Trinidad and Tobago gets its first steel pan institute

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By Caribbean News Now Contributor

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — The Caribbean island where the steel pan instrument was born now has its own Pan Institute due to the efforts of a former vice president of Pan Trinbago, the governing body for steel bands in Trinidad and Tobago.

On Saturday, 27 November 2010, the Diatonic Pan Institute was launched in Siparia in the southern of Trinidad. It is the brainchild of Keith Byer, who once served on the executive committee of Pan Trinbago.

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Keith Byer, founder and director of Diatonic Pan Institute

Addressing a gathering, which included Senator Danny Maharaj and the advisor to the Minister of National Security, Roy Augustus, at the Siparia Community Center, Byer pointed out why the Diatonic Pan Institute at this time.

He related that in the 1960s, a US social worker, Jeff Narell, visited Trinidad and Tobago and saw the steel pan and on his return to the USA, Narell introduced the instrument in New York. Byer said Narell felt the steel pan was the right tool at the time to help combat “the almost out of control delinquency that was plaguing Harlem at the time.” Narell’s son, Andy, benefited from his father’s introduction of the steel pan and is now one of the leading steel pan players in the world.

Byer also pointed out that in the 1980s, the Chief Judge of the US Virgin Island of St Thomas, Verne Hodge, “set out to change the course of the youths that were appearing before him, by introducing them to the steel pan.”

Hodge’s novel idea of fighting crime led to the formation of a steel orchestra on the island known as the Rising Stars Steel Orchestra, which is fully sponsored by the state “and they boast that the program is so successful that it realizes a 90 percent graduation among its members,” Byer said.

For helping to reform those who came before his court, Byer said Hodge won the most prestigious award for innovation in crime fighting.

“The question is: when are we going to capitalize on our invention?” Byer asked.

Byer said the Diatonic Pan Institute was born “to ensure that the steel pan is not considered a tool for entertainment and amusement,” but the institute’s aim to “to capture its full potential for the benefit of the people of Siparia and its environs.”

“We hope to start a movement that will not only attack the very fabric of the unsociable behaviour in this country but also provide a hopeful net for the lesser academic persons with whom we live side by side on a daily basis,” Byer said. “We intend to trigger economic and industrial transformation, along with social rehabilitation and civic welfare for the great multitude of our people.”

Byer said the benefits to be derived from the steel pan are tremendous, with officials attached to the new Trinidad and Tobago government, including the prime minister, speaking about using the steel pan as a means of “weaning ourselves away from the dependency of petroleum.”

The Diatonic Pan Institute will established committees such as Events, Steel Band, Education, Marketing and Promotion and Sports. These committees will have the responsibility of ensuring the institute’s five-year plan is carried out.

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