By Kaelanne Jordan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Steel band music pioneer and educator Merle Albino-de Coteau believes if we arm children with musical instruments, there will be no time for guns.
Albino-de Coteau, founder and musical director of Music Makers’ School is a retired Director of Culture in the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Women’s Affairs.
She has been awarded for her contribution to music in Trinidad and Tobago receiving the Humming Bird National Award (1993) and the Sunshine Award (1989) at Brooklyn Academy of Music particularly for calypso and steel band activities.
Albino-de Coteau has lectured at several institutions locally, sharing her forty-plus years of expertise and guidance in the music industry with many students including accomplished pannist Mia Gormandy; musician, pannist, composer and steel pan arranger Duvone Stewart; late musician and cultural activist Roland Gordon, and music tutor Duvano Garnes, among others.
Last August, the Laventille Steel Pan Festival Foundation, in collaboration with Music Makers’ School hosted a vacation pan camp. Over 40 students from Laventille between the ages of 6 to 18 years participated. The camp not only involved music education through the steel pan but also included life skills activities namely etiquette, self-confidence and public speaking.
Brought up in a devout Catholic family, Albino-de Coteau, the second of four siblings told Catholic News that she was born into a musical family that was “extremely supportive” of their pursuits.
She shared that her late Venezuelan father Martin Albino inculcated a culture of parang and her mother, Agatha Abraham-Albino, then singer at a church in Sangre Grande was her first music teacher of piano.
However, steel band was not encouraged. “Growing up then when pan men were called rogues…there was a band two houses from us but my mother did not even want my brothers to go by the pan. So, when they got a chance, they would run over,” she reminisced.
“After mom could not teach us anymore she sent us to the village music teacher. But my brother did not want to continue, pounding, pounding, pounding…he found it was too boring. And he would want to play all kinds of things on the piano. The music teacher would tell him ‘Don’t let Merle see what you playing, because I don’t want you to spoil her technique’,” she joked.
Albino-de Coteau said that her early introduction to piano “served her in good stead” as she sight reads music notes “very well”. She recalled in her early days when her brothers Aldwin and Martin Albino (Junior), now both pan players, arrangers and band leaders in Montreal, Canada, would ask her to play pan notes for them before they performed since she was already skilled in the practical and theory aspect of music. “So, this is how I got to learn what they were doing,” she said.
When her brothers migrated between 1969 and 1970, Albino-de Coteau was asked to take over the arranging of the Chase Manhattan Savoy’s Steel Orchestra Band, making her the first woman to arrange for a steel band in the Panorama competition in 1972.
She was an adjudicator at many competitions including Panorama in Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent, and in the local made-for-television competitions Citi Bank’s Twelve and Under, and Scouting for Talent.
In 2013, she was inducted into the Sunshine Awards Hall of Fame at the Centre of Caribbean Culture, Manhattan, US. She also shares her musicality with the elderly at the Pearl Gomez-James Senior Activity Centre in Barataria.
The steel pan is not the only instrument that Albino-de Coteau has mastered. As a former student of McGill University, and the University of the West Indies, she was trained to play the violin, woodwind, clarinet, flute, euphonium, xylophone and trap sets. Albino-de Coteau admitted that the only instruments she uses are the recorder and piano.
To this day, you can find her playing the organ at every Sunday morning Mass at the Corpus Christi Church in Success Village, Laventille.
On the notion that “pan is not the way forward”, Albino-de Coteau denounced the statement crediting the instrument for her success in the steel band fraternity, adding that she travelled the world – England, Nigeria, France, and Canada on pan adventures.