Steel pans old and unturned, but Linden all-girls band rocks
Stabroek News – March 15, 2008
By Iana Seales
In a cash-strapped community eager to assist but incapable of doing so, an all-girls, school steel band is surviving using old, out-of-tune instruments that somehow still produce sound, and incredibly, it rocks!
Rising in popularity over the years through electric performances, the girls of Wismar Christianburg Multilateral School are Linden’s best kept cultural secret. But the ‘hush hush’ is all over now and they are coming out in hope that someone can offer assistance.
After 12 years of playing on steel pans that have weathered with time and have not been tuned in years, the Wismar girls are yearning for new pans. They are addicts of the instruments who get high on the melody coming from their ‘shiny, groovy escapes’. They rule supreme over a legion of Wismar Secondary School fans, enjoy rock star status when they are in uniform and at school, and are respected in the community.
Besides the fact that they in desperate need of new steel pans, they are a group of pretty pleased young women, who stuck to steel pan when the guys at school gave it up and when practice hours required a shortened lunch break everyday and additional time after school.
In a telephone interview with The Scene on Thursday, steel band instructor at the Wismar school, Claudius Thorman, said the girls deserve every word of praise they get because they are “disciplined and they work hard”. Though some of them are writing the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) examinations this year, Thorman said, they always show up for practice.
Since the band’s formation in 1994, he said, the girls have shown tremendous interest and they have pursued it with a passion. He started out with a gender balance in the band but as the years progressed, the young men went. At one point, it was an all-male band, but that was for a brief period.
“The girls come to me and say that they have arranged practice time and that we are going to get things done at a certain hour. That never happened with the boys. I had to find them when it was time for practice. It just goes to show the level of discipline the young women have,” Thorman said.
A drum set donation from Courts Guyana in 1994 sparked interest among the students and according to Thorman, resulted in the band being formed. But the drums did not survive more than a few months after a little ‘wear and tear’. He said Desiree Wyles-Ogle at the Ministry of Education then donated an eight-piece steel pan set and that is what they have been using ever since.
The steel pans, which require tuning every three to six months, were initially tuned in keeping with the requirements, but after a few years the school had no funds to keep it going. At $35,000 per tuning session, Thorman said, the school just could not afford it anymore. But they tried with the community and went out seeking funds, any assistance they could get. They came up empty.
Once, he said, a woman who had desired the services of the school band paid for a tuning session but that was nearly three years ago. Since then the community, which is cash strapped, has been unable to give anything.
Thorman said this has not stopped them from playing at request and free of cost. He said the band plays everywhere in Linden and has given years of service to the community. They only have to get a call and they show up.
He said a donation of instruments or even a commitment to tune the steel pans would be heartening and would give the girls a boost. Thorman said the excitement they get from playing is all the incentive they need, but new instruments that are regularly maintained certainly does something for morale.
The steel band is so popular now that the whole school wants to join, Thorman pointed out. But he is sticking to the current group of 14 girls. He said boys want to join and have alleged discrimination because he has maintained the band’s all-girls status. Thorman has more than two decades of steel pan experience and had originally joined the school at Wismar as a part-time teacher. After he joined the staff permanently, he was instrumental in the band being formed.
Malesha Gamble, who joined the band since she first entered the school and is now on her way out, told The Scene that the pan experience is one of a kind. Gamble described how she feels the music coming from the pans when she is playing and the joy that takes her over when she looks up and sees people enjoying the performance. “It is unbelievable and even though I am leaving school, I am not leaving the band. I can’t, it means too much.”