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Rosary Boys’ on a Panorama quest

Eight-year-old Andre Atwater, a double seconds player with the Rosary Boys’ RC steeelband rehearses with his peers. 

Photo and story by Lara Pickford-Gordon,

It’s Saturday, January 20 and pupils from Rosary Boys’ RC are practising for judging last Friday (January 26) at the school compound, Port of Spain. Their quest to reach the Junior Panorama finals February 4 at the Queen’s Park Savannah began last September with novice players and some who participated in 2017 practising Wednesdays and Fridays for one and a half hours practising; and Saturdays for three hours.

The school is trying to earn a place after a miserable debut in 2017 when the band was eliminated from the finals. Twenty-six primary school bands, including combined schools, were registered to participate in the Panorama.

In an interview Principal Richard Gomez explained the rules require bands to play a minimum of four minutes and maximum of five to be judged. Bands are penalised with point deductions if they do not meet this requirement.

The band was not properly prepared by their arranger and had less than two minutes of music ready but a decision was taken for them to play for the judges since they had worked hard. It would be a learning experience.

In 2018 the band is striving for better with arranger Akiel George, 21, and leader Jason Lewis, a veteran pan player and the Operations Manager of Trinidad All Stars. His son attends Rosary and is in the band.

The Catholic News spoke to Gomez, Lewis and George at the school.

The band came together after pupils were invited to volunteer for the different pans and drums and percussion. Lewis said “in the best interest of the band” they were put into various sections.

How do they decide on how many on tenor, cello, bass etc?  Lewis explained: “You have to complement…balance and this is where the arranger plays a great part. He arranges the song so he will know the various sections, so we basically do a breakdown like six tenors, four double tenors, four seconds, basses…if after the song is arranged and you need to hear more in a section we increase or decrease sections. That is how it goes in all steelbands.”

The pans used by the pupils came from the Education Ministry’s Pan in the Classroom programme. Additional pans were borrowed from Bethlehem Boys’ RC, and fundraising enabled the purchase of a drum set and a pair of congas.

Gomez said Rosary Boys’ is known for “academics”. Involvement in pan is just one of the activities the school offers to promote the “holistic development” of its 641 pupils. They can also participate in hockey, cricket, chess, dance, Cub Scouts, karate, Red Cross, and the choir. Catholic pupils are also rostered to serve at the midday Mass at the nearby Holy Rosary RC.

George said he chose ‘Far From Finished’ by Aaron ‘Voice’ St Louis because he thought the song would be easy for inexperienced pan players; it was also a modern tune with a lot of African and East Indian beats. For the arrangement the song was broken down to: intro, verse, chorus, bridge, verse variation, chorus variation, a little jam, conclusion. Each element of the tune is practised repeatedly until the boys can play proficiently.

Rosary Boys’ have come a long way but “still have a good way to go”. Lewis said there is no substitute for practise and during the year the plan is for the pupils to continue learning music so they become seasoned players.

“As soon as this Panorama is done they put down the sticks and start back next September. Once you keep seasoning, keep going they will keep getting better and better and all of that will be preparation for the next Panorama.”