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Legendary Steelpan innovator, builder and tuner Bertie Marshall has passed

The legendary Bertie Marshall of Highlanders Steel Orchestra

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Bertie Marshall

Global - October 18, 2012 - Bertie Marshall of Trinidad and Tobago - legendary Steelpan innovator, builder and tuner has passed.

Noted historian, journalist and film maker Dalton Narine writes:

“Bertie Marshall, 74, is a dreamer and trailblazer. A tuner of forceful personality who impressed his will on Pan.

“A harmonica player, he strove to achieve harmonics on steel. Not a single note played on the instrument in the 1950s, even by the top steel bands, resonated in his ear.

“Each note lacked something crucial to music. The blending of several notes or harmonics to beget the dominant note. That’s what Marshall accomplished through experimentation.

Mas Man Film director, pan man and pan historian - Dalton Narine
Film maker Dalton Narine

“As in religion - well, as in Pan - every scrap of information is subjected to subjective interpretation. Anthony Williams will forever be in conversation. In 1953, Williams of North Stars, also was tinkering with the sound. Using a peculiar grooved design he termed the spider web, Williams found that by hammering octaves on each corner of a note he had eliminated overtones. However, while tuning pans in New York City with a strobe in 1969 for a Madison Square Garden concert featuring Trinidad’s most famous pianist, Winifred Atwell (accompanied by North Stars), the gospel truth did not elude Williams. “It was the first time that I had [knowingly] tuned with harmonics,” he recalls.

“By that time, Bertie Marshall’s Highlanders had won two Bomb competitions in Port of Spain. Led by a single electronically amplified tenor, the harmonically empowered steel band marked a milestone in Pan in 1965 when it performed Handel’s “Every Valley Shall be Exalted,” and, two years later, the most complex Bomb tune of all time, Rossini’s “Italiana in Algeri” (Italian Girl in Algiers). Even the basses and a couple of other pans were amplified for the 1967 road jam.

“Since that glorious epoch of the 1960s, Highlanders - and, by extension Pan - sprung up like a grass fire. The Bertie Marshall film attempts to capture the flame of his genius, and explain Highlanders’ exalted place in the pantheon of Pan.”

by Dalton Narine

click for more on Bertie Marshall

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