… dedication and love for the steel pan has captivated millions worldwide
STEEL PAN MUSIC has historically been associated with Trinidad. But did you know that a
state-of-the-art steel pan manufacturer, teacher and composer is a Guyanese?
Meet Aubrey Granville Bryan. The 74-year-old who is the eldest of three brothers is the offspring of William Granville Bryan and Ruby Elvira Pemberton. He resides in United Kingdom.
The steel pan player, composer, tuner and maker who recently visited Guyana to donate six steel pans to two city schools – St Rose’s High School and North Ruimveldt Multilateral School – sat down with the Guyana Chronicle for an exclusive interview.
The pan artist said he decided to donate some of the instruments to St. Rose’s High School because his three adopted sisters and wife were past students.
He has expressed a keen interest in developing the steel pan art in Guyana; however, he needs support from local communities as well as the Government of Guyana.
Reflecting on his life in the field, Bryan while growing up in Forshaw Street, Queenstown was taking piano lessons and his mother noticed his interest in pan and decided to give him the go ahead and support in doing something he loved, thus quitting the piano.
He had even formed a band called “Club 59” in the 1960’s. “I just loved the sound of the steel pan. At the age of 17 I carried home a pan and played it for my mother and she offered
encouragement and that was God’s gift to me. My mother died at the age of 95 and her encouragement was tremendous.”
He recalled ‘ganging up’ in front of a cake shop back then at 59 Robb Street, Georgetown and it was there that the name “Club 59” was derived. However the band collapsed after most of its members left Guyana for various studies.
“At that time there were 15 guys in the band, but when I first visited the UK and saw the interest there in pan, it was amazing. Dozens of schools now have steel pans for those interested to practice,” he said.
When he visited Croydon, London in 1964 he worked in an engineering factory, developing the specialist heat treatment and metalworking skills needed to make pans. In the early 1970s, Bryan started making pans for schools, as well as for musicians. He also taught pupils how to play them.
Realizing that the UK and European nations’ interest in pan music, Bryan said while pursuing his education in the UK he also supplemented his income to pay for university studies by furthering his love for the pan.
This evolved into something more when he designed a new melody (or soprano) pan in the UK known as the “Aubrapan”.
By 1978, the birth year of the Aubrapan, steel pans had been in England at least 27 years and there were already more than 50 school steelbands across London.
The panist used higher frequency notes placed nearest to the rim of the pan in contrast to the center of the pan where most high notes are generally located. The lower octaves are placed directly opposite each other in order to facilitate a pendulum-like action of the arms – these ascend in whole tones. This concept facilitates easier and rapid playing of the chromatic scale in single and double note form.
The Aubrapan was piloted in by the Inner London Educational Authority (ILEA). There was also a London Schools Steel Orchestra. It was only natural to use the ILEA school bands as a channel for the promotion of the Aubrapan. Hence, the instrument was exhibited to the heads of several music departments in schools across London. The innovation received mu accolade and recommendation.
Bryan who spent a year experimenting with various note layouts before finally choosing the layout, during the late 1970’s to middle 1980’s the Aubrapan was then exhibited to several Heads of Music Departments in London schools.
He said that the pan has been played by leading panists Roy “Pele” Geddes and Godfrey Proctor and both thought highly of the invention. Frank Rollock, a former arranger of the London All Stars Steel Orchestra played the Aubrapan and was very excited about the invention, while a group of German panists from the Berlin Tin-Pan Alley Steel Orchestra played the instrument and had nothing but praise for it.
The Aubrapan was also played by master pan-tuner Roland Harrygin and his assistants during a tour of the United Kingdom by the Casablanca Steel Orchestra. They were fascinated by this pan and praised Aubrey for his original work. Moreover, Aubrey was invited by the Crafts Council of England to exhibit his Aubrapan from June to August 1986.
His work is also featured in the museum of Croydon, London and he even composed “Moonlight on the Seawall” and “Sunlight in the Darkness” in the 1980’s with his own band “Club 257.”
He says the music from this instrument has captivated millions worldwide such that there are steelbands all over Europe with Switzerland in 2005 accounting for at least 20 per cent of the world’s steelbands. The Dutch police force has a steelband , so does the Nigerian Army and the United States Navy. There are steelbands in Guyana, Japan, Australia, Kuwait, South Africa and over 300 steelbands in the United States and undoubtedly, the instrument is also popular in Trinidad and Tobago and throughout the Caribbean.
Underscoring that the steelpan also known as the Caribbean steel drum or simply the pan is a tuned percussion instrument that originated in Trinidad and Tobago around the time of World War II, Bryan said steelpans are currently largely produced by traditional handcrafting which begin by stretching the drumhead to produce an evenly dished surface on which the note regions are created.
Adding that he learned mechanical engineering and was educated while attending night schools about how to handle metals and heat treatment of them to produce different tones, Bryan in explaining the process said the depth of the dished surface ranges from 90mm for low-pitched bass pans to 200mm for high-pitched soprano pans. Note regions are usually separated by creating a continuous line of punch marks or grooves on their perimeter. The side of the drum is cut to lengths in accordance with the steel pan type under production. Skirt lengths range from 140mm for soprano pans to the entire drum side for bass pans. After the dished surface is produced and note regions are created, the pan is heated to provide strain relief in the material prior to tuning. The final stage involves tuning of the note regions until the desired frequencies are achieved.
Traditionally, he said the steel pans are made from large oil drums that are normally concave-shaped. This is done by hammering the surface with a large sledge hammer. “In London modern technology such as: air-powered tools, a compressor, a pedal are used to help sink the pan into the concave shape.” This exciting new project broadens and enhances the African Caribbean heritage that is already present worldwide.
“I’ve toured Europe and played and made pans during that time. Guyana can develop this industry further and give the many youths who have lots of time on their hands something to learn and develop since in the First World steel pan is admire and loved, I would love to see the President support this venture” he said.