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Gold Mine for Future Steelpan Musicians and Others - The City Angels Music Programme

Steelpan and City Angels

Students participate in the City Angels Programme workshop
Students participate in the City Angels Programme workshop

Trinidad and Tobago - The City Angels Music Programme workshop not only exposes children to steelpan, but also various additional instruments which some wish to learn:  the guitar, for example. 

The teachers for the pan classes come from the scholar pool of the Music Literacy Trust, where Mark Loquan is Founding Honorary Director.  The trust has invested in several students over the years:  one example is Kareem Brown who has pursued his music degree, majoring in steelpan at UWI CCFA (University of the West Indies (UWI), Centre for Creative and Festival Arts (CCFA).  Jessel Murray addressing students in the workshopAnother example is the Trust’s financial support of Starlift Junior Steelband with regard to music examination fees.  Starlift’s leader, Barry Mannette, is also a tutor in the programme. The National Steel Symphony Orchestra (NSSO), under the musical directorship of Jessel Murray (pictured right, addressing workshop students) strongly supports the programme by providing tutorship, with some of their members being able to achieve credits in their coursework at the University.

Teacher at work with steelpan students

This is a potential avenue to achieve sustainability after the three–week programme, as the instructors are then available to be contracted by others wishing to access their teaching services.  This means there is mutual benefit in this undertaking, both for the teachers and the children, who acquire skills on steelpan and an appreciation of music and other instruments, and learn to play as a group.  Seeds are being planted to impact positively and sustainingly, the development of a community through steelband and music in general. The children are also learning to play the national anthem on pan for instance, which also helps to engender pride in themselves and in their country. Hence the program is holistic in nature and encompasses the national instrument.

Students participate in the City Angels Programme workshop - Guitar class
Students in the City Angels Programme workshop - Guitar class

South East Port-of-Spain Secondary School (SE POS Sec) on Nelson Street is a good centre for this program because they already have an adequate music room with steelpans, unlike the other schools which are primary schools. There is also a dedicated music teacher in SE POS Sec, which has been a key resource to drive the programme internally. These factors are the reason the program is spearheaded from SE POS Sec as its base.

The Music Literacy Trust was conceptualized and established in October 2004 by Yara Trinidad Ltd., and supported by several other energy companies, under the auspices of the President of Trinidad and Tobago, to empower individuals and communities through music, by undertaking several initiatives which include :

  • Assisting individuals financially through Universities to attain/complete their certificate or degree courses in music.  Some of those beneficiaries include Seion Gomez, Amrit Samaroo, Attiba Williams, Sophia Subero, Vanessa Headley, and several other potential talented panists/arrangers.

  • Assisting community steelbands such as Birdsong Academy, Golden Hands, Starlift Junior Steelband, et al, with music stands, instruments and funding for music examinations fees

  • Collaborating with Yara Trinidad to preserve musical scores of our steelband arranger icons and utilizing such works for education by partnering with the University of the West Indies.

  • Encouraging original music for steelpan via national competitions like MUSICANOVA, introducing a new category for original music for pan at the biannual Music Festival for schools, and partnering with Methanex for new music for steelpan/conventional instruments in Symphony and Steel

  • Partnering with other NGO’s such as Bridge of Hope, which assists and creates business opportunities for underprivileged or abandoned children, who now have established a steelband from the lone double seconds donated by the Trust.

City Angels Music Programme

Students enjoy a steelpan class in the workshop
Students enjoy a steelpan class in the workshop

In July 2010 the Music Literacy Trust has now undertaken another bold initiative in community development  by launching a music workshop with 7 primary schools and 1 secondary school in the heart of downtown Port-of-Spain.  The Nelson-Duncan-George-Duke-Park Streets locality in south east Port-of-Spain is one of the most depressed areas of the capital city. Drugs, alcohol, guns are a part of daily life. In the early 1950’s the government built small apartment complexes to house residents of the area. These complexes known as “The Planning,” now house families and children who grow up in this environment.  Most families cannot afford to provide extracurricular activities during the school vacation for their children; and those left unsupervised are provided the opportunity to become involved in illicit activities.

The Music Literacy Trust has initiated this programme in this under-served inner city area to encourage self-development and confidence-building. The total student population in the area is approximately 3,500 students ranging in ages from 5 to 18 years old. The programme, under the guidance of SE POS Sec music teacher, Ms. Odessa Vincent Brown, with the approval of school principal school Ms. Patricia Charles, integrates seven other schools in the area: Nelson Street Boys, Nelson Street Girls, Eastern Boys, Eastern Girls, Rosary Boys, St. Roses’ Girls, Piccadilly EC and South East Secondary.

Trinidad and Tobago’s President Maxwell Richards and the First Lady in attendance and support of the City Angels Music Programme

Trinidad and Tobago's President Maxwell Richards and the First Lady in attendance and support of the City Angels Music Programme

About 160 students are actively involved in learning activities over the three-week period in areas of steelpan, guitar, percussion, brass, singing and music literacy.  One of the interesting facets of such an initiative is the way how the programme has served as a magnet to unify several people and institutions involved, not to mention the entire community as:

  • Some of the beneficiaries of the Trust are giving back to the community by being tutors
  • There have been several stages involving meeting of all principals, teachers and parents involved
  • Many musicians from all over the country have offered their services, including members of the Police band
  • Several people are coming in to perform or give talks to the children, such as the National Library (NALIS), rapso group 3 Canal, the National Steel Symphony Orchestra (NSSO) and calypsonian Black Stalin
  • The business community has come out in tangible ways to actively support the program
  • The Ministry of Community Development has come forward to assist financially
  • Food for the Poor have donated several musical instruments which are being fully utilized
  • Mr. Sat Sharma, from the University of the West Indies, Center for Creative and Festival Arts, and Director of the Music Literacy Trust has written and provided music education materials.
Students participate in the City Angels Programme workshop - Trumpet class
Students in the City Angels Programme workshop - Trumpet class

The Trust is also looking at sustainability beyond the initiative’s three-week duration, such as continuing weekend programmes, learning in an iterative manner, and how to improve overall through surveys with principals, teachers, parents, and children involved.  At the end of the three-week period, the students’ hard work and fun will culminate in a concert on July 25, featuring what has been achieved in such a short space of time, by children who did not before have such an opportunity to learn an instrument, far less perform in a group.

For more information, please see :!/event.php?eid=116999731655387&ref=ts

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