Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music
I've played pan for years and am decently proficient at it. In my mind I always thought I would never be "complete" unless I was musically literate. I still believe that the player who understands what they're playing from a theoretical standpoint and aligns that with the natural "feel" that they have would have the advantage of a player who only has one of those components.
But to put the question of whether a pan player is a musician or not in perspective, I look at someone like Boogsie Sharpe. I really don't know if Boogsie is musically literate (can read and/or write music). But assuming he can do neither, there isn't a person on the planet that can tell me he is NOT a musician.
Do you have to be gifted like a Boogsie Sharpe to be a musician? I say no. Maybe another question to ask would be "is a singer a musician?" If your answer is yes, then a pan player should be no different.
No one can argue against the benefits of music literacy. However, for those who are musicians par excellence without it, are they are just that - par excellence musicians nonetheless.
As a composer, Len Boogsie Sharpe has his own way and language, of getting his music creation across to his pan players. As a composer himself, he has composed some of the most brilliant pieces on earth for pan, and himself cannot read or write - music. Think "In the Rainforest" Boogsie's composition for the winners, Skiffle Bunch for the World Steelband Music Festival 2000.
So in regards to not-formally-musically-literate-composers such as Boogsie, as per your point "give them a better perspective on what the composer is feeling or what is required of the piece" - this does not hold true.
In Trinidad and Tobago there is a now whole new generation of young musicians who can learn by BOTH the oral tradition and by reading music. There is absolutely no conflict. It is similar to learning to speak and then to read and write a new language or one's native language. Being musically illiterate does not mean you are incapable of producing good music in the same manner that being unable to read does not mean that you can not make a very good speech or create lyrics. You are simply unable to write it down and pass it on and to read works produced by others.
I am not sure why there should be an argument over this. It can not be a question of one way OR the other but the use of BOTH ways of working in the panyard. The experience that Dr Bump went through is simply one that was caused by the way the Arranger/Composer works in-situ in that he composes as he goes along and the tune is a dynamic and continually evolving creation. That is perhaps why "Doh be on Dat" was one of the most musically coherent tunes of the entire Panorama and received the only standing ovation in the finals thanks to the brilliance of the Composer/Arranger and the absorption rate of the players including Dr Bump who has been immeasurably enriched as a percussionist.
The tune was memorized not only in the heads but in every muscle and fibre of the players and they played in absolute and total unison. This was repeated time and time again by all steelbands who, by and large, went through the same process.
The problem will arise when asked to play the tune again three months hence without a score and this is the main drawback of the oral tradition.