Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - A scholar, an intellect, a musician, administrator, planner, educator, mentor and motivator - are some of the words one can use to describe one of the most influential and important figures in the steelpan movement in Trinidad and Tobago. Her name is Denise Hernandez and in 2006 she was the Officer responsible for all matters related to youth, education and Pan. Today (2021) she is the General Secretary of Pan Trinbago.
(In 2006) When Steel Talks spoke to Mrs. Denise Hernandez, then-principal of the Sangre Grande Junior Secondary School in Trinidad, West Indies, a performing member of Trinidad All Stars steel orchestra, (Panorama and stage side) and last but not least, the Education Officer for Pan Trinbago. Pan Trinbago is the governing body for all matters related to the steelpan instrument, youth and education in Trinidad and Tobago.
Mrs. Hernandez grew up in San Fernando, Trinidad. Her early encounters with the steelpan instrument were with Fonclaire Steel Orchestra before she traveled abroad to study. She returned to pan in 1994 after being encouraged by the late master arranger Clive Bradley to revive her playing, and joined Nutones Steel Orchestra. She spent two years in Nutones and in 1996 she began playing with Trinidad All Stars where she's been a member ever since. "Although the commute was difficult in the beginning it was well worth it because of the communal and family atmosphere that All Stars affords its players" says Mrs. Hernandez.
In 1998 when she first went to the junior secondary school in Sangre Grande as vice principal, there was no steelband present. Mrs. Hernandez started the steel orchestra activities at the institution. She says her greatest satisfaction is seeing that she can make an impact with young people especially in the area of pan.
This versatile and competent lady related a story about a student who started to play pan after seeing her in action on the instrument. He turned up at All Stars panyard this year because he wanted to 'emulate Mrs. H and play with All Stars as well.' It was a particularly proud moment for Mrs. H when he was handed his uniform for finals night, and he told her he had made and achieved, his goal of playing for Trinidad All Stars steel orchestra, as she had. "That makes you feel good because you have impacted on someone's life" Mrs. Hernandez noted. She is teaching them the discipline to marry playing pan with their school work. Everyone in the school is involved with the arts and crafts and music; and Mrs. Hernandez is hoping to introduce drama and dance as well.
Two years ago she was asked by Patrick Arnold if she would serve on the Central executive as the education officer. She said okay because she had a lot of ideas she would like implemented and see young people benefit from. Seizing the offer as an opportunity, she went up for elections and was voted in. Mrs. Hernandez now collaborates with the Minister of Education in terms of further introducing pan into schools as the PREFERRED instrument in music education. The Minister's involvement in and collaboration with steelpan and schools began in 2004 for the Junior Panorama.
Mrs. Hernandez states that there was a recent study that showed more and more students are getting involved in extracurricular actives. Moreover she believes that music can turn around the lives of a lot of students. "The discipline that the student exhibits in playing pan is a transferable mindset."
As the education officer of Pan Trinbago, anything dealing with youth in pan is under the portfolio of Mrs. Hernandez. And as a result she has a number of ideas for creating avenues for young people in pan. She is also interested in providing scholarships to pan playing students who are interested in majoring in subjects other than music. This provides Pan Trinbago with an opportunity to involve young professionals with skills who will be able to assist the organization in the future. There are concerted efforts to increase music literacy by offering a number of programs all over the country in different pan yards. The programs will cover arranging, musical literacy, scoring with the aid of the computer and pan tuning.
Mrs. Hernandez loves to be around children and music is her therapy; she believes in showing oneself as an example. The opportunities that are available now in music were not there when she was a youth. "There are so many more countries playing pan now." They are requesting that her organization send people to their countries to teach. "There is a need for people to make, play and market the instrument. And we need people to deal with entertainment law and performing rights. So people who are in pan from an early age can continue in pan, and at the same time pursue a career in something they would like to be involved in." Mrs. Hernandez further states that "if you think of pan as an industry we will need all the [complementary] careers. Pan helps bring discipline and focus in these young people's lives, which leads to futures careers."
Mrs. Denise Hernandez with Trinidad All Stars
Mrs. Hernandez continued "In All Stars you have the same thing. It is an institution. This is their seventy-first year. It has set many firsts and we are considered an innovative band. This is one of the joys of being a member of Trinidad All Stars. Performance-wise we enjoy what we do and because we enjoy what we do, people enjoy watching us perform."
"Where did the pan come from? It came from people who were considered the bowels of society, the 'badjohns.' And for a lot of people there is still a stigma about the panyard; even today. Yes there are a lot of women playing pan but there is still a remaining stigma for some parents. They have concerns particularly for their daughters. So some of the parents escort their children to panyards and stay throughout the practice. What we do is encourage the parents with reservations to come to the yards, stay with the children and help out. We are creating links between students and parents."
Mrs. Hernandez is involved in multiple organizations; she serves as an elected official for the US-based Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD); she is an executive on the Association of Principals of public secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago; additionally she is on the National HIV Committee - to name a few of her commitments. While her plate is indeed full, Mrs. Hernandez practices time management as she is committed to anything that impact on the lives of young people.
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