Steelpan Tuner
Bertie Marshall
WST Pan Photographer

Bertie Marshall


Bertie Marshall - Master Steelpan Tuner, legendary Steelpan and builder

Noted historian, journalist and film maker Dalton Narine writes:

“Bertie Marshall, 74, is a dreamer and trailblazer. A tuner of forceful personality who impressed his will on Pan.

“A harmonica player, he strove to achieve harmonics on steel. Not a single note played on the instrument in the 1950s, even by the top steel bands, resonated in his ear.

“Each note lacked something crucial to music. The blending of several notes or harmonics to beget the dominant note. That’s what Marshall accomplished through experimentation.

“As in religion - well, as in pan - every scrap of information is subjected to subjective interpretation. Anthony Williams will forever be in conversation. In 1953, Williams of North Stars, also was tinkering with the sound. Using a peculiar grooved design he termed the spider web, Williams found that by hammering octaves on each corner of a note he had eliminated overtones. However, while tuning pans in New York City with a strobe in 1969 for a Madison Square Garden concert featuring Trinidad’s most famous pianist, Winifred Atwell (accompanied by North Stars), the gospel truth did not elude Williams. “It was the first time that I had [knowingly] tuned with harmonics,” he recalls.

“By that time, Bertie Marshall’s Highlanders had won two Bomb competitions in Port of Spain. Led by a single electronically amplified tenor, the harmonically empowered steel band marked a milestone in Pan in 1965 when it performed Handel’s “Every Valley Shall be Exalted,” and, two years later, the most complex Bomb tune of all time, Rossini’s “Italiana in Algeri” (Italian Girl in Algiers). Even the basses and a couple of other pans were amplified for the 1967 road jam.

“Since that glorious epoch of the 1960s, Highlanders - and, by extension Pan - sprung up like a grass fire. The Bertie Marshall film attempts to capture the flame of his genius, and explain Highlanders’ exalted place in the pantheon of Pan.”

Here’s the message Marshall has left us:

  • Harmonic tuning (“All tuners became my friend.”).

  • Soprano pan or high tenor.

  • Double Tenor.

  • The Quadrophonic (co-invented with the late Desperadoes leader/tuner Rudolph Charles).

  • Electronically amplified pans. * The Bertfone, which sustained notes like an organ, complete with damper pedal.

  • Pan accompanying the choir in the Cathedral; operating independently as an orchestra, too.

  • Stylish jazz phrasing employed in calypso as well as classical renditions for the road.

  • Originated the use of canopies for pan racks, realizing before anyone else the damaging effect of heat on the instruments.

  • One of the premier party steel bands of its era.

 


More on Bertie Marshall

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Bertram Lloyd Marshall (born February 6, 1936 in, Laventille, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad - died, October 17, 2012)

Bertie was born in 1936 in the working class community of Laventille at a time when Trinidad was in industrial turmoil and the transition from Tamboo Bamboo to Dustbin was in full gear. By the end of World War Two (WWII) notes appeared on the drums and Bertie, as a schoolboy, experienced and witnessed this transition as there were several steelbands in his and the surrounding communities. These experiences impacted greatly on the young Bertie Marshall as evidenced by his lifelong commitment to the development of this indigenous musical instrument.

He became the leader of Highlanders Steel Orchestra, a legendary steelband from his community that excelled in: tonal quality; repertoire; playing techniques and performances. Thousands of people, mainly youths, played Mas with Highlanders on Carnival days. The band was also famous for their renditions of classical music at the J’Ouvert Bomb Competitions. Highlanders, led by Bertie, was a community institution that attracted youths who were engaged in the practice and performance of music, advanced playing techniques (using three or four-sticks) and tuning.

The late steelpan innovator and pioneer Bertie Marshall
The late steelpan innovator and pioneer
Bertie Marshall

Bertie Marshall is often described as a perfectionist who challenged tradition while seeking excellence in tonal quality and music. Without formal training, he ventured into the fields of: Science of Sound; Acoustical and Sound Engineering. Using the limited resources at his disposal and driven by a passion for perfection, he introduced, developed and mastered Harmonic Tuning in steelband instrumentation. Bertie created the Double Tenor which can now be found in steelbands all across the world. He also designed and produced the Bertphone an avant-garde steelband instrument that addressed resonance of notes. It was Highlanders that introduced amplified pans in the steelband on the road, long before brass bands. Highlanders also introduced canopies covering the pan racks to protect the instruments from the effects of the sun and rain.

Bertie was a Musical Arranger for his band, preparing music for the full orchestra or an ensemble and playing a repertoire of Classical; Contemporary; Calypso; Latin and Religious music. Highlanders was one of the first steelbands to perform in church in concert at the Trinity Cathedral with its full choir and pipe organ. He was also a Virtuoso Player on Tenor where he would improvise during live performances and recordings.

Among other things, Bertie Marshall was a Teacher/Educator. Alvin Romain, Tony Slater, Clifford Alfred and Vincent “Taboo” Taylor all became full-time professional Tuners; they were all members of Highlanders and were exposed to their craft by Bertie himself. He was, later on, a Lecturer at the Advanced Pan Tuning Programme at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) where he taught groups of young Tuners to become Master Tuners.

He served as advisor to many people in the steelband movement: Leaders; Tuners; Arrangers; Players and Administrators, all of whom benefitted from his wealth of experience and knowledge whenever he was approached. Bertie was also a community-minded person, those who lived close to him speak of his generosity to parents, children and others, and he was always there for them.

 


Additional info below posted with special permission from the BestOfTrinidad.com by Ronald C. Emrit - check link for potential updates

 

DATE OF BIRTH: February 6, 1936
PLACE OF BIRTH: Laventille, Trinidad
EDUCATION:
  • St. Phillip EC School
  • Tranquillity Intermediate School
  • STEELBANDS:
  • Armed Forces (1950s- 1960s)
  • Highlanders (1960s - 1972)
  • Desperadoes (1972 - 2002)
  • SPECIALTIES:
  • Tuner
  • Player
  • Arranger
  • CAREER:                                       Marshall began his steelband career in the 1950s playing at the Chaguaramas Naval Base with a stage steelband called "The Armed Forces," aptly named named after its audience of US servicemen. The Armed Forces eventually changed its name to Highlanders after uniting with the Mas' Band of the same name led by Kimloy Wong. The Highlanders began practicing on Erica Street in Laventille and later moved to Mango Rose Trace, Laventille. By the early 1960s, Marshall had developed a new lead instrument, the double-tenor, for Highlanders where he was the leader, tuner, and arranger. He went on to become the first panman to install covers over pans during Carnival when he observed that the heat generated by the rays of the sun raised the temperature of the playing surfaces of pans and affected their tone. His continued experimentation with electronics resulted in his 1964 introduction of amplified pans which were used for the first time on the road during the 1965 Carnival. In 1971, he introduced the Bertphone, a foot pedal system for controlling the tone of amplified pans. Highlanders were disbanded in 1972 and Marshall joined Desperadoes as a tuner, following an invitation from its leader, Rudolph Charles. In 2004, Marshall suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body and greatly curtailed his pan-tuning work.
    AWARD:
    • 1992 - Trinidad & Tobago Chaconia Medal Gold (for Culture)
    • 2008 - Order of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago
    DIED October 17, 2012, after a long bout with diabetes.
    Compiled by Ronald C. Emrit

     WST sparkle video logo An Interview with Bertie Marshall