Holman on Pan

By Debra Ravello Greaves
January 28, 2001
Sunday Express

The “Iron Man”, Mr. Ray, is back home to play.

After an absence of two years Ray Holman will return to the Panorama big yard on February 11 with the Humming Birds Odyssey Pan Groove of St. James.

Of course, he will be arranging his own composition “Heroes of Our Nation” sung by Wayne Rodriguez. The song is a tribute to Merchant, Ras Shorty I and the Grandmaster Kitchener who himself paid home to Homan in 1990 with the infectious “Iron Man”.

During his absence from the pan circle Homan was teaching pan music and ethno-musicology to students from China, Japan, Brazil, Korea, the United States and France, at the University of Washington, Seattle. He was hired in 1998 as a visiting artist by the university.

Holman’s work was so impressive that the university extended his one-year contract to two years. He was the first person to be afforded such a privilege.

Quite an accomplishment for a man who “has never attended a music class in my life”, but studied music on his own.

“I was teaching music at university abroad but could not do so here because I had no official training”, he said. “I was hired because of the quality of my music.”

With the university stint behind him, Holman is focusing more on his music and the state of the pan. After witnessing the instrument climb to respectable heights internationally, he is pained to see it lagging behind in the land of its birth. He is also perturbed over the credibility of the information being disseminated on pan and the ineptitude of Pan Trinbago.

The whole truth is not being told on the history of pan, he says, and foreign scholars have more accurate information. The “propaganda” from local scholars often leave him shame-faced on his journeys overseas.

“We need proper scholars of the pan because I’m embarrassed frequently when erroneous information is pointed out to me abroad. Foreign scholars have more accurate information,” said Homan who has some 42 years experience with the pan.

“Maybe local scholars who compiled the info are more interested in propaganda. I see documents and people know that it is wrong info, but maybe it is being done to promote certain people in certain areas,” he said.

“I am very concerned about the state of the instrument in this country that is supposed to be the mecca of pan, but, which if corrective measures are not taken, we will have that title severely challenged,” Holman moaned. “The steel band as the national instrument needs a lot more professional attention.”

Mr. Ray’s passion for the pan goes back to his boyhood days. The first time he ever pushed a pan was in Little Carib Theatre with Beryl McBurnie. Born on Ana Street, Woodbrook, he was surrounded by steel bands.

“Close to where I lived was the band Hit Paraders, Green Eyes were on Gallus Street and Invaders on Tragarete Road,” he said.

Human began playing with Invaders at 14 and became an arranger with Starlift at 17. he was the youngest pannist at age 20 to win the ping pong solo class in music festival. Laim Teague is now the holder of that title.

There are several problems besetting the instrument such as the quality of drums, high cost of chroming, training of tuners, music literacy and the functioning of Pan Trinbago, which Holman believes is stunting the growth of the industry.

“I feel it is a dereliction of duty that pan tuners in T&T do not have proper drums from which to make their instruments,” he said. “The product could only be as good as the raw material from which it is made.”

The man who brought a new dimension to the Panorama competition in 1972 when he arranged his own composition –“ Pan on the Move” for Starlift, thus setting a trail which other bands including Desperadoes have since followed – Halman says that people must not be afraid of change but should embrace available technology in the production of pan.

“We need to make use of modern technology as some foreign-based tuners do and not be reluctant to explore new techniques and accept change.

“I know for a fact the tuners in the US have superior quality drums and the people involved in building pans are college and university graduates. They take the task much more seriously and take great pride in what they do.”

Unfortunately, local tuners have complained to him that their apprentices are not as astute and are not taking their time with the drums, as some see it as a quick hustle.

“It will spell doom for us when the present crop of tunes pass on. Young tuners need to be trained badly,” Holman said. “Some system of apprenticeship must be put in place where tuners can pass on their skills because the US is concentrating on training.”

His old friend Ellie Mannette, with whom he reunited in the US in 1998 after 30 years, has 16 apprentices who study and work with him and are all university graduates, he said.

Women, he insists, should get involved in this aspect of the industry.

“This is not only for men, many women in the US are doing it. It should not be confined to men. Mannette’s main builder is a woman,” Holman said.

It is his desire to see more pan-men who are capable of reading music.

“I think that more attention must be paid to musical literacy, although nothing can replace the ear,” he said.

“Pannists deserve more respect in their country and maybe they need to be more professional in their approach and see themselves as musicians.”

He is an example of what he speaks for apart from calypso and soca his music comprises ballards, operas, and blends of Brazilian and jazz rhythms. He has written a variety of pan songs for bands including Tokyo, Exodus, Phase II Pan Groove and Starlift for over 28 years and his compositions are performed by orchestras in the US.

There is a growing demand for his music too.

“One of my publishers recently called and said that there was a big order for my compositions in Singapore and Denmark,” he said.

Pan Trinbago, Holman pointed out, should be part of the revolution to uplift the pan. It is his view that the body should be run by professionals and that its role be more clearly defined.

Audiences across Europe and the US have been entertained by his performances. Operas and orchestras have performed his music, including a stage version of Black Orpheus. Caribbean productions in Japan have benefited under his musical directorship as well.

Of his many international performances the most memorable, he says, was in 1997 when he did a live television performance in Cologne, Germany, with David Rudder, Andy Narrel and Vince Mendoza.

“We had the backing of West German National Orchestra and to have my music played by the leading jazz musician was an experience that I will never forget,” Holman said. “We rehearsed for ten days for that concert.”

He has given himself full time to his music and will leave in April for concerts in Kansas and California. After which he will begin work on his first CD with his band in Seattle, which consists of musicians from the School of Music of the University of Washington.