Ironically, my major involvement in steelband occurred in the Cayman Islands where this type of music is still something of a novelty. I have always been a true, true, Trini, revelling in all of our indigenous culture, especially sweet pan music. Like all true Trinis, I had my favourite band, especially when it came to Panorama, who could do no wrong and who was better than all the rest as far as I was concerned.
It was in this atmosphere that I was asked to utilize my musical training and background as a classical pianist, to conduct a few steelbands of the East at the Steelband Music festival held in October in Trinidad.
With this wonderful experience to my credit, when I eventually left these shores to take up a position as Science teacher at the John Gray High School (JGHS) in the Cayman Islands, I was asked to assume directorship of the steelband. I did this willingly and with gusto, although a bit apprehensive of the major job involved. I had to be arranger and teacher, manager, secretary and organizer for this band of enthusiastic teenagers.
John Gray High School Havoline Steelband on parade in London, New Year’s Day 2001
We soon built up a familial rapport and understanding, in a musical sense and in every other way. Before long the JGHS Havoline Steelband was being asked to perform at functions all over Cayman, and especially at the Governor’s House for special functions. It was at one of these Governor’s ‘do’s’ that we were ‘discovered’ by a representative of the Youth Music of the World and we were subsequently invited by this body to be the only steelband to perform at the Annual New Year’s Day Parade that has been ongoing in London for the past 13 years.
We were all very excited and honoured to be chosen to perform along with concert bands and others from hundreds of schools across America and Europe. With the generous assistance of our sponsors, Texaco (Cayman) Inc., and many other private corporations on the island, we were able to raise all the funds necessary to make this dream come true. It was also months of car-washes, walk-a-thons, food sales, fairs etc. which gave these young adults a sense of working together for a common cause, so that by the time we left we were truly family! At the suggestion of an Englishman living in Cayman who was experiencing difficulty adjusting to the hot climate there, we all spent some time in the freezer of Foster’s Supermarket to adjust our selves to the idea of London’s winter temperatures! On our first morning in London we saw snow, first time for most of us!! It was great!
The steelband performed with several other specially chosen bands at an exclusive concert at Westminster Hall on 29th December. Here we received a standing ovation after playing a collection of tunes, like Fur Elise, In The Mood, Bailamos… all with an upbeat Caribbean flavor. On New Year’s Day we took to the street around Trafalgar Square, transported on the flatbed of a truck and warming the chilly London weather with some hot calypso sounds. Again we were received with enthusiasm! The entire experience was one that the students will always remember especially since they had the opportunity to interact with other teens from around the world… particularly at the New Year’s Eve party put on at the hotel for all of us. It was such a success that I was asked to do it again for New Year’s Day 2004. Now I have returned home to the land of steelband full of hope and anticipation of another great time.
photos provided by & copyright, Patricia Doughlin
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