Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music
by ANDRE MOSES
Cheers to Life
Nowadays we all spend a lot of time on negatives. More newspapers are sold, stories are juicier and gossip is tastier, when spiced up with a bit of the negative seasoning powder. Even the church is fond of exploiting the theme “No weapon formed against me shall prosper”. It seems that all of us ‘good’ people are continuously under attack from armies of ‘haters’. I like TV6’s Morning Edition program and tune in to the program on most mornings. But I wonder why the host, Fazir, after seeking to brighten up our mornings with the beauty of a flower in bloom, nearly always follows that up with some negative rant to remind us about how ‘deceitful’ and ‘worthless’ we all are.
Maybe it is historical, and the courage and dignity displayed by our slave forefathers has made suffering, though inhumane and wicked, nonetheless something to be admired for the strength it demonstrates. There is truly a certain nobility in suffering that attracts and continues to merit our admiration. But suffering, in and of itself, does not offer a way out. Saying ‘No weapon formed against me shall prosper’ by itself cannot shield us against perceived attacks. We have to do something to change our realities. Even the Bible preaches that ‘God helps those that help themselves’.
After fifty-three (53) odd years of Independence we still find ourselves in a reactionary mode: always waiting, forever waiting, for some government, some family inheritance, some blessing to deliver us from evil. But Independence is really the beginning of an exciting new journey. We get to do our own thing, make our own mistakes and build our own futures.
These days in the midst of our many malfunctioning institutions, we can find many success stories if we take the time to search them out.
One such success story is the steelband. Lets just focus on the teaching/learning process in the steelband and how it differs from the same process in our nation’s classrooms. Classrooms are competitive spaces: Who came first, second and third and who came last in test…Who came first in SEA and got their picture in the papers and who is crying because the pressure of expectation was overwhelming. A panyard is a different environment. ‘We NOT I’ is the motto of the Starlift Steel Orchestra and that sums up the panyard teaching/learning environment. Each player has to get the music right, so that his/her section (tenor, bass, rhythm section etc.) can get it right. And each section must play the music right, if the band, comprising those different sections, is to play the music correctly. Cooperation is thus in-built in the panyard educational process.
In school classrooms the focus is on the teacher: teachers talk and students listen, unless you are asked a question. One teacher to thirty students in an average sized class. But all the students in the class are not at the same level, and the class sizes prevent individual attention, so some students learn, some students get lost, some students get bored and others get frustrated. In the panyard every player is both a player and a teacher. You may be a senior player but you may have missed a practice session and so someone who is your junior can teach you the music you missed. You see, this one-teacher-thing, will never work in a panyard where 100 pan players of different abilities and with different time schedules, have just three to four weeks to learn a Panorama tune.
The arranger is the main teacher and he will teach the music to the section leaders, who will transfer the music to the senior members, who will in turn teach the ordinary members of that particular section. In this way the teaching function in the panyard is dispersed. If your go into a panyard at Panorama time you will find small groupings of learners and their teachers/mentors dispersed all over the yard: the slow learners in their own groups, the fast learners in a different group and so on. Teaching in this environment is not a profession, it is a function and anyone with more knowledge or skills can share and so at different times teachers become learners and learners become teachers.
Homework is a big issue in schools. Students, who were not creative in figuring out how to do their homework assignment, become the most creative in coming up with excuses for non-submission of homework. Not so in the panyard where homework seems to be much less of a problem. At the end of a practice session the arranger may say, “Your homework for tomorrow is to get the new part right. Tonight I am hearing wrong notes and notes that are not being placed correctly”. Lets suppose that new part is the introduction to the Panorama tune. If you want to be selected on the Panorama roster you must be able to play it correctly, so that is your incentive to make an arrangement with someone who knows the part to come early and work on the part with you before the next band rehearsal. It’s not like in school when a teacher or a parent has to ‘threaten’ you with punishment to do your homework. This is self-directed learning – the learner scheduling the time, the place and a teacher to make sure the homework gets done. You see its all tied up with instant gratification. There is nothing a pan player hates more than to have to stand up like a statue with sticks in your hand while the band is jamming a sweet part that he/she has not learnt. Once is normally enough, by the next rehearsal you will have done your ‘homework’ and you will be ‘wining’ on the new part. Your reward is the exhilaration that comes from playing sweet music in an environment in which your individual part forms an important component of the whole product.
Maybe, just maybe, if we can make our classrooms less competitive and more cooperative spaces, if teaching could be more like sharing and doing homework could be related something tangible, then maybe the classroom could be more like a panyard and we would have less need for suspensions, detention centres and other techniques of negative reinforcement. Just a thought that may be worth exploring.
So Faz, we all know that many of our institutions and our institutional leaders are malfunctioning, but taking a line from Soca Monarch Voice’s winning tune Cheers to Life - From yuh wake up dis mornin you is a winner…. lets look for positive examples to inspire us, to shine a light and illuminate pathways to fulfilment and success. After all, this is what Independence should mean - new journeys in search of success and fulfilment. Of course we will find potholes and obstacles along the way, but if we spend less time, describing them, and more time, getting around them, then perhaps our journeys will be shorter and more fruitful.