The Musical Apostles Debuts

Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer

The Kingston Parish Church is the most recent convert to the growing number of Jamaican churches with steel bands. The Musical Apostles was formed in September, and last Sunday was ceremonially dedicated to the church by the new rector, Bishop Don Taylor. He declared that having the band is "a joy".

The band was the brainchild of Rev Jim Parks, until recently the assistant priest at Kingston Parish Church. The 14-member band is composed of five boys and nine girls from Kingston Parish Church and Christ Church Vineyard Town, and officially belongs to both churches.

'Most qualified' steel panist

Its leader, Gay Magnus, is "probably the most qualified" steel panist in Jamaica, according to her assistant, Dwight McBean, an organist at the Kingston Parish Church. He told The Sunday Gleaner that the band desperately needs more pans.

"We have only enough pans for five positions, the minimum number of positions in a steel band, so teaching the 14 members is tedious," he said. "Everything has to be taught three times, so that all 14 can learn. The church actually owns only five pans; the others are borrowed."

He said the church will be having a fund-raising concert on December 28 to raise funds for additional pans, the smallest of which, the tenor pan, costs about US$800. Part of the proceeds will also assist the ongoing restoration process of the church's 99-year-old pipe organ, which was built after its predecessor was destroyed in the 1907 earthquake.

The fund-raising concert in the church hall will feature numerous well-known artistes, including singers Veila Espeut, Carole Reid and Andrew Lawrence, singer-trumpeter Dwight Richards and actress Grace McGhie, as well as the Musical Apostles.

The oldest male member of the Musical Apostles is Joel Brown, a percussion student at the Edna Manley College's School of Music, who wants a career in music. He teaches the other members how to play the trap drum set and is a Roman Catholic.

Loves all types of music

Albert McDonald, 13, goes to Greater Portmore High School and wants to be a pilot. He loves music "of all types", he says, but adds, "I don't fancy dancehall. It's too violent - all about guns and killing."

David Natty, 12, the youngest member, goes to Wolmer's Boys' School and initially wanted to be a musician (for a while he played drums, the clarinet and sang on a choir), but now he wants to be a scientist. Both he and Albert attend Kingston Parish Church.

Karan Mellish-Fisher, who plays six bass (the large, whole drums), is the Sunday School superintendent at Christ Church and an employee of the Jamaica Co-operative Credit Union League. She has loved music from childhood and studied piano up to Grade 6.

Lauren Mais, 20, the tenor panist, played the violin for 10 years while a member of Dr Olive Lewin's Jamaica Orchestra for Youth and now plays with the Jamaica Young People's Symphony. She attends Christ Church and the University of the West Indies (UWI), where she is a medical sciences student. She plans to be a doctor.

Bandleader Gay Magnus developed a love for music early in life as a piano student. While at UWI, she joined the Panoridim Steel Orchestra on the Mona campus and after graduating remained an active member. She has held several leadership positions, including band captain, musical director and musical arranger. She continues in the last-named position.

(Read more: Jamaica Gleaner)

Panfest 2008 fuses movement, music

Panfest 2008 closed with not so much a bang as a helluva blast to a near full house, which was very vocal in its appreciation of the music and movement of the steelpan players, at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts on Sunday evening.

Presented in HD (with a TV guide-style programme to boot), a radio on-stage to the audience's right jumping through channels to often humorous effects and a television on the left 'projecting' highlights of the university's 60th anniversary between numbers, the members of the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra not only played music well.

Stepping Out

From 'Stepping Out' to Steel Pulse, after a spotlight hit, the unco-operative radio and its jolly airwave meanderings preceded the opening of the curtain on glinting pans and gleaming teeth especially from the players in the front row, the orchestra moved. They played with obvious joy and controlled abandon in a well-orchestrated presentation, the expected coordination of their arms as they played combined with in sync total body movement at points.

So while Marley was hot on the box in the jam of Stevie Wonder's Master Blaster after the 'pulsating' opening before the tempo cooled into DeMarco's Fallen Soldiers, during the concert there was a Wacky Dip from the second row of players and a Matrix style movement by the two bass players anchoring either side of the last row. And during Toto's Africa in the latter stages, the front row dropped to one knee, still playing, and rose slowly in time with the increasing volume of the music, players and music hitting a peak simultaneously.

El Shaddai

The audience cheered, as they did at many points on Sunday night, not only for the mass music presentation, which dominated the concert, but also the quieter segment of smaller groups of players. So the Polish Mazurka was done by two women and El Shaddai also by a smaller unit, the night's only overtly religious piece having a huge impact before the Latin jam Mi Tierra, brought up intermission.

The concert resumed with its weakest part, guest performer Mario Evon who, despite a very pleasant demeanour and earnest about his art in doing Sitting and Watching and Too Experienced before a supportive home crowd, needs more vocal work.

Request for Pandora

In the second segment the fusion of technology and music peaked as greetings from the Cave Hill campus projected on big screen ended with the request to play Pandora, those on-screen clapping and singing. The orchestra overlapped with the recording and they were off into the glorious, extended jam.

And, in the end, the reason for the disturbance in the airwaves was revealed, 'reporters' speaking of aliens landing at UWI, Mona, and the orchestra's members came out in muted lighting with luminous face masks and sticks to play and glow in the dark as the audience went wild.

The jam continued as the lights came up and, when it was finished, no one moved as rhythmic handclaps and foot stomps resounded and the curtain opened again for a genuine, glorious encore to close concert and season.

(Read more: Jamaica Gleaner)

Panoridim 'drums' out music

Photo: Panoridim Players

Krista Henry, Staff Reporter
The steely notes of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Steel Panoridim Orchestra have been ringing high and clear for more than 30 years.

The steelpan group has been a fixture on the Mona, Jamaica, campus for years and is well known to those who have frequented the school and heard the group's religious nightly practice at the Students' Union. More popular in Trinidad, the steelpan evolved out of earlier musical practices of Trinidad's enslaved Africans and their descendants. Steelpan is now a staple in the cultural landscape of Trinidad, but never gained as much ground in Jamaica.

When the steelpan was introduced on campus by students Arden Williams and Jackie Martin in 1954 it was soon dismissed by the general UWI population. Determined, the duo formed the University Steel Band a year later with a membership of eight, which expanded to 14 a few months later.

Bianca Welds, one of Panoridim's PR officers, told The Sunday Gleaner "There has been steelpan on campus for years, as long as UWI has been around. Students from Trinidad brought it over as part of their culture. There were scattered steelpan groups, but they joined together for one concert in 1976, and by 1977 they decided to remain as one steelpan group known as Panoridim."

Currently, the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra is a co-curricular activity of the UWI Mona campus, and has 35 active members, mostly Jamaicans. According to Welds, each September auditions are held which see a large turnout of persons willing and curious to learn the musical art. Membership to Panoridim is not restricted to university students, nor to persons with musical experience, as it is open to all who are eager and have a little 'riddim'.


Welds said "A lot of people join out of curiosity. They have heard of it and most people do come out of the perception that it's just soca or calypso. Most people who join are very receptive, 'cause pan is relatively simple to learn in terms of the basics."

Each recruit is taught by current members and learn a diverse array of music. "We play a wide range of music, from soca, calypso, reggae and dancehall to classical, gospel, R 'n' B, pretty much anything. Pan is pretty versatile, as it has the ability to sound as close to the genres as possible," Welds explained.

The group went as far as releasing their debut CD in 2001, entitled Steel Pan Alleys. However, the CD was not widely distributed. This year the group is planning to re-release the album, as well as a live concert that was recorded in 2004.

Panoridim has performed in and out of Jamaica for events such as the two visits of the Queen and the wedding of actress Sheryl Lee Ralph. They have competed in Trinidad's World Steel Pan Festival and played at countless events on the Mona campus.

The UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra is currently preparing for their summer concert series to be held at the Philip Shelock Centre from July 4-6, as well as the 11th and 13th. The future for pan is looking bright as the band seeks to expand and become a regional and international name in steelpan music.

(Read more: Jamaica Gleaner)