If anyone has learnt how to play steel pan in the Cayman Islands it is most likely at the hands (and ears) of Earl La Pierre, a steel pan teacher of many decades, who has devoted his time and energies to passing on his skills to young people, teaching at various public and private schools around Cayman. This summer, for the first time, he has launched his steelband summer school at UCCI’s music room, where youngsters of all ages can come and spend the mornings from 9am to 12 pm learning how to play pan. The summer school began on 12th July and runs to 6th August and costs CI$100.
James Monroe Junior, 15, has the big responsibility of providing the backing drums for the band. James said he started playing drums at the age of four and then just got back into playing recently, playing at his church on Sundays.
“When you’re playing drums you have control,” he confirmed.
Practice makes perfect and James said the few days he had spent at the steelband summer school had already been beneficial to him.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement in my skills just over the past few days,” he said.
Eight-year-old Luke, who attends Cayman Academy, said his parents had suggested that he participate in the summer school and also because he wanted to attend. He said it was fun playing steel pan. Jayanne, 8, who attends Triple C, said she enjoyed playing her steel pan which was a soprano.
Rodolpho, 12, from John Gray High School has been playing pan for about a year and said he really enjoyed playing base because you were required to move around between a number of drums depending on the key of the song.
“Playing steel pan is fun and you get to learn something new every day,” he said.
Dean, 13, also from John Gray School, had also been playing for about a year and particularly enjoyed playing the song ‘Beauty and the Beast’ because the bass drum, which he played, fitted in really well with the melody.
McKenzie, 11, from Triple C School, had been playing steel pan for about a year and played the guitar drum. She said she liked playing that particular drum because it was a deeper sound than most melodies and was a back-up on the song.
Mr La Pierre said the summer school was a new experience for him.
“All my years I have been doing steelpan this is the first time I’ve done something for me,” he confirmed.
Normally he spends this time of year in Canada participating in the Caribana festival, however Covid has cancelled that event and so he found himself in Cayman for the summer. He said that, while the abilities and ages of the youngsters were quite mixed, their enthusiasm was collectively great.
“They have learnt four songs in three days. I’m shocked. Most of them are beginners,” Mr La Pierre said.
Students are learning a variety of songs to play in front of their parents and families at a performance to close out the summer school.
Mr La Pierre hopes that the summer school is a precursor to his bigger plans of eventually opening up a steel pan school which he will be naming Cayman School for Pan. Depending on how the country recovers from the Covid pandemic, he anticipates this will be some time next year.