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"To be a tuner is a gift"

Roland Harrigin is known as one of the 20 best tuners in Trinidad. He is 42
years old and tunes some of the top bands all over the world. Japan, the
United States and, of course, Trinidad. These are groups like Phase II,
Pamberi, Potential Symphony, Deltones, Nutones, just to name a few. While visiting Switzerland end of June '93, I had the opportunity to interview him. By Werner Egger.

Panyard (P): Roland, how many panmakers do you employ in your workshop?
Roland Harrigin (R): The number of my panmakers does vary throughout the year. There are maybe around four. During carnival time, I have about ten, simply because I need a lot more hands during this time.

P: So, your workshop is quite big?
R: Yes, you could say so.

P: To my knowlegde, you've started to make pans since the age of six. Is this common in Trinidad, or have you been an exception in this concern?
R: Well, I began to play pan at the age of five. When I was seven, I built a pan out of seven tin cans, each can had one note. My father has been attracting me to pan culture, 'cause he's been a real pan jumbie. Therefore, I grew up in an environment which was favourable to be a pan tuner. But I can't speak for all tuners. But yes, I had a very early start.

P: Where is the point that you are accepted as a tuner in Trinidad?
R: The people decide, if you are a tuner or not. The point is that you are
not only able to build good Tenors. As soon as you are able to build a
whole orchestra, you'll be accepted.

P: Can one "learn" to tune, or does this job require a certain charactere?
R: I think, you can learn to tune, when you've found somebody who is
competent to show you and explain to you the different aspects of tuning.
But still I would say that not everybody can be a tuner. You need what we
call temper and patience. Not everybody has gotten these skills, as far as
it concerns me. Because the art of tuning, just like the pan itself, is a gift!

P: To be a tuner is a gift?
R: Yes

P: From whom?
R: Do you know it?

P: What is your dream as a tuner, what you would like to realize?
R: My dream? My dream would be to work with bigger diameters in drums. It also would be my dream to work with different kinds of steel, in order to be able to differentiate the pan sound. At this time in Trinidad, we only work with one material, which we don't really know, and don't get no
specifications for.

P: Are tuners in Trinidad working together? Is there an association, or days, where all you meet?
R: Well, there are tuners which sometimes work together. But there are
others, which only look for themselves.

P: In what stage is panmaking in Trinidad at the moment?
R: I think, whether we are in a very good, nor in a very bad position. Perhaps, we should be working a bit harder, to get pan into a better position as it is now. Because right now, we have a lot of people talking about to change something, but nothing is happening. They always know, what is best for pan, but actually, nothing changes.

P: The evolution is stack where it is now?
R: Yes, it's a form of stagnation. We are in the trouble of repeating
ourselves, 'cause we don't seem to find new ways (drums, steel, hardening facilities).

P: There is for example van Leer (big drum factory). Don't they help the tuners concerning new possibilities?
R: Van Leer? No, this factory has just closed their activities in Trinidad.
National Petrolium has taken over the business, and we don't know yet, wether they'll be helping us, or not.

P: Imagine, machines are building pans one day. Sinking, grooving.. Do you think, this is possible?
R: I think, that one day, this will be possible. But a lot of research will
have to be done in this field. Maybe, I'll be dead by that time. It's not
that simple, but I would say, it is possible. I'm not speaking for other
tuners, I just express my own opinion.

P: I observed, that you tune without ear protection.
R: It's good to protect your ears, when you do hard and loud work, for
example sinking. But when it comes to tuning, you don't need protection.

P: But tuning can be quite noisy?!
R: It is noisy for those watching you. But when you're part of the process,
you don't feel it as loud any more, 'cause you don't concentrate on the
noise, but on the sound. It's a form of meditation. You're like in a trance,
and don't realize what's happening around you.

P: Why do bands, which are not from Port-of-Spain, like Vat 19 Fonclaire, have troubles to win Panorama? As far as I know, only very few bands succeeded.
R: Why? 'Cause there were bands better than Fonclaire.

P: Why are all these better bands from Port-of-Spain?
R: Because Port-of-Spain is the Mecca of Pan.

P: Let's change the subject. Standardisation of Pan. What are your thoughts about that?
R: I find, standardisation of pan makes sense. The piano, the violin, the
saxophon, all these instruments are standardized. Why not standardize pan? It then would be possible, that a band travels to London, without their instruments, because they would meet the same layouts all over the place. You could save for instance, transport costs. It is important for us, to
standardize pan. This is one aspect. Another aspect is to agree on steel and thickness of material.

P: Do you like this aspect? Does it not mean limitation for you as tuners?
R: Of course, this would be a limitation, therefore I don't like this
particular aspect, 'cause I would like to work with different materials, in
order to be able to create different sounds.

P: And this is the problem, which the tuners have with the Bureau of Standardisation?
R: Exactly, this is the problem. We only have one material to our disposal,
and this is not good. But to standardize the pan would be in the hands of
the tuners, since they know best, what they are dealing with.

P: Pan has become the National Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. Has this (title) changed anything within the pan movement?
R: On paper maybe! But not for real. The government does not do anything for it, and the people don't care. The situation remains the same, except on paper.

P: What position has a pan tuner in the pan movement?
R: The tuner is the most important person in the pan movement! Therefore, the players strongly depend on us, they shouldn't treat us as persons which are lowly able to make something nice out of an oil drum!

P: Maybe players don't know the value of a tuner?
R: No, some of them probably don't. They don't see the hard work and
experience it needs to create a pan.

P: Why don't you stop making pan for a year? Tell the players to do it themselves?
R: Yeah, why not? I think, they cursorily do not realize a tuner's value. But
deep inside, they know who is of greatest importance to pan. The tuner!

P: What intention should a tuner have?
R: A tuner should not be looking out for fame and money. A tuner should be supporting the pan world. Yes, he's got to live. Yes, he needs money. But first of all is the instrument. To create pan, to spread, support, and most of all: to be there when he is needed, that's the assignement of a tuner.

P: A last question: Your statement of the swiss pan movement.
R: I've been impressed, when I saw, how serious you all work with the pan. Just the fact, that you build pans here, and that there are soo many school and youth bands has impressed me a lot!

P: At last, what do you think about band leaders who keep informations back, play king and repress their players?
R: All I can say is: It's stupid, and it is not good for pan in general. You
need bandleaders which are able to form a unity, just like a family. Not
those which are looking for their own good. I finally would like to express,
that all I said in this interview was the plain truth. The pan world does
not need any other thing but the truth.

P: Roland, thank you for talking with me.
 

 
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