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"Let Every Valley Be Exalted"
Trinidad and Tobago Steelpan

NCC To Honour Bertie Marshall

By Terry Joseph
February 20, 2003

Pan innovator, master-tuner and inventor, Bertie Marshall, whose Highlanders Steel Orchestra helped make the "Bomb" competition a Carnival staple, is to be honoured by the National Carnival Commission, which is staging a new Jouvert steelband contest in his name.

NCC chairman Kenny de Silva said the contest is designed to demonstrate the respect felt by many for Marshall's contribution to the steelband movement.

"Perhaps because he is an unassuming fellow, a lot of people might have forgotten what Mr Marshall has done for pan. We hope this event will not only remind them but set the stage for a continuing appreciation of his input," de Silva said.

This Carnival marks the third in which the NCC has selected an icon for special recognition. In 2001, calypso was honoured in the person of The Mighty Sparrow. Last year, the focus turned to mas, with King Sailor, both costuming and choreography, as the selected image.

The Bertie Marshall Jouvert Pan Contest, which carries a $15,000 first prize for conventional bands - by far the largest sum ever to be paid for such a competition - is open to all steel orchestras and will take place from 5 am to 9.30 am, on Ariapita Avenue (at Kew Place), Port of Spain. Participating bands are required to proceed from west to east along the route, after performing at the Neville Jules Bomb competition.

In total, some $45,000 in cash prizes has been provided by the NCC, which is also making what producer Terry Joseph described as "a significant personal cash award" to Marshall. The second and third prizes for conventional orchestras are $12,000 and $9,000 (respectively), while for single-pan bands, the two prizes on offer are $5,000 and $3,000.

For the Jouvert contest, which has been endorsed by Pan Trinbago, all bands are required to play a song made popular by Marshall's legendary Highlanders Steel Orchestra. Fellow Laventillian Merle Albino de Coteau (who earlier this year held her own tribute to Marshall) heads a panel of judges to be located at the Sacred Heart Girls School yard.

Pan Trinbago president Patrick Arnold, himself a pan-tuner, said: "Any pan manufacturer will tell you that Marshall's research and innovations helped to set the template for what we do today. He remains one of our icons. In fact, many advances made in terms of the technical aspects of tuning are traceable to his inventions and experiments."

Among Marshall's many pan inventions, are the high-tenor and double tenor pans largely responsible for the sound of today's steel orchestras and the revolutionary Bertphone, developed during the 1960's; an amplified pan that gave players the ability to dampen or sustain notes and signalled a new level of scholarship in street-level pan research, including approaches to amplification. Highlanders won the inaugural Bomb Competition (1965) using only that pan in its soprano section.

Marshall who, since 1980 has tuned frontline pans for ten-time Panorama champions Witco Desperadoes, is globally revered for his benchmark improvements to the process and is referred to in the pan community as "The tuner's tuner." Among his other achievements being celebrated are memorable musical arrangements for Highlanders.

Marshall was also first to implement the method of identifying harmonics in each note and was one of two tuners (the other being Anthony Williams) selected to assist with experiments at the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Research Institute (Cariri) under the leadership of Dr Colm Imbert and others.

Born in Port of Spain February 6, 1936, Marshall spent his early childhood in Success Village and John John, attended St Phillips AC primary and Tranquility Government Intermediate schools. His first direct experience with pan came when he attempted to re-tune an old tenor from Tokyo, using the harmonica of which he was an accomplished player.

Marshall remains the premier pan consultant locally and internationally, his vast knowledge sought after by researchers from not just music faculties of major universities, but physicists as well. At last October's international conference on pan mounted by the UWI in collaboration with Pan Trinbago, Professor Thomas Rossing, Head of Physics at Northern Illinois University, described Marshall as "a treasure, whose native intelligence surpasses that of many full-time scientific researchers."

Awarded the Chaconia Medal Gold in 1992 for his contribution to pan, Marshall will also be the honoured guest at a reunion of Highlanders' players at a Carnival Sunday function to be held on the site of his former home in Success Village, Laventille.

A television documentary is currently being done on his life's work by Miami-based journalist Dalton Narine. Also in the planning is production of a commemorative CD with some 21 Highlanders recordings, including favourites like "Gypsy Rondo", "Begin the Beguine", "Mama, Dis is Mas" and, of course, "Let Every Valley Be Exalted"; net proceeds from which are to be given to Marshall.