It’s Steelpan (pan) Month from August 1 to 31, and it’s no secret that pan had its share of licks, but it has matured and purified to great extents.
History reveals that the developed, sophisticated instrument came from deep struggles yet played its way into Carnegie and Royal Albert Halls; drew British Royalty to local panyards; became a part of Presidents, Prime Ministers and many other distinguished individuals’ life.
In 2012 pan was adopted in Israel as a peace-promoting tool via the currently-run Peace Drums Project; some high-profile international universities’ Master’s music programs embrace pan. Pan creates unity and harmony. For decades, religious bodies have adopted pan.
Two university students from India who were doing their thesis on pan in 2006 at a Renegades Steel Orchestra pan workshop--A Dream Come True, Pan--said “Pan is a mesmerising gift to the world that either puts you in a trance or in a frenzy, and what better place to complete it than in its birthplace, T&T.”
On July 5 of this year (2022), for the very-first time any anthem was played on pan during an Olympic medal ceremony. It was T&T’s National Steel Symphony Orchestra (NSSO) that did historic justice at the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Medal Reallocation Ceremony, at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, with their recorded version of Forged for the Love of Liberty.
Musical director Akua Leith said he honoured the request of the former president of the TTOC, Brian Lewis, and followed every requirement laid out by the IOC.
The gold medal was reallocated to T&T’s 2008 Beijing Olympic men’s 4x100 meter relay team that advanced from silver owing to the disqualification of the former gold medallists for an infraction.
History states that pan was invented in 1939; T&T first competed at Olympics under the then-new national colours, red, black and white in 1964, two years after gaining Independence but despite having won gold in 1976 and 2012, anthems were played by the traditional wind and string orchestras.
In 1992, T&T’s then Prime Minister, the late Patrick Manning, declared pan T&T’s national instrument.
The novel pan-playing anthem at Olympics was the brainchild, proposal and follow through of Lewis who said it was an uphill battle to the approval which happened January of this year.
The body of the TTOC trademark registered in 2016 is that of a pan, and the IOC said they “encourage cultural exchange and promote the diversity of cultures.”
Today, T&T’s athletes are readying themselves to fulfill the TTOC’s medal mandate of 10 golds 24 championed by Lewis from 2015. Once T&T achieves gold, the national anthem will be heard on pure-bred T&T pan – NSSO-recorded – and automatically marketed to over “three billion” listening audience.
Leith has played and conducted tours throughout Europe, Asia, North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. He is a Fulbright Fellow and graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Masters of Music in Conducting with emphasis on Steelpan Performance. He is also a teacher of the steelpan and director of the steelpan manufacturing company, MITTCO.
TTOC’s president, Diane Henderson, said of her hearing the national anthem played on pan at the ceremony, “It was surreal…to be a part of this historic moment.”