Our Readers' Opinions
February 10, 2017
Why Caribbean steel pan musicians are superior to European classical musicians

Editor: Since the invention of the steel pan in the early 50s in Trinidad and Tobago, the art of pan music, this art form, the one thing the Caribbean can call its own, has been growing steadily.

Over the years, the instrumentalists have demonstrated their versatility by adapting to play jazz, classics, and any form of music. The comparisons between the steel bands, as they are commonly called, or steel orchestras, as they are more formally known, and the classic symphony have hardly been made.

If you consider the case of classical symphonies, no one has ever heard classical symphonies adapting to play a calypso. This may prove too complex for the classical arrangers, who perhaps don’t have the versatility to make the crossover. On the other hand, pan arrangers have proven they are skilled enough to arrange classical music for steel orchestras.

Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharp, the current arranger for Phase 11 Pan Groove Steel Orchestra and Leon ‘Smooth’ Edwards, the current arranger for the Starlift Steel Orchestra, both arrangers from Trinidad and Tobago, are two of the most gifted pan arrangers and musicians in the world. But unfortunately, the definition of a musical genius is sometimes defined by and wrongly measured against the standards set by the Europeans. The likes of Bach and Beethoven are used as the benchmark from which great music and musical abilities are to be measured.

The time has come for us to reverse this mindset and place Caribbean pan arrangers on par with or above the so-called European greats. This is because while pan arrangers are able to arrange an entire composition from memory, the same cannot be said about the European composers.

Pan musicians like Dane Gulston of ‘Starlift’and others must also be placed above classical musicians, since they are entrusted with the implementation of the arrangements provided by arrangers. These renditions are played only from memory, I may hasten to say; the same cannot be said of the classical musicians.

So, the time has come for us to ask classical symphonies to try a calypso to measure their skills against those of the steel orchestra and to do this without a music sheet. I am sure they will struggle.

It is for these reasons I am placing Caribbean pan musicians above the classical musicians. The inability to read music doesn’t make you a musical illiterate; no, it makes you a creative, gifted and talented musician.

Big up the pan man.

Rashid Rose