We see the shimmer of the costumes; a multitude of colours that engulf the streets of Port of Spain, San Fernando and at Regional Carnival celebrations, we hear the fierce and passionate lyrics of our musicians as they compete for coveted Monarch titles, we feel the energy of the steel drums whose sound beckons that invisible carnival spirit that lives in all of us.
But little is told about the dreams that come true for the world’s greatest eruption of euphoria. The journey of the Music Schools in the Community is one such hidden story.
From the humble corridors of the community music schools, located in communities that are considered “at risk” in the East West Corridor as well as in Central and South Trinidad, masterful hands have taken their pan sticks to the competition of all competitions, the one that truly matters, the Trinidad and Tobago Steelband Panorama, the biggest percussion festival in the world. This was by no means an easy journey, but for the young hearts with a boundless passion for the steelpan, big dreams came through.
To understand the scale of this dream, we go back to the genesis of the Music Schools in the Community Programme. Currently in its sixth year, this community initiative developed by the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, strives to provide music education opportunities to community organizations, children’s homes, youth correctional institutions, police youth clubs, steelbands and schools throughout Trinidad and Tobago. Music thus became an empowerment tool for the participant.
In October 2017, the Ministry took the Programme a step further by hosting its “Dream Big” Concert, with the 2017 cohort leading the performances. The schools: Golden Hands Music School, Pan Jammers Music School, the Amarjyoth Sabha Mandir Music School, the Potential Symphony Music School and the Sangre Grande Cordettes Music School all took the ‘big’ stage at NAPA, delivering a riveting performance that left both the audience and performers, wanting more.
That yearning would translate into four of these schools- the Golden Hands Music School, Pan Jammers Music School, the Potential Symphony Music School, and the Sangre Grande Cordettes Music School, feeding their respective Senior Bands with, in some cases, as much as 75% of Panorama players on entering the National Steelband Panorama Competition; an announcement to the world that they have arrived.
Not surprising, all four schools would qualify for the finals of the Junior edition of the competition- Golden Hands-winning in the Small Band Category, Sangre Grande Cordettes-placing 8th and Potential Symphony-placing 7th in the Medium Band Category, with Pan Jammers placing second in the National Single Pan Finals. This was a major feat for the youngsters whose dedication to our national instrument is on par with their senior counterparts. They are indeed on a trajectory to achieve even greater successes.
The tutors and venue representatives of the Programme also made their mark at Panorama 2018. Some of these success stories include Mr. Carlon Harewood, venue representative of the Potential Symphony Music School, who arranged the winning piece played by the 2018 National Single Pan champion, Angostura Newtown Playboys Steel Symphony.
Vanessa Headley, steelpan tutor at Golden Hands Music School, arranged the piece that took Golden Hands to 1st place in the 2018 Small Bands Finals. Mr. Peter Aleong, tutor at Pan Jammers Music School took St Francois Girls’ Secondary School to first place in the 2018 Junior Panorama in the Secondary Schools Category with his arrangement. The Ministry’s own Akua Leith, Artistic Director of the National Steel Symphony Orchestra, arranged the piece which earned Potential Symphony 7th place in the Finals of the Medium Bands Category. Other tutors and venue representatives of the Music Schools in the Community actively participating in Panorama include Franka Hills- Headley, Keston Bengochea, Thea Rodney, Lisa Dookie, Aaron Pereira, Curtis Rennie, Jenna James, Marcus Ash, Avanelle Keshwar, Peter Aleong and Daniel Phillip.
These are some of memories created during the Carnival season. Every participant, be it the masquerader, promoter, calypsonian, or snow cone vendor, will take away a different experience, but for these young hearts, big dreams did come through. The names of the Music Schools, along with their arrangers and tutors, will certainly be heard at future Panorama competitions.
This article was supplied by the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Arts
Caption: Combined ensemble with the Artistic Director of the National Steel Symphony Orchestra, Akua Leith, at the Dream Big Concert in NAPA on October 1st, 2017