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Music Literacy Trust celebrates ten years of promoting steelpan

Published: 
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Mark Loquan was the man with the vision to preserve local music and engender a new generation of musicians by founding the Music Literacy Trust. PHOTO COURTESY MUSIC LITERACY TRUST

On October 10, a group of benefactors, patrons and well wishers joined to the sound of sweet pan and more music at the Renaissance in Glencoe in celebration of a decade of the Music Literacy Trust (MLT). It was a look back at a decade of achievements and a way forward with new plans and initiatives for the future. 

MLT has spent a decade working to have great pan arrangements scored for posterity, encourage the creation of original music for pan, bring instruments and teaching to disadvantaged children, and offer vital scholarships to some of T&T’s most talented musicians so they can further their education to become the bright stars of the future. 

MLT is the vision of its founding director Mark Loquan, who believed that the wonderful, complex pan arrangements heard at Panorama and in the panyards needed to be preserved. He felt that music literacy for young people was lacking and that the ability to read music and by extension, adapt to a range of instruments, could increase opportunities for some of T&T’s most talented musicians. His close friend, the late Dr Pat Bishop nurtured Mark’s vision from the beginning but she also told him it would be like pushing molasses up the hill with a rake. 

Now based in Perth, Australia, Loquan at the time was head of energy company Yara Trinidad and he worked to get a board together and to approach a range of colleagues in the energy sector to jump start the funding and make this dream a reality. 

They rallied and gave the seed money that started MLT and corporate sponsors have continued to be the majority of the organisation’s financial backers, who were thanked repeatedly at Friday’s celebration. The event offered proof of the good use of their generous support. 

Loquan’s worry that great pan arrangements would be lost forever, led him first to Jit Samaroo who agreed and worked with the trust to have six of his tunes scored and made available to tertiary educational institutions in the country. From Samaroo, MLT worked with leading arrangers Ray Holman and Ken “Professor” Philmore for scoring their music. It looked for key pan arrangements from the past so those wouldn’t be lost like the classic arrangements of Cavaliers from the 1960s by Bobby Mohammed. 

For Silver Stars 60th anniversary celebration in 2008, MLT worked to produce scored arrangements of classic pieces in cooperation with both Edwin and Junior Pouchet. The sad passing of these giants of pan in the years since show how important this work is so their music can be accurately performed for years to come. 

At Friday’s event, Loquan pointed everyone’s attention to Kareem Brown who has since the beginning, been his first choice for scoring pan music and is now in demand internationally. 

Besides preserving arrangements, MLT has commissioned new music for pan. Sponsored concerts like Beethoven to Boogsie and a recital featuring Liam Teague and pianist Richard Tang Yuk are two ways to get new music out to the public. 

Scholarships for talented musicians have been an important priority for MLT and 19 scholarships have been given out to talented musicians to go to UWI (prior to Gate funding), Berkelee College for Music in Boston, Northern Illinois University, and United World College in Italy. 

Rising pan stars Amrit Samaroo, Seion Gomez, Barry Mannette, and Vanessa Headley have been among the recipients. Manette who just got his masters in Music at Northern Illinois is now the music director of the Exodus Steelpan Academy. Samaroo and Gomez arranged for the recently completed Brooklyn Panorama and between them they have arranged for bands in the United States, England, St Vincent and St Lucia as well as Trinidad. Headley who arranges for South band Golden Hands, now has a pan radio program Monday nights on the radio station Wack FM. 

Two young pan players from Tobago were the first this summer to go on a new initiative to send students to the Birch Creek music summer school in Wisconsin where Liam Teague runs the pan program. They both performed solos at the Friday night celebration. Dachelle Morrisson with a classic Kitchener tune and Avery Attzs played a shimmering new composition by Dr Jeannine Remy. 

Teague who is a central resource person for the board was also on hand to perform and continues to work closely with MLT. The program concluded with a small ensemble from the National Steel Symphony Orchestra directed by Dr Jessel Murray, himself a staunch advocate of new music for pan. 

Educating the youth in reading music, getting access to instruments—both pan and other instruments—has been a central part of the MLT’s efforts. This has included support for various programs at the Birdsong Academy and others. Support for exams was given to Birdsong Junior Orchestra, Starlift Junior Orchestra and Golden Hands. MLT’s major effort in this area is the ongoing work of the Little Angels program in south east Port-of-Spain. 

Founded in 2009, the City Angels program started as a summer institute mostly for primary school children to educate them in pan and other instruments. The initiative has taken fire, it has now become an after school program, and over 100 kids from 13 schools participate. City Angels formed its own steelband in 2013 and participated in junior panorama.

Director Jenny Lee and founder Mark Loquan seemed happiest to talk about the future. The Little Angels program is now expanding to Tobago. A Little Angels orchestra is going to Tobago with the start of the Serenity Angels program in Tobago, directed by Anthony Moore and instruments are on their way to get that going. New scholarships were announced. Meanwhile, scoring of classic Highlanders and Fonclaire panorama tunes are in progress and discussions have begun with Pan Trinbago on scoring Panorama winners. 

Hard as pushing that molasses up the hill may be, the Music Literacy Trust has done so, and rightly has many reasons to be proud with exciting things to come. 

• The Music Literacy Trust is located at 18 Scott Bushe Street, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. • For more info, visit their Facebook page, e-mail them at [email protected] or call 625-6473.

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