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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pan Caribbean

A FEW BETTER MEN

Dr. Lester CN Simon

There has been much talk about the problem with boys and the need for men to stand up, step up and march to the beat of different drum. The main argument is that our boys see a short road to what we call success so they avoid the long, disciplined road of a good education in school. We argue that they miss out on the joy of having someone read to them, exercising their imagination listening to a radio drama and falling in love with the sound of words, etc. But joy comes in various guises and disguises.

Boys are not the only ones taking a shortcut to success. Many sensible, young women will tell you why they wittingly have children with a no-good man. They reason that they can fulfill their desire to have children without the messy problems they perceive running through some marriages. Obviously, these girls have decided to make one mistake and avoid the major mistake of missing out on education. Boys are making the humongous mistake with the only thing that ensures the formation of the whole person.

Music in general and pan music in particular is a guarantied way to bring men and boys, and indeed the whole family in whatever form, together. I will get a lot of stick, appropriately punned, for saying the following but so be it: Pan music cannot be the salvation if we continue to regard, practice and play the steel pan as we are doing. I want to tell you that steel pan instruments are pieces of the most scientific instruments ever invented and that they are the perfect teaching tool for music, logic, beauty, discipline, and many vocations seemingly remote from music, such as accounting and marketing, among others.

Volumes of data have been written in this newspaper and elsewhere about the singular geometry of the leading or single tenor pan. Its design is based on all of the 12 musical notes that exist in Western music, arranged in the cycle of fourths (clockwise) or fifths (anti-clockwise). This circular pattern is the roadmap of Western music used by everyone form Bach to Coltrane to Bob Marley and Maroon 5. No other modern musical instrument carries the blue print of Western Music so conspicuously in its design. None.

There is more. All 12 musical notes can be aligned in two rows of 6 notes each. In each row, every note is separated by the same spacing (the musical interval of a whole step) from its neighbour. There are only two such rows because any other row is just a displacement of any one of the two fundamental rows. These two rows of notes (the whole tone scales in music) are portrayed in the design of the double second steel pan. This scale was used by Mozart in his Musical Joke, in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade and by Stevie Wonder in the introduction to You Are The Sunshine of My Life, to give a few examples.

There is more. There are steel pan instruments comprising 3 pans. Common sense will tell you to divide the 12 notes such that 4 notes are assigned to each pan. Musical science tells us to arrange the notes so that in all 3 pans with 4 notes each, the individual notes are separated by an identical spacing (the musical interval of a minor third).

There is more. There are steel pan instruments comprising 4 pans. Again, common sense and musical science result in 3 notes in each pan and the individual notes in each of the 4 pans separated by the identical spacing (the musical interval of a major third). Similarly, the six-base instrument with 6 drums has 2 different notes in each pan separated by an identical spacing (the musical interval of a perfect fifth). Pan design is no arbitrary guess work, my Caribbean people. It is the perfect personification of Western music.

There are some steel pans with asymmetrical note spacing. These exceptions simply underscore the overwhelming, unique science involved in the symmetrical steel pan instruments. It is this symmetry, this new understanding of what it means and implies, as well as the reading of musical notation that we must teach in the pan yard. This teaching must embody science including the geometry of a circle and how Coltrane constructed an equilateral triangle in the circle. Also, we can invoke mythology and numerology to tell steel pan stories of 12 musical notes divided into instruments of 2, 3, 4 and 6 pans giving rise to sets of 6, 4, 3 and 2 notes respectively. We are fooling around with a unique, rich legacy that others can see.

We must redesign the pan yard to reflect the perfect, celestial architecture of the pan and bring to bear the disciple, love and caring that music engenders, being on the constant lookout for the negative associations that follow sterile music, un-sterile relationships and superficial knowledge. We may have to bypass those musicians and pannists who continue to resist change and beat pan intuitively without taking the time and making the effort to unravel the fantastic science involved in steel pan instruments. This new path will pave the way for the discipline that must be the new paradigm in a scientific, artistic pan yard in which we also consider the destructive effects of loud music on the ear and learn to caress or gently feel-up the pan.

Dorbrene O’Marde has sent me an e-posting from the Trinidad Express newspaper registering the positive effects of steel band thwarting teenage violence and school dropouts in a prototype project in US Virgin Island. The project was lauded by Harvard University and the Ford Foundation in 1988 as being among the Top Ten Innovative Programmes. This is tried and tested transformation of youths through music.

You may think that if all of the above is true, crime and violence should not be so rampant in the home and Mecca of steel pan, Trinidad and Tobago. Well now, brown cow; it remains the grueling, unenviable task of someone far more capable than I to disabuse you of your resident (dare I say constitutive?) stupidity and replace it with the stark consideration of just what the youths of Trinidad add Tobago would really be like were it not for an ideal teaching tool and the most perfect musical instrument ever invented: the steel pan.

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