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Pan, a lesson in perseverance

By Sr Renee K Hall OP


“You gonna hear pan in A minor

With them steelbands from all over

You gonna hear them at their best.”

(‘Pan in A minor’ by Kitchener)


I have an enduring image of my father attending Panorama Semi-Finals as one of my earliest childhood memories. As a well-crafted ritual, he donned the same pair of green khaki cargo pants and, equipped with food and drink, he would head to the Savannah annually. As a teenager, I remember playing the guitar pan for a brief period in secondary school.

I would be the first to admit that I could not understand what drove thousands of pan lovers to the Savannah until I moved into Port of Spain years ago.

At one point the Desperadoes steel orchestra became our neighbours as they took up residence in an empty carpark adjacent to the Convent on #2 Queen’s Park East.

However, it is this nightly melody of pan players going through their paces that caused every note to reach the depth of my soul. I must confess this experience brought me to love at second sound.

I came to further conversion in my love affair with the pan as I joined the masses of pan lovers who took part in a pan crawl following the judges from one pan yard to the next for the preliminary judging of the bands as they vied for a space in the Semi-Finals.

I was often struck by the panorama of persons that comprised this event. I mused where else in the world this can happen that such a vast number of persons of every creed, race, socio-economic class could come together in one place. In those moments, there is an intense feeling of unity with pan music as the glue that binds us.

A few weeks ago, I was approached to pen this piece and I had set out in my mind that I would attend Pan Semis and a few of the panyards as a form of research and inspiration.

Life threw me a complete curve ball with the news of the passing of Sr Paul Maria Clarke OP on the Pan Semis Sunday. I quietly resolved that I must honour my word and do all that I can to submit this piece.

I set out that evening under a cloud of grief to attend Pan Semis briefly as I grappled with the brutish and raw force that the news of my dear Sr Paul slipped away from us without warning.

It is amid the crowds that my sorrow collided with vivid images of perseverance, joy, hope and resurrection as I moved contemplatively taking in all the sights and sounds of the return to the drag (paved area at the entrance of the Savannah stands).

Even as the pans made their way through the throngs of bodies, larger than life moko jumbies also navigated their way through pan and people. I could not help but look up, the temptation in life is to look down and be discouraged, but these Carnival characters caused the words of the psalmist to resonate in the depths of my being, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains from whence cometh my help” (Ps 121:1)

Even as I looked up, I saw the full moon providing a picturesque backdrop to the illumined faces of the pan players who share in God’s co-creative power.

I looked on intently at the faces of those who undertook to push the racks of pans forward with sheer determination, perhaps that is what life requires of us as we persevere in faith and trust- “the man who stands firm to the end shall be saved” (Mt 24:13).

They preached to me about hope, commitment and encouraged me in my journey to attain eternal life. The drag transformed in my mind’s eyes to a sanctuary, the pan racks, a lectern behind which I heard once more the call of the gospel- they spoke to me saying this is how you must strive to build God’s Kingdom.

I imagined that one day I would join Sr Paul, herself a woman of music in Heaven – it is my belief that we will dance together on the heavenly stage set out before the throne of Grace.

As I looked on with keen interest of the rich mixture of persons and personalities that stood up behind their pans, I was reminded of the fire which would have been used to create the finely tuned instruments that were gracing the Savannah stage.

It became obvious to me that the pan represents to us the deep inner beauty, the strength that we possess through the creativity and resilience which reside deep within our bone marrow.

Upon further reflection, it occurred to me that the transformative experience of the pan from beat-up oil drum to that of a well-tuned pan can be used to describe the metamorphosis that we undergo during life.

As we forge through this time we dare to connect, each of us, reclaiming our space and place in the orchestra of life – guitar, tenor, bass, bringing our own unique gifts to the symphony that is life.

As I entered the music of this last week, I had a profound thought the story of the steelpan and the yearly ritual of return that takes place around it serves as reminder that our life is filled with contrasts darkness and light, war and peace, despair and hope.

May God give us the grace in this Carnival season to see and hear with new eyes and ears that the steelpan is indeed an instrument encouraging us to persevere.