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PAT BISHOP, A Person In Pan

Pat Bishop

The late Pat Bishop was one of the most respected, influential and celebrated women in the steelpan movement.  Holder of Trinidad & Tobago's highest award -The Trinity Cross, her accomplishments are second to none.  [Full Bio]

I can’t say that gender has been a factor in my pan yard activities – which now span so long a period of time that I’ve forgotten when it all started!

I remember once singing with Esso Tripoli steelband and abandoning solo singing soon afterwards in preference for pan arranging.  In those days I worked feverishly to find out what the instrument could do and I lived with the pans of Birdsong in my house for a very long time

They were very kind and they soon let me arrange for them, starting with simple hymn tunes.  And so too did many, many more bands.

The Classical Festival was to become the event for which my major work was done, but I also started to drill and clean up Panorama arrangements and do critical pan commentary for Radio Trinidad.  I continue to do these jobs today.

One particular interest of mine over the years has been the music composed specifically for pan and I consider it a privilege to be allowed to work with Jit Samaroo, Ken Philmore, Ray Holman and Boogsie Sharpe.  A highlight of this work was having the opportunity to conduct Boogsie’s “Dance of the Douens” for Skiffle Bunch, especially after it had been choreographed by Patricia Roe for the Caribbean School of Dancing at Queen’s Hall.

Music Festival victories as arranger/conductor for Desperadoes gave rise to many overseas appearances, the highlights of which are probably my two Carnegie Hall concerts with the band.

But alas, all of that music has been lost because our pan people are not yet musically literate.  Today, some individuals are able to read a line of music.  Very few read and also write!! It therefore takes an enormous amount of time and patience to teach music which has originally been scored for the full conventional orchestra.  The work becomes heartbreaking when it is discovered that the players forget it all very, very quickly.  This kind of issue has nothing at all to do with gender.

Mark Loquan has now set up a Music Literacy Trust, of which I am a member.  This Trust is working closely with the University of the West Indies.  I understand the Government is initiating a Pan in the Classroom project but I am not confident that this will solve the problems.  The schools need music – including Theory, history, technique and performance – and the pan would be ONE of the instruments which the children would learn…

Another problem which I have encountered is the fact that the quality of sound in certain of the pans, especially the high notes of the tenor.  It is just not good enough.  In addition the solo players of the conventional repertoire often do not have a wide enough range of notes in the correct pitch.

I am trying to solve these problems through Lydian Steel, a band which I formed ten years ago.  First of all, the players read music – to the extent that they can read the alto clef as well as the lines which are written originally for transposing instruments.

More than that, I’ve been asking the players to work with three or more units in combinations of the low C tenor with a pair of double tenors or double seconds.  This improves the range of playable notes which have an acceptable sound.  For example, just recently, a soloist whom I was teaching worked very successfully with a tenor, a pair of double seconds and a single guitar.  Only Lydian Steel players therefore use whatever combination of instruments may be required by the music.  It would be great if pan research could get itself up and going so that my Lydian Steel problems can be resolved without recourse to such a large quantity of hardware.

I have sat and continue to sit on numerous committees which are connected with steelband matters.  I can’t say that I enjoy having to go to meetings but I suppose that some good things happen from time to time.

For the last four or five years, Lydian Steel has been specializing in Baroque music.  For this I have to thank the Miami Bach Society for treating the pan as a real and serious musical instrument and not just a cute, exotic, tropical curiosity.  We have even played in concert together at the Society’s Festival with viola da Gambas!

Early music sits remarkably well on pan and I would welcome dialogue/sharing or whatever with other Baroque music enthusiasts.

This September 2005, God willing, the Lydian Singers will stage Gluck’s “Orpheus and Euridyce” with Lydian Steel.  I know that Gluck is rather late in the Baroque period but you should hear the “Dance of the Furies” on pan!!

I should also add that I suppose that my presence in so many panyards over the years must have rustled some masculine feathers but they have kept that a deep, dark secret from me – which is just as well since I don’t suppose that I would have taken any notice!!

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© and courtesy Pat Bishop

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03.20.05

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