which you can pre-set the pans and everybody sits down and listen and they get up and play and they go back and listen so they have no basis of comparison. They can’t understand what the judges are doing and they don’t know what they have done in relation to what the others have done. So that in their loneliness, they only remember the nights they have spent practicing and they cannot understand why they have not won. And that is a perfectly reasonable situation. It’s just very hard on a judge who has to explain in language they can understand that their interpretation didn’t do justice to their arrangement.”

Continuing she said, “Now these are heavy words, and no man in a backline knows what these words mean nor can in fact can he care, because he is just one of many.” The steel band association, Pan Trinbago, often facilitates interaction and meetings with the pan men and women. Can this help in facilitating the awareness process? Bishop told me it is done all the time, they try very hard. She said “I have tried but it is not just going to get home to your rank-and-file person nor is it going to get home to the fans, because you have to understand the premier steel pan competition (Panorama,) listening is an exceedingly partisan thing, coming out of community loyalty and all sorts of things.”

Really the fate of the band has not so much to do with how or what it played but how or where it placed. So that there is no way that you can persuade a fan, that what he heard his band do was less good than the rival band they heard, and the reaction between fan or community support and the band that is being supported is much, much more stronger than any words or acts of reason which one engages in before the heat of the competition begins.

Pat said, “Once practice is started there is no way you can tell them anything.  The fan is like all crowds, fickle, unreliable, generally as far as I am concerned, I would love to hear Panorama (the steel pan competition) in an empty Savannah, because you can’t. You have no idea how difficult it is to hear a band which the crowd decides to applaud before it even gets on stage and they scream happily throughout the performance and you don’t know what it is they are playing, because they can’t plain hear. No.”

Further she went on to say, “Players are playing a way friends hear and donned by the crowd, at the end of it, what have you got, if you make the mistake of saying, well look what I could hear. This band did not seem to me worth the applause. Then you are running into grave, personal and physical danger. The fans’ reaction does not move you as a judge but on the other hand, I would say this of the final night, the fans do make an effort to come out to listen and to be audience at a presentation of music.”

Now you know that when you feel good about something that you heard and there is a roar of applause from the crowd, that reinforces it. It can’t tell a lie and say that it is not good to feel that this is a response that is shared. If you are the only person who can hear the quality, or you are the only person who can hear the mistakes then you sometimes wonder, well what the hell, what does it matter? Surely the thing is that in a democratic situation one ought to give the response of the audience some kind of consideration though when you do go to the marks and you do have to give ‘x’ number of marks for balance and quality of sound and for arrangement and for rhythm and so on. That early gut level feeling does evaporate. No one can deny the infectious atmosphere at the premiere steel band competition (Panorama) each year continues to attract hundreds of  patrons to the event. So much so the event is being repeated globally at Trinidad style Carnivals occurring in various cities and foreign countries. The role of the fan never diminishes.

Pat Bishop’s reflections came out of the range of her normal interests since she worked with classical musicians and singers, and she had a great interest in the folk tradition. She even used to make Carnival costumes in her early days. She was a historian by profession and trained as a painter, a graphic artist. It would be difficult for her to take a single narrow view of the steel pan instrument because she sees so many areas in which society affects the instrument. The instrument in turn affects certain aspects of the way the society sees itself and so on. The view would be broad rather than specific, though from time to time, one is called to work very hard in depth of some specific aspect.

Pat Bishop, a cultural icon of Trinidad & Tobago died on August 20th, 2011. She passed on in a way she would have really wanted if she was able to request it. She was at work. She was attending a meeting with some of her cultural colleagues planning the Implementation of Arts, Cultural and Entrepreneurial projects and Patriotism Projects of her country.

The role women played in the development of the steel pan is certainly historical and versatile. From the early days of the Barrack yard, the concept of this characteristic was very evident in the level of family and community management.

For example, the concept of mothers running the Big Yard is confirmed by Professor Acklyn Lynch, who came from a yard in Newtown and is now a retired university professor in the USA. They played an important role. He said, “Mothers” were key people; they were responsible for church, and food, and they worked as maids and washed clothes and did other domestic chores. Church, Food and Education were the central preoccupations.

The men worked or didn’t work. The men drank rum, they were saga boys, and they were maintained by these women. They were the fathers of the children who eventually beat the steel drums, played football, and became dancers, barbers, jail birds, thieves. In other words these women knew who these men were, and accepted them for what they were.

The women endured the situation; it was no problem for them to tell the man where to get off. They were not solely dependent on the males and so could adopt such an attitude. They understood their boys would be in those kinds of roles, too. In other words Ma Tyrell brought the money home, she had ten boys, and she knew that four of the boys could go to jail, four would work on the docks and two would become wealthy. She understood that the girls would work with her. The boys became steel band men and “Bad Johns,” but Ma Tyrell had no problems with that, and Mrs. Ifill Hodge knew her son would become a professional civil servant; they had no problems with that. Those women did not blow any whistles on their men to the authorities, they stayed with their men, they did not leave them, they were matriarchs. Mrs. Moore knew the boys would become great football players and cricketers. She was cool with that.

Growing up in Woodbrook, Acklyn said that you experienced this complete range of performance in people’s lives. Woodbrook was a town of distinction that stood out in the city of Port of Spain. 

Poor Black people lived at the lower end - around Gatacre Street, Baden Powell, Kitchener Street, down to MacDonald Street - while the higher-class folk lived on Carlos Street and Alfredo Street. They were school teachers, judges, lawyers, pharmacists and policemen of Barbadian origin. The middle-class people like H.O.B. Wooding, a prominent attorney-at-law, and the Carlos Street folk had a different ethic, a different sense of responsibility in their homes.

In the big yard, the role of men was different from that of men in the upper- and middle-class areas of the town. Men in the big yard had leverage over women, that often manifested itself as domestic violence; but somehow it did not stop the women from being independent.

The 'Yard' took care of its own. For there was a great sense of community and love sharing.  

The range of women’s involvement in the steel pan movement is wide and diverse as their influences go beyond simply their musical prowess. Social influences, for example, are one major factor, the relationship of mothers with their sons. Take for instance the relationship of the mother of “Pan” icon Ray Holman, and how she confronted the fact that little Ray was beating pan. Remember the days when young people were ostracized by their own family for associating with the steel pan.

Mrs. Holman said, “Well, I was very upset in the beginning when I heard that my son was involved in pan beating, because in those days it was very terrible. The men who played pan were not of the best and there were lots of rows and riots and upheavals, you know, as long as somebody played a pan, you always thought that, well, the next thing that they will be in for a lot of trouble. You know. So I was very upset when I heard he was playing pan.” When asked if she tried to stop Ray from beating pan, she said her brothers were more serious than she. They were very strong, they wanted her to stop him from playing the pan “but I still gave him a chance.”

“My brothers thought it would interfere with his school life, his scholastic career. They told me to keep him away from the pan yard, ban him from the pan yard, but I thought that it was a little past time and I really gave him a measure of freedom. As a matter of fact we did not have talks about his accomplishments and ability to play. It was friends who would tell me about it and would advise me just as my brothers, it was a very bad thing for him.” Mrs. Holman was in for a shock when she discovered her son’s activities as he was playing pan.

One of her friends heard Ray perform and she was so impressed when he played a solo at a certain Christmas party, she thought it was something wonderful. So Ray’s Mom became a bit lenient in the matter, more than her brothers and it went along like that. Eventually, when Ray did his ‘O Levels’ in school and he was successful in passing his exams, her brothers were really surprised and they too sort of relented a little, because “they were sure that this was going to be a catastrophe, that this boy would not be able to study and he was making the biggest mistake of his life and that sort of thing. But having passed his ‘O Levels’ exam, they too became easier in their minds with feelings of Ray playing pan.”

“The pan yard was not very far from where we lived, two streets apart.” Mrs. Holman said that she never got in touch with his teachers but “it was friends of ours who were interested in his future who would speak with me in regards to Ray’s continued playing steel pan.” Ray began playing when he was about fourteen years old. With his success, she felt very happy to hear him play as he went on to play at Pan Festivals. Subsequently, he won the island wide Ping Pong solo competition held at Queen’s Hall in Port of Spain. Mrs. Holman joyously said, “It was a very great night, there were many competitors and he emerged winner. It made me very happy. This occurred I think in 1962, or 1964 somewhere around there.”

When asked about the source of Ray’s musical influence, his Mom said there was a friend nearby where they lived who was a very good pianist, just two or three houses away. She thought there was where he got his musical ideas. As he was interested in pan at the time they had the piano and he learned music. He read music at the home with the piano. “Well, my brothers played the violin, both of them. I wouldn’t say that he got much from both of them, but this friend with the piano and I think the Beryl McBurnie group did help him.” Indeed Beryl McBurnie did contribute to Ray’s advancement in the steel pan world.

Ray has composed and arranged several tunes for the Carnival season; among those tunes were winners. At least in four consecutive years, his arrangements have come first, second, first, second. So in four years, two firsts and two seconds and besides that he has done his own compositions in pan and his compositions have done very well. Ray’s mother went on to declare that her son’s love for music and love for the steel pan are the factors that anchored his success in the steel pan movement.

Mrs. Holman reflected on the period of the steel pan era when there was tremendous violence which does not exist anymore. She said the type of individual in those days was not the type of young men who perhaps had schooling. “Rivalry,” they couldn’t take on rivalry.”

They did not accept competition easily; they had a competitive spirit, and their idea was, if anything was better than them, they resorted to violence. We had some very good men in this country like Attorney Lennox Pierre and Police Inspector Barnes who saw there was a lot of talent in the steel band movement, and so they talked to members and encouraged them and listened to them. Observing their violent dispositions, they enlightened them as to what competition should be like and as a result of that, they started to drop their violent behavior and so the men began to improve their own personalities. You found when they played competitively; if they didn’t win they would take it with a more sober mind. “Everything just worked out and improved itself.”

The steel band movement has improved very much. Mrs. Holman said, “When my son, Ray, started to play and he got over that period of uncertainty with the Queen’s Royal College boys, roughly about eight of them joined in one of the steel bands that he was very concerned with. At least there were eight or nine of the parents of the college boys, had become aware that the boys had liked the pan, they started to play, they got in to a very good band, which was the ‘Starlift Steel Band.’ From there, they just kept on improving until the band was recognized and the parents agreed that it was not a bother; it was rather an interest. They quite took their sons’ parts; they settled down nicely, and the boys were successful.”

In the early years, the type of young men involved with the steel band movement came from the underprivileged levels of society. They were of the poorer elements; and some less educated. They were often blamed for causing upheavals and trouble in the communities. But as time passed, other young men and women started to join and this helped improve the character of the steel band movement until it became quite respectable and more acceptable.

Mrs. Holman spoke admirably of her son Ray’s playing the pan, despite her brothers’ earlier protests. She said, “Well, at the time I couldn’t feel anything, I just felt it was a past time. He liked it and I became lenient and allowed him to do it and just left it at that. Well, after years when he started to show there was something musically in him, I became interested and listened on, and eventually when he excelled and won the competition, I was very proud.”

This pride Mrs. Holman expressed and displayed has transcended throughout the years as mothers became more supportive of their off-springs when they participated in the steel band movement. The tendency became a norm eventually. The steel pan was subsequently introduced in schools and the role of women in the development of the instrument intensified. No longer were they submissive or abused socially, but were teachers, instructors, leaders, spokespersons and players. We can easily reflect on the role Hazel Henley and others like her played and say that it was well done.

Von Martin
Von Martin


See more on Voices of Pan Pioneers of Trinidad & Tobago by Von Martin

Von Martin - Steelpan Documentarian
Chief Executive Officer & Founder
Caribbeana Communications Inc.

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