Since its inception in 2009, the St Margaret’s Youth Steel Orchestra has become one of the premier steelbands representing Trinidad and Tobago around the world. The Belmont-based orchestra is a product of the successful Pan Programme initiated by St. Margaret’s Boys Anglican Primary School in 2002 and has benefited from the support of Methanol Holdings (Trinidad) Limited (MHTL).
The initial purpose of the programme was to get children of the Belmont community off the streets and away from negative elements. The original band, the St. Margaret’s Boys’ Anglican School Steel Orchestra, won the under-13 Panorama championship 10 times.
One of the band’s most outstanding achievements was its selection to perform at Carnegie Hall at the 2015 New York Sounds of Summer International Music Festival. This was the first time a Steel Orchestra had performed at the prestigious venue since the Desperados Steel Band’s performance in 1987 under the direction of the late Pat Bishop.
The band’s trip to Carnegie Hall was sponsored by MHTL to the tune of US$100,000. At the handover ceremony, Daniel Cudjoe, a Standard 4 student who had been playing the steel pan for over 5 years said, “I love playing pan because it takes you to beautiful adventures all over the world. I can’t wait to perform at Carnegie Hall, it’s my first time leaving Trinidad. I am really looking forward to meeting other people who love pan just as much as I do!”
Rosemarie Abraham, who has been the coordinator of the Pan Programme since its inception in 2002, commented, “It was humbling to see the family that has been formed by these children over the years. They’ve worked so hard and I am truly happy to be able to witness their efforts pay off.” In April 2016 the Orchestra, again with the assistance of MHTL, participated in the USA Music Festival held at Universal Studios in Orlando and placed first and won the Championship Trophy.
The Orchestra also participated in the Junior International Youth Festival in Mexico and the Guadeloupe Music Festival, where the young musicians received the National Youth Action Committee (NYAC) Award for the Top Twenty Stars of Tomorrow. The group has had various performances at the Florida Memorial University Youth Steel Band Festival and in 2014, represented their country at the 18th Annual World Championships of the Performing Arts in California.
In addition, the Orchestra has performed for the King and Queen of Spain and Queen Elizabeth II in Trinidad.
The Orchestra continues to represent T&T as it travels worldwide and its talent and professionalism continue to garner kudos for the organisation and the country. The group has been selected to perform at the Los Angeles International Music Festival at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in June 2017. Again MHTL will provide financial assistance for this endeavour.
It should be noted that under the patronage of MHTL, the Orchestra would be producing video recordings of the National Anthems of T&T and India, to be played at the T&T Independence celebrations in August to be held at the country’s High Commission in New Delhi India.
To promote musical skill development among young pan players, the Orchestra will host a Youth Classical Music Festival, Youth Pan Extravaganza and Workshop from August 4 to 6, which would be sponsored by MHTL. A similar youth musical extravaganza was successfully held in 2016.
For the 2017 Youth Classical Music Festival, Youth Pan Extravaganza and Workshop, the group has invited two International Adjudicators, Dr. Dawn Batson and Dr. Jimmy Finny from Florida Memorial University and an International Composer, Mr. Brett Abigana, to T&T for the Festival. Mr. Abigana has written a piece for the Orchestra which will be performed at the Festival. The musicologists will also carry out the workshop which aims to improve the musicology of the youth steel orchestras and assist the young arrangers in their advancement in music in T&T.
The Pan Extravaganza will highlight the work done through the Pan Programme at primary and secondary school level, with performances by St. Margaret’s Youth Steel Orchestra, St Margaret’s Anglican School Class Ensemble, Success Stars Pan Sounds and Trinidad All Stars Youth Steel Orchestra, and the Junior Panorama 2017 Champions – BP Renegades Youth Steel Orchestra, St. Francois Girls’ College and St. Margaret’s Boys’ Anglican School.
Following the Carnegie Hall performance, the orchestra was invited to play in Prague, Czech Republic at St. John of Nepomuk-Navalis Festival in May 2018. The invitation was made to the band by the Czech Republic Ambassador, who witnessed the performance and was so fascinated that he wanted them to share their music with his country.
The orchestra also engages in charity work as it gives back to the community from which it came. It gives an annual performance at the Christmas party at St. Ann’s Hospital and distributes Christmas hampers to the less fortunate of the community. The group also gives performances at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church and an upcoming concert to be held in August will see proceeds go towards to the completion of the building of a parish hall.
Manager of the orchestra, Mr. Kurt Abraham said the discipline that these youths developed via the programme has trained them to be very upstanding individuals. He added, “The moment I started seeing the older boys act like father figures to the younger students, that’s when I realized how impactful this program was on these kids. I have watched these students become teachers in their own way and they are now role models that even I would like to follow.”
The MHTL commitment to undertakings such as these is founded on the belief that investing in the human resources of the future while providing support for the arts is among the more meaningful interventions the corporate sector can make.
Company chairman, Dr. Euric Bobb, said MHTL was naturally drawn to this venture “because first we saw our children – that precious resource in securing our nation’s future.”