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"Let Every Valley Be Exalted"
Trinidad and Tobago Steelpan

Happy birthday, Bertie

By Terry Joseph
February 06, 2003

Bertram "Bertie" Marshall, pan innovator and tuner supreme, turns 67 today. But he will have to wait until Carnival Sunday to receive the first of two extraordinary gifts in what is, after all, a pan season dedicated to appreciation of his life's work.

Marshall will be guest of honour at a private party this evening, a function designed to air both his musical legacy and tributes in song from calypsonians (among them Crazy) who, without knowledge of the special Carnival accolades, decided to honour him through their work.

Mark you, for all his genius, Bertie is the ultimate simple guy, asking nothing of anyone, pursuing his craft in a cozy flat in Harpe Place, East Port of Spain, turning out the world's finest steelpans with the love and care of the quintessential artisan. Close associates say he plans to spend today "quietly and at work".

That mood may be subject to change after sundown. And whatever outpourings of congratulation and transfer of tangibles take place at tonight's birthday bash, the larger gifts will be given to Marshall on Carnival Sunday, as his peers pay him tribute at a reunion of members of his legendary Highlanders Steel Orchestra.

Nor is that the extent of regard being paid to Marshall this Carnival. A special Jouvert pan competition has also been mounted to celebrate the work of the master arranger and those who helped make Highlanders the legend it is.

The reunion takes place on the site of Marshall's former home at the corner of Erica Street and Old St Joseph Road, Success Village, Laventille.

At last Saturday's meeting of the planning committee, members Ian "Teddy" Belgrave, Jimmy Singh, Franklyn Ollivieri and Keith Smith resolved to redouble efforts at purchasing the space to develop a museum dedicated to Bertie.

The Carnival Sunday event, coordinated in North America by former Highlanders' arranger "Professor" Leslie Slater, will feature spoken salutes and the handing over of a tribute from the Angostura Group of Companies (who have come onboard as part sponsor of the reunion).

DJ music will feature exclusively the playing of a specially prepared CD collection of original Highlanders recordings compiled by Slater (including bomb-tune classics like "Gypsy Rondo", "Let Every Valley Be Exalted" and "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You"), those works digitally tidied by another New York-based Trini, Aldwyn Rooks.

Pat Bishop's revered Lydian Singers yesterday agreed to perform Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" and "Let Every Valley Be Exalted", the latter song becoming a Highlanders' trademark after the band won the 1967 Bomb competition with its rendition, the work later recorded by RCA.

Miami-based journalist (and former Highlanders member) Dalton Narine is heading home next week to produce for CCN TV6 a documentary on Marshall, that product earmarked for global distribution.

Carnival Monday morning is quite another matter. From all indications, Jouvert will relive the spirit of pan in the 1960s, albeit with instruments that Marshall's initiatives have, in the interim, enhanced both technically and aesthetically.

Hosted by the National Carnival Commission (NCC) as the major plank of its Pan For Carnival dedication, the Bertie Marshall/Highlanders Jouvert Pan Contest will see some of Trinidad's most powerful and popular bands interpreting works for which Marshall and his orchestra are best remembered.

Several of the participating bands have already begun rehearsal for this contest, among their selections the unrecorded "L'Itiliana in Algieri" by Giaochino Rossini, Haydn's "Gypsy Rondo" and Strauss' "Waltz From 'Faust'".

The contest takes place at dawn on Ariapita Avenue (at Kew Place) in Port of Spain and has attracted much enthusiasm from the steelband community, including a stout and active endorsement from Pan Trinbago.

So whatever happens this day is but the start of a celebration that not only the pan community will continue to accord Bertie Marshall.