When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

Gramophone Fri 17th March 2017

The Nobel Prize-winning poet on opera writing, music and Caribbean speech melodies

picture - Derek Walcott (by Brian Gallagher)

Classical music was there when I was growing up in Saint Lucia and there was a pretty high level of experience. Some people would perform it privately; in particular traditional English songs were sung. And classical was not strange to any of us because it was played a lot at school and college and many of us were exposed to the strong choral traditions in the Caribbean (though I didn’t sing).

The context for all that though was a great mix of all different kinds of music. There were the local rhythms, calypso, zouk music. A great deal of Spanish and French-influenced music. That was the background. I learnt to move between different musical styles.

When I went to university in Jamaica, the professor asked me what I liked, and I replied, “Dance of the Hours, and Les Sylphides.” I thought I was talking on a very high plane! So, as I quickly discovered, I didn’t have any thorough knowledge at all. Even if my knowledge is limited, in terms of appreciation, Mozart swings! We understand that in the Caribbean. The brightness, vivacity – and that goes for Bach too. We assimilate this music into our own traditions. To hear a steel band playing these classics can be terrific.

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RIP brother...

He expressed the exact things I feel about music. He will be sorely missed.


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