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Diatonic Pan Institute—paving the way for the national instrument

Published: 
Thursday, August 30, 2018
Diatonic Vacation Pan Camp tutors Jemeel Byer, Allysa Saney, Nicholai Hospedales, Leiah Mollineau and Kyle Charles. PICTURE JANELLE PARRIS

Emerging from an era of notorious steelband violence and existing in epoch of youth criminality and violence, there is a beacon of hope for the youth of Siparia and south Trinidad. Steelband visionary and former Pan Trinbago vice president Keith Byer has formed the Diatonic Pan Institute (DPI), an entity with roots in Siparia Deltones Steel Orchestra and one which is quickly placing T&T youth on the global cultural landscape.

The DPI is a registered non-profit organisation, a registered community-based organisation with the Ministry of Community Development, and registered with the National Registry of Artist and Cultural workers with the Ministry of Culture. DPI actually hails from Mary Street, Siparia.

“Diatonic was formed eight years ago and in this short time has performed at functions throughout T&T and made multiple tours,” said PRO Janelle Parris.

“In 2011, the band visited five cities in Indiana, USA, and was instrumental in the formation of both an Indiana Community Band and an Indiana Wesleyan University Steelband Ensemble. Their efforts was so appreciated that the Governor of Indiana proclaimed the week of their visit Pan Appreciation Week and the Mayor of Indianapolis gave them the Mayoral Certification of Appreciation.”

“In 2014, Diatonic made two tours, one being the National Independence Committee of the St Vincent & the Grenadines inviting Diatonic to its 35th anniversary of Independence celebrations. Diatonic also represented T&T at the Folkmoot USA International Festival held in Waynesville, North Carolina.

“Their performances were so appreciated that the Mayor of Waynesville, after previously denying the Festival funding, changed his mind after he saw Diatonic’s performance. This action was published as headline news on the Waynesville Daily Newspaper. In addition, Diatonic was proclaimed Honorary Citizens of Waynesville North Carolina by the Mayor.”

The North Carolina Festival was attended by seven countries (Russia, Romania, Turkey, Colombia, Hawaii, Taiwan and of course Diatonic from T&T) three of those countries invited DPI to visit, one of them being Taiwan.Coming out of those invitations, DPI represented T&T in Taiwan for the period June 30–July 21 in the Yilan International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival. This festival is a celebration of the world’s cultural heritage through folk music and dance.

“In addition to performing at the International Festival in Taiwan,” said Parris, “Diatonic entered into an agreement with the Taiwan Ministry of Culture to do workshops and establish a steelband in Taiwan.

“The festival was held in the outdoor stage of the Dong-shang River Chin-shui Park and the Circle stage of the Dong-shang River Chin-shui Park.

“Performing at the 2017 Festival with Diatonic were groups from Kyrgyz Republic, Indonesia, Hungary, Phillippines, Japan, USA, Mexico, Croatia, South Africa, Poland, El Salvador, Australia, Russia, Thailand, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Korea.”

Other achievements

• In 2011, DPI partnered with the European Union to stage two Conferences (Port-of-Spain and Siparia) entitled Culture and Sports, a tool for Social Transformation. Representatives from secondary and primary schools; the business community; mas, calypso and steelpan fraternity, the protective services and members of the community participated in this event.

• DPI launched its first double Christmas CD entitled a Diatonic Pantastic Christmas in 2012

• The Pan Institute focuses on youth development and runs the following:

1. A music literacy programme for the players and members of the community. At present most players are qualified Grade 4 musicians with the junior players spanning from grades 1–3.

2. An annual pan camp for children five–12 years during the July–August vacation.

3. A pre-secondary school pan education programme approved by the Ministry of Education. After SEA students are afforded an opportunity to learn the steelpan and perform at their school graduation. Five schools have benefited in the area. One school is given an opportunity annual.

• In 2014, Diatonic Pan Institute ran a TV series entitled Pankalang. It was aired every Sunday for 14 weeks on the Caribbean Communications Network CCN TV6. The TV series focused on community steelbands throughout T&T.

• The members of the steel orchestra manage the popular Diatonic Steel in Motion, Single Pan Competition, which is held annually in Siparia on the occasion of the Festival of La Divina Pastora (Siparia Fete).

Also on this occasion, DPI produces its annual community magazine, which highlights persons who have contributed to the community. This magazine is distributed free of charge to the community, the Caribbean and parts of the USA.

• While the orchestra does not participate in Panorama, it participated and won the Nestle Kit Kat I Can Play Music competition in 2012 and took part in its first competition as an orchestra in 2013 in Pan Trinbago’s Pan is Beautiful XII, and was a finalist in that competition.

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