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RC students get excited about national instrument

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

The first group of primary school students have completed the ‘School in Pan’ programme, a collaboration between the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) and Massy Trinidad All Stars. Discussions will take place on further implementation in the new academic year. The schools involved are the Bethlehem Girls’ and Boys’ RC, and Nelson Street Girls’ and Boys’ RC.

In the first phase, the Nelson Street schools prepared a video on ‘Why do I love the National Instrument’. That was last year. Former CEBM Chairman and adviser to the Board, Dr Roland Baptiste said, “Many were produced with the help of parents. Covid restrictions stopped that activity.”

According to information provided to the Catholic News, the programme will assist students in developing confidence in their own worth. Pan has been integral to the lives of the people of East Port of Spain. Many pioneers did their creative work in the area and children of East Port of Spain schools are inheritors of this rich tradition and should know it.

The programme will help students to improve their mathematical skills. Mathematics can be used to study elements of music such as tempo, chord progression, form, and meter.

Areas of study include music theory, ear training, sight reading, instrument knowledge, music appreciation, scales, performance, composition, and cultural and historical studies.

Interest and excitement

A school official from Bethlehem Girls’ RC said the programme began virtually last year with a few participants; many students were not involved because they did not have connectivity and/or devices. The CEBM assisted and supplied some. For those with connectivity, supervision of children during class time was another issue.

The programme was for Standard Two pupils, but the official said children from the Standard Three class were included to have a total of 16 participants. When

in-person classes resumed in the third term, April, there was more interest and involvement.

Learning pan theory is part of the training, but the practical component really sparked their interest. “They were excited; they want to play the pan…they like Mr [Kygel] Benjamin now they are able to come out and see Mr Benjamin, physically, and they’re getting to play the pan, so the interest is there more than before.”

Benjamin is the Musical Director of the Trinidad All Stars Youth Steel Orchestra and member of the National Youth Symphony Orchestra. The children are being tutored at the pan theatre shared with the Bethlehem Boys’ RC.

“With respect to discipline we have seen some improvement with the children…[in] one of the students, we definitely saw dedication and improvement in her academic performance…there will be a challenge because these students have lost two years,” the official said. Physical classes were suspended March 2020. “It’s a nice little bunch, some of them still talkative in class but they are excellent students when it comes to the programme.”

Benjamin told the Catholic News online tutoring was a bit challenging, but the content was adapted to include history of pan pioneers, information on the instruments and some music theory.

“When it transferred to in-person classes they were more excited…with the term coming to an end, the last term in the academic year, it was a bit of a challenge to speed teach them in a sense, everything they missed out on the two terms online. So, it had one term of actual live pan.”

The children enjoyed learning to hold the sticks, the notes on the pan and playing a few scales. They practised trying to draw the notes to memorise them.

Benjamin said: “They had a lot of fun; it was exciting. Everybody has different learning speeds but all in all, they have a new appreciation for the instrument. They had never played a steelpan before. This was a very good experience…based on their age, exposure.”

The children grasped knowledge quicker in the face-to-face sessions as they could see, play and “get a feel for” the instruments. One aspect that was reinforced was respect for the instrument and “pan etiquette”—handling it with care.

He believes with more time and in-person exposure the children will advance, and the potential of the programme can be fulfilled. Benjamin said the tutors will be able to fulfil the full range of objectives.

“Have the holistic approach to teaching the instrument…They get into it, learn as we go. The theory will go with the practicum.” Benjamin added, “at the end of the programme, we can see students actually play a whole song, have better technique…they will know so much more as they get a full academic year behind the instrument.”

An official at Bethlehem Boys’ said “simple benefits” were derived from the programme. “The School in Pan tutor, as simple as it is because he is a male, adds to the male presence in our school.”

The tutor is Kadesh Clouden, a graduate of the University of Trinidad and Tobago Bachelor’s in Fine Arts programme. Having observed a few sessions, the official commented, “He focuses a lot on theory learning of the pan which I have seen the boys really grasp quickly… We had boys looking forward to the session when ‘sir’ comes”. Classes were held Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with 18 boys.

“One aspect… which I hoped would have been more successful, was getting the parents enthusiastic and involved…I did not see that. Maybe it (the programme) needs to go a little longer. My suggestion was that performances, concerts mean that we can reach out to them to get them to see how much the boys have learned.”

Seeing Clouden call out notes on the pan and the skill displayed by boys who were not doing well academically, is a confidence boost for the boys in the Standard Two class. The official said the music tutor and class teacher worked “in tandem”.

School in Pan, the way forward

Dr Baptiste said the germ of the project goes back to 2014–2015 when the CEBM joined with the Commonwealth of Learning to pilot an open school project at Matelot RC in which training courses were offered to adults through the school. Three courses related to fishing, were conducted with success.

Simultaneously, an agricultural project was successfully implemented at Tabaquite RC with support from parents and students. These were influential when the CEBM Board was preparing the 2016–2019 strategic plan.

Dr Baptiste said: “The Board believed that projects relevant to communities in which our schools are located should be encouraged. It was with this in mind I

concluded that what fishing is for Matelot, and agriculture for Tabaquite, the steelpan is for urban East Port of Spain.” The name of the programme ‘School in pan’ came from a 1995 lecture delivered by Lloyd Best.

Dr Baptiste has received recommendations on the pilot programme from the school principals, and from Dr Mia Gormandy-Benjamin, designer and coordinator of the course, who submitted a “comprehensive report” that includes tutor assessments.

“Later this month, we will all meet to decide on all these recommendations. These recommendations include advanced courses,” he said. Among the recommendations is the involvement of parents. Dr Baptiste anticipated with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions this can be quickly implemented.

He disclosed about one development. He has organised a team to prepare short videos on the career and business opportunities associated with pan. The videos are designed for children of Standards Three to Five.