“If I do have a blueprint, it is embedded in my head. The younger tuners today have a more systematic approach with actual measurements. Older tuners still eyeball a lot of the steps. In today’s world, we have a lot of specialization where we have people specializing in the building which encompasses sinking, grooving and preparation. Then there are people who prepare and break in (first tune) and then there are the tuners who finish the process. To be an accomplished tuner, one must go through all the steps to arrive at the ultimate.” –– Earle Wong
Performing artist, educator, arranger and panist Earle Wong shares his steelpan history as he exposes his deep passion for Pan in an exclusive interview with Ms. Aisha Joseph.
Aisha J. - “Please provide a brief bio about yourself.”
Earle W. - “Making, tuning, and playing the steel pan is Earle Wong's first love and profession. He has been involved with steel bands from the age of twelve, initially playing and arranging. After mastering the complex art of making and tuning steel pan instruments, he founded PAN-YARD in 1979. Upon his arrival in Toronto in 1968, Earle joined the University of Toronto STELTONES and arranged the music for a few tracks on a 'Mellow Taste of Steel, the first steel band album produced in Canada by a resident band.
“He also produced and played on Steelband Fever, which featured his band TRIN-STARS. Before coming to Canada, Earle was an influential pioneer in the foundation of the TOBAGO ALL-STARS which was a dominant force in the 1960s and 1970s. In the Tobago 1994 Panorama competition, he was co-tuner for the champion Our Boys with whom he toured Mexico as a tuner/player in 1993. He continues to be a co-tuner for this band to the present day.
“Earle's expertise in the art of handcrafting and tuning precision instruments is sought after by professional musicians locally and in major centres across Canada, the USA and The Caribbean. He participated in a documentary film on steel pans entitled Different Timbres and in pan workshops at EXPO'86 and CULTURES'88. In addition to being featured in several CBC Radio and Television documentaries, it is his contribution to the Ontario Crafts Council's exhibition Handmade for Music that has earned him recognition on the Canadian stage of art and culture. His pans are included among the crafts of twenty-six Canadian elite instrument makers in William Laskin's book The World of Instrument Makers: A Guided Tour and in Carmelle Begin's book Opus: The Making of Musical Instruments in Canada.
“Earle's instruments are on permanent display at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec. Earle is also the recipient of many steel pan awards. He was honoured by Pan Trinbago Inc. in Trinidad, the world governing body for pan, with an Award of Excellence (1997) and with Certificates of Excellence (2002, 2003 & 2004) for his participation in the Trinidad & Tobago Panorama. In 2000 he was inducted on the Honor Roll for Tobago pan tuners and, also, received the Lee Spree Award for pan tuning from the Tobago Region of Pan Trinbago. For his outstanding contribution to the pan movement in Canada, he was awarded the Raphael Passey Award (1996) and A Pioneer of Pan Award (2002). Earle is a graduate of Industrial Engineering and Business Administration from Ryerson University in Toronto; however, making and playing the steel pan is his work! His love! HIS LIFE!”
Aisha J. -“What sparked your interest to become a steelpan builder and tuner?”
Earle W. - “My elder brother and my cousin were tuners and my best friend was also a tuner. I started off in Canada just helping my friend with the sinking, just for the physical exercise. Later when he returned to Trinidad & Tobago, I decided to pursue the art.”
Aisha J. - “What is the hardest part of building/tuning for you? Please explain.”
Earle W. - “There is no hardest part. If you want to do it well, you have to practice and do it often.”
Aisha J. - “Do you think there is a need for female builders and tuners? If so, why?”
Earle W. - “There is a need for good tuners, whether male or female.”
Aisha J. - “Do you have a blueprint in which you follow to build and tune? If so, what makes it unique to others?”
Earle W. - “If I do have a blueprint, it is embedded in my head. The younger tuners today have a more systematic approach with actual measurements. Older tuners still eyeball a lot of the steps. In today’s world, we have a lot of specialization where we have people specializing in the building which encompasses sinking, grooving and preparation. Then there are people who prepare and break in (first tune) and then there are the tuners who finish the process. To be an accomplished tuner, one must go through all the steps to arrive at the ultimate.”
Aisha J. - “Do you admire anyone in the field? If so, who and why?”
Aisha J. - “Is there anything in the building/tuning process that you think needs improvement or can be done differently?”
Earle W. - “The building/tuning process has been pretty well standardized. I think that improvements are mainly needed in the quality of the raw material utilized.”
Aisha J. - “Do you believe pan players should be taught the basics of steelpan building? Do you think it will aid in better care for the instruments?”
Earle W. - “I do not think that it is necessary. An appreciation of how the instrument is tuned and what conditions affect the tuning is sufficient.”
Aisha J. - “What are three (3) major key points for networking in the steelpan world?”
Earle W. - “The steelpan world in relatively new and there are many who although not qualified, make claims and statements that are inaccurate. Consequently, because of social media, there is a lot of false information that circulates around the world. Proper research is essential in this field. This is the major point in networking”
Aisha J. - “Where do you see yourself in the next five (5) years?”
Earle W. - “In the next five years, I hope to be doing the same as I am doing now, but to a lesser the extent by having people doing more of the initial stages of the process.”
Aisha J. - “Can you describe the steelpan experience in Canada?”
Earle W. - “I have experienced the growth of the steelpan in Canada. When I arrived here in 1968, there were very few players or steel bands. I have been involved with the pan building and tuning and have witnessed the growth where we have many pan players and steel bands. Pan is taught at various levels in our school system. Where we have fallen short is that at the curriculum level, we have no Universities involved. We have developed our own Panorama-type competition in the summer and there are various concerts highlighting Pan at different times of the year.”
photo: Earle Wong
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