The infectious joy of steel pan music seeps from every pore of Earl La Pierre. The pan maestro who has made Cayman his adopted home has brought his passion and musical skills from his birthplace Trinidad and Tobago to Cayman via Toronto.
Learning to master the instrument in his homeland, Earl played and taught pan in Toronto going as far as getting the artform onto the curriculum of the University of Toronto.
Now making Cayman his home after a short 10-day music tour in 1986 resulted in requests for a return trip, Earl took up the offer…and as the saying goes, the rest is the history - the musical history he is making with ‘pan in Cayman’.
Further evidence of that happens this weekend with the 17th Amin Mohammed Steel Band Festival. The event started by Earl and the late Cayman-based Trinidadian banker and pan enthusiast, Amin Mohammed, has grown in leaps, bounds - and sounds - with pan music now a staple in the Cayman music spectrum.
Through Earl’s efforts, steelpan has been integrated into the curriculum of the University of the Cayman Islands and has found a home at the John Gray High School, the venue for the Amin Mohammed Steel Band Festival (and competition) this weekend.
The event this year will be held on Saturday May 21st starting at 6:30pm, sponsored by the Department of Education and Cayman National Bank.
Students from John Gray and other public and private schools will demonstrate their pan-playing skills in competition and for the enjoyment of the public.
Once again it promises to be an evening of exceptional musicianship, an indication of the way tghe steelpan has embedded itself into Cayman culture, a far cry from the days in 1986 when Earl first visited and exposed Cayman to pan…and vice versa.
Since then ‘pan in Cayman’ has gone from an instrument of curiosity to a cultural staple in both commercial and educational settings with Earl La Pierre playing the roles of ‘lead pan’, educator, motivator, main flag-waver and pan ambassador.
Speaking to Ralph Lewis on Cayman Conversations this week, Earl’s contagious enthusiasm for the instrument and its further possibilities for Cayman was on full display.
Already, in addition to persons in Cayman who have taken up the steel pan professionally, many amateur players and turning to pan as an instrument of choice for their pastime, among them HE Governor Martyn Roper.
With the steelpan long established as the instrument around which the Trinidad carnival is built, pan has made inroads into Caribbean carnivals in the United States, Canada and Europe…and Caymanians are quite literally ‘playing a part’ in that, thanks to Earl.
“After Trinidad, it’s New York, then Europe for steelband carnival. Those bands are humongous. And most of the kids from the Cayman Islands are up there playing music too because they went to go to school and (joined) the steelbands,” he enthused.
“And people are shocked that Cayman Islands have those good pan players!”
“They come from one country to another and they jump in right in the groove!”
It’s important to note that most - if not all - of those students would have at some point been tutored in steelpan music by Earl.
A well-known soca song from Trinidad lamented a few years that pan was in danger (Pan in Danger by Merchant).
Clearly, that’s not the case for Cayman where Earl La Pierre has the plans and the passion to keep pan in the limelight.
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Connie Pocius08 Aug, 2022
I'm from Branson Missouri and about 20 years ago I hear Earl play the steel drum in a hotel. I then asked to purchase a steel drum from him and he gave me some lessons. I still have that steel drum. We have been to Grand Caymen during Pirates week and have heard the steel drums on the floats and the sound cannot be described when you get so many steel drums playing at once. I will return one of these years for pirates week again and to hear the steel drums.