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Strong Branches grow from Trini pan roots

Steelband celebrates 40 years
Thursday, June 7, 2018

While the national instrument seems to be mired in controversy in its homeland, there are pan ambassadors worldwide bringing pride to the instrument.

One of these is Branches Steel Orchestra, founded in 1978 by a group of Trinidadians who migrated to Boston, Massachusetts.

Come Sunday, Branches will a host a gala to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the band and its introduction of pan to Boston.

Some of the earliest pioneers of Branches were Lawrence Liverpool, Roy Belfast, Winston Evelyn, Ansel Niles, Leonard Frank, Lester Ross, the Tillet family and Carl Smith.

Throughout the years Branches has prided itself as a unique non-profit community-based organisation that has been instrumental in giving back to the local community.

Said Smith this week: “Not only do we educate the youths on the history and uniqueness of this modern day musical invention but, for the past 40 years, we have also taught them the art of playing the steel drums.

“Our hard work and dedication is evident every year when the children, under the artistic guidance of Justin Petty, musical director and arranger, perform at various events around Massachusetts, most notably the ICA, Martin Luther King celebrations, Newton Memorial and Everett Day parades, Needham’s July 4 Parade and the Caribbean American Festival.”

Branches has gained a reputation for outstanding artistic excellence; its programme suited for beginners with little or no music experience to experienced musicians. Branches is a well known name within the Boston community commanding respect for its artistic achievements and values that it represents and instils in our students.

The Branches Steel Orchestra programme motivates and guides young people towards lifelong goals by challenging their minds and getting them involved in music and activities that require them to learn skills needed in life such as commitment, punctuality, patience, how to be a team player, and most of all respect for self and others.

Branches Steel Orchestra is located at Smith’s residence in Boston and today comprises of approximately 60 members ranging from age seven to adult.

Ninety per cent of its members are under the age of 18. These dedicated young musicians rehearse nine hours each week.

However, during the summer period members rehearse 18 or more hours weekly.

Eighty-five per cent of the youths in Branches have gone on to graduate with degrees, some got Phd’s, Masters etc.

So, while Pan Trinbago Inc and some of its member bands continue to try to sort out their affairs, in the US there are steelbands flying the flag of T&T with pride, placing our national instrument on the global pedestal it deserves to be on.

(Reporting by Peter Ray Blood —


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