Guardian, September 20, 2003
Veteran steelband arranger and composer Ray Holman has called for the steel pan, the national musical instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, to be taken seriously.
In an interview with Trinidad Guardian from his US base in Seattle, Washington, Holman said: “Pan is at the crossroad and I’m not sure where it’s heading. I feel however, we have to take it a bit more seriously and not see it as a “hustle” or as a political tool.”
Holman, a former visiting artiste at the University of Washinton, said the vision for the instrument and the art form should be unlimited.
Pan Trinbago’s inaugural National Republic Pan Fiesta competition, jointly produced by the National Carnival Commission (NCC), is in tribute to Holman.
Prime Minister Patrick Manning is patron of the event.
The finals for conventional and single pan bands take place tonight at the Grand Stand, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.
The programme is designed to showcase the work of steelband arrangers who compose music specifically for pan.
Three of Holman’s original compositions have been selected by contestants in this competition. They are: “Pan On the Run,” played by BWIA Invaders, the first band he arranged for; “Pan On the Move,” by RBTT Redemption Sound Setters from Tobago; and Petrotrin Hatters doing “My Band.”
Holman, who is dubbed as the pioneer in this field, said he considers himself as such.
“I am in, a sense, the pioneer. Maybe because I was the most prolitic and the most daring, but I was not the first to compose a tune for the instrument. I recorded some of my tunes and was the first to take the bold step of playing one of them at Panorama,” said Holman.
As a member of the legendary Invaders (BWIA) Steel Orchestra, Holamn, at age 18, started composing. Being a composer was his desire.
“I just had that creative urge and I also had a strong belief that the pan should have it’s own music and that it should come from the panmen and panwomen themselves,” he explained.
Holamn lauded Pan Trinbago’s National Republic pan Fiesta contest and described it as an honour bestowed upon the entire pan fraternity.
He said this event was a way of “reminding ourselves, and the young people in particular, that “we are a creative people,” and the vision for the instrument and the art form should be unlimited.
He added: “I consider myself as a sort of liberator of the movement. We had been confined to and expected to perform other people’s music. Nothing original was coming out of the panyards except our wonderful arrangements.”
At first, Holmanis radical move seemed welcomed. Initially, the support was good. But when Woodbrook-based Starlift Steel Orchestra won the National Panorama with “Pan on the Move,” in 1972, steelbands became afraid they were going to be left behind.
Holman said: “Then some of the more prominent calypsonians joined the army of protesters seeking of course, to protect their own turf as suppliers of music for the pan. It certainly was not easy. Change, and particularly radical change, never is.”
Holman said: “No one else, at the time, had any such vision for improvement.”
Asked if his work is appreciated more internationally than here at home, the celebrated arranger/composer said he has had fantastic feedback reaching an increasing number of people, both young and old.
Holman said everything he does is pan-centred, he writes, plays, teaches and records. Another side is his ability to sing.
“I promote the instrument, the music I write for it, and the country that gave birth to it and to me. I think people in Trinidad take it for granted and they really have only heard what I have done for Panorama, whereas in the outside world, people have the opportunity to hear all of my music and also to see me perform a lot more,” said Holman.
Holman said his experiences have taught him to “set goals, equip yourself with the tools and skills required to achieve and go after it by remaining focused.”
He admits it has not always been easy. Yet he remains undaunted and is convinced that nothing takes the place of perseverance and honesty.
“I am always happy to teach and see others learn. I have learnt so much from teaching at the university of Washington, where I was a visiting artiste for two years.
“I was fortunate to have lived in Port Of Spain where I heard the sounds of pan from a very early age.
“Arranging for Invaders was my first break as an arranger, and I have just continued to enjoy every musical experience,” said Holman.