“...Time has come that the drums or barrels be standardized so that the texture and thickness of the metal along with the other materials used to make the drums are all one thing. I believe that this will help with creating a uniformed sound. ” –– Veron Henry
Tuner, arranger and panist Veron Henry shares his steelpan history as he exposes his deep passion for manufacturing and tuning instruments of Pan in an exclusive interview with Ms. Aisha Joseph.
Aisha J. - “Please provide a brief bio about yourself.”
Veron H. - “Born on the 15th December 1967, Veron Cornell Archibald Henry, a pan technician, started playing the steel pan (the only musical instrument to be invented in the 20th century) at the early age of 4. His father, Mr. Eustace “Manning” Henry was mainly responsible for this. Mr. Veron Henry became an official member of the then Cable and Wireless, now Caribbean Union Bank Hells Gate Steel Orchestra in 1979 and played for his first panorama that same year.
He has represented Antigua as a steelpan builder/tuner and performer in France, Atlanta, England, Guyana, Anguilla, Montserrat, Korea, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Mexico, Cancun, Germany, Aruba, Trinidad, Grenada, Barbados, St. Croix, New York City, Rochester, Canada, and Suriname.
Mr. Veron Henry has been making and tuning pan professionally since 1993. To enhance these skills, he has travelled to Trinidad where he had the privilege of working with Mr. Bertram Kelman. He has also participated in a few conferences and workshops in Trinidad and St. Kitts. Mr Henry has worked with other great pan builders such as Mr Eustace “Gatoux” Harris, Mr Vincent Freeland, and Mr Eustace “Manning” Henry. This has helped him to observe and create his own unique style and sound in producing the instrument. Also, Mr. Henry makes pan sticks which are packaged and labeled and sold to boutiques and vendors and any interested patron and pan player. Some of the bands that give patronage are The Hells Gate Steel Orchestra, Gemonites, Halcyon, Harmonites, Ebonites, West Side, Super Stars Steel Orchestras and various churches and schools.
Mr. Henry has ventured a few times in the area of arranging music. His first panorama success as an arranger was in 1990 when the Cable and Wireless Hells Gate won the competition during the Carnival Festival. He has since arranged for other National Competitions, Schools Panorama Competition, Churches, and groups locally and internationally, and of course for The CAB Hells Gate Steel Orchestra.
Mr. Veron Henry has worked in places such as Washington DC, Anguilla, Rochester, NY, Trinidad, and Guadeloupe building and tuning pans. One of his dreams is to see pan playing be developed in all schools and churches. He would also like to see the pan being made the national instrument of Antigua and Barbuda.
Aisha J. -“What sparked your interest to become a steelpan builder and tuner?”
Veron H. - “My father sparked my interest to become a steelpan builder and tuner. He used to make pans in our backyard so watching him over the years inspired me to become a steelpan builder and tuner as well.”
Aisha J. - “What is the hardest part of building/tuning for you? Please explain.”
Veron H. - “The hardest part of the building process is shaping and separating the notes because you can see the shape, but you cannot be sure when separating until you start tuning. Because you cannot see the sound travelling from one note to the next, to me, that’s the hardest. The hardest part of tuning would be getting the upper partials perfected.”
Aisha J. - “Do you think there is a need for female builders and tuners? If so, why?”
Veron H. - “Yes, I think there is a need for them because females think and do things differently. I believe they will add a different perspective to add to building and tuning.”
Aisha J. - “Do you have a blueprint in which you follow to build and tune? If so, what makes it unique to others?”
Veron H. - “Yes, I do have one, just not on paper so an imaginary one. Yes, I do believe mines is unique to others. There are common things shared between all pan builders, but I do believe that there are some things that make my imaginary blueprint unique.”
Aisha J. - “Do you admire anyone in the field? If so, who and why?”
Veron H. - “Yes, I admire Bertrand Kellman most of all because out of all the tuners I have met and got close to, I think he has reached the furthest in building and tuning. I think he would have perfected the art the most in my perspective.”
Aisha J. - “Is there anything in the building/tuning process that you think needs improvement or can be done differently?”
Veron H. - “Yes, there is always room for improvement in everything you do. In regard to the sinking process, with the way we do it here (in Antigua) by hand, the labour of it takes a lot of effort and time. So, for me, I think we should be moving towards sinking power tools. Another aspect for me is the source of drums. Time has come that the drums or barrels be standardized so that the texture and thickness of the metal along with the other materials used to make the drums are all one thing. I believe that this will help with creating a uniformed sound. The next aspect will be grooving. We are currently working towards getting grooving clamps so that we can groove straighter and closer to perfection. Lastly, where I chrome, the chrome quality needs to be improved as I just got back some pans that I made in Trinidad this February, and straight out of the box, never used, and they have started rusting. I’m not sure how it is in the States but in Trinidad, I know for a fact that it needs to be improved.”
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?”
Veron H. - “Not necessarily, sure if they are interested, yes but not across the board. Not because they learn the process means they will take better care of the instrument. For instance, take a saxophone player, he does not know how his instrument was made but most sax players take great care of their instruments. This also includes violinist and pianist who take great care of their instrument while not knowing how it was made. So, I don’t think it is necessarily true that if the players knew the building process that it would aid in them taking better care of the instruments.”
Aisha J. - “What are three (3) major key points for networking in the steelpan world?”
Veron H. - “Firstly, tuning will be one as that’s one of the most frequently discussed things while conversating with others in the steelpan world. Second, would be the quality of performances. And lastly, standardization of fingering.”
Aisha J. - “Where do you see yourself in the next five (5) years?”
Veron H. - “In the next five (5) years, I see myself (God spear) continuing the journey that I’m on, developing my building and tuning to a higher level. Also, tuning and building for bands around the world and developing my company to where I can be self-efficient, adding the manufacture of drums and chroming to improve my product.”
Aisha J. - “As a builder/tuner who travels a lot, are there factors you have learnt that has improved your understanding of the instrument?”
Veron H. - “Yes, there are factors I have learnt that has improved my understanding of the instrument. Firstly, working with different types of metal from different countries had helped me to understand the building and tuning process. I learnt that you cannot treat all metal the same. Depending on the thickness of the metal, you have to change your approach. Secondly, I learnt that the burning of the pan varies. From burning in different climates, I have learnt that burning in the colder temperatures gives a different response from the metal than when burning in the tropics. And for me, those are the two major things I have learnt in my travelling.”
photo: Veron Henry
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