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School in Pan Showcase teaching more than just pan

By Klysha Best

The steelpan…Some may see it just as our national instrument, to be enjoyed and loved on a seasonal basis. However, this instrument, an icon of our culture, is also a teacher.

For the Standard Two students who participated in the third installment of the Excellence Through Steelpan Education course, and the second School In Pan (SIP) Showcase, playing the steelpan has taught them teamwork, discipline, patience and perseverance.

The Excellence Through Steelpan Education programme, a collaboration between the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) and the Massy Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra, currently involves six Catholic schools from the East Port of Spain district – Bethlehem Boys’ and Bethlehem Girls’, Nelson Street Boys’ and Nelson Street Girls’, Our Lady of Laventille and Rose Hill. Very soon, this will be expanded to include more schools.

The students are taught not just how to play pan, but also about each type of pan, music theory, scale, sight reading, ear training and more. At the end, the children are rewarded for their work and their knowledge and  skills are displayed via the School in Pan Showcase.

This year’s event was held June 25 at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s. CEO of CEBM, Sharon Mangroo, said she was proud of the youngsters. She clarified why the event and the programme were initiated, despite the Ministry of Education already having a similar programme titled ‘Pan in Schools’.

She said: “Ours is different. Our title (SIP), is in honour of late economist Lloyd Best, who presented the concept in the Scherzando Panyard in Curepe in 1995 and then submitted it to the then Minister in the Ministry of Human Development, Youth and  Culture in 2001, as a project for national reconstruction.”

Mangroo added: “I do not agree with all of Best’s ideas, but there are certain aspects that align with the goals of Catholic education and this is especially true in relation to the interest and creativity of students, teachers and the community within these schools.”

“Best argued for a concept of schooling that is different from the inherited colonial paradigm. Many people today believe that the education system needs to change, and the media is full of suggestions for improvement. However, Best raised a question of how can we change a system when the current leaders were educated and formed within the very system?”

Mangroo explained that he suggested the solution would be to look at an indigenous institution – the panyard.

“He saw the panyard as a great way to bring together schools, education and industry, in a productive way and he viewed it as an opportunity for students to learn by playing.”

This was important, Mangroo said, as practical experience is a key focus of Catholic education. She said the SIP concept aims to unite the community, schools, and businesses. Mangroo added that the panyard concept provides subtle messages about social inclusion, discipline, training, mentorship, teamwork, racial harmony, and pride in the presentation of their finished product, and satisfaction and accomplishment. She said this fosters a strong work ethic rarely found elsewhere in such a unique configuration.

“So through this programme our students have learnt to collaborate, to harmonise efforts, to persevere. They’ve grown in confidence and self-discipline, and they’ve also learnt music, Math and English and Social Studies and so much more. They have grown towards excellence in faith, academics, physical, emotional and character formation.”


Value system

Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon, in his interactive feature speech with the students, also emboldened that the pan itself is a whole school, as what it teaches is wide-ranging.

“The pan teaches us a value system that is really important right now. A value that is missing in this country, as people are climbing over one another.” He said the main thing the pan is teaching us is that “we cannot do well unless we are all doing well. And we have to take that back into the classroom. We as a country, you as a school, we can only do excellent if we help one another every single day.”

Arranger and one of the two tutors, Kygel Benjamin, said this programme means a lot. He, along with Natasha Joseph, has been juggling the act of instructing the children on all things pan.

Benjamin said it’s a joy and a pleasure to give back to the youths of the community, helping them to have a focus, discipline, togetherness and something positive to do.

This year, the children were given an added incentive, as they had a hand selecting the pieces. Benjamin said: “Last year, the tutors chose on our own, looking for basic tunes that were easy for the beginners. However, this year, it was a bit more difficult finding tunes that fit the criteria. So, I started off with throwing the ideas out to the students and getting their feedback on what they would like to play and I allowed that to narrow my search down and I was able to come up with the songs.”

The criteria, he said, involves playing songs with simple melodies and simple chord progressions. The selections included some interesting pop culture favourites like ‘Dance Monkey’ by Tones and I, performed by Nelson Street Boys’ RC; ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay, performed by Nelson Street Girls’ RC; and ‘Raw’ by Katy Perry, played by Bethlehem Girls’ RC.

Michelle Williams’ ‘Say Yes’ was performed by Our Lady of Laventille RC; ‘Jerusalema’ by Bethlehem Boys’; and  Rose Hill RC played the local selection ‘Come Home’ by Nailah Blackman.

Besides seeing students showing a love for the pan, Benjamin said he has seen a marked improvement in the discipline of the children.

“A lot of people would look at playing pan in a band and think it’s fun and games all the time, but it takes a lot of discipline to be able to come on stage, stay quiet, stay still, wait for the conductor to come, bow, play the music together, and stay in time,” Benjamin noted.

He said: “Every rehearsal we have to work on discipline, so when they come into class, it’s a continuous drill. I’ve also seen the discipline level rise every term.”

With the expansion plans, there will be additional tutors coming on board and Benjamin, an instructor with the Massy Youth Steel Orchestra, said this can only augur well for the growth and appreciation of the instrument.