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Changing Time
A Tribute to Ray Holman

Biographies of participants
Compiled/written by Deborah Samaru

Ray Holman is among Trinidad and Tobago’s finest composers and arrangers of steelpan music. His belief that life’s circumstances have conspired to make him a composer and musician cannot conceal the fact that he is a gifted artiste whose musical signature is that of a master and innovator.

Ray’s interest in music, particularly of the steelpan, started at an early age but it was during his secondary school years that it really took flight. In 1957 while attending Queen’s Royal College, 13-year Ray began playing pan with Invaders Steelband, led by legendary pan tuner Elliott “Ellie” Mannette from whom he learned how to get the best sound from a steelpan. By 16, Ray was already arranging music for Invaders, doing classical interpretations such as "Dream of Olwen" and "Etude in E Minor”.

The diverse cultural influences of his childhood and teenage years in Woodbrook, in the 1950s and early ‘60s, are reflected in Ray’s compositions. It is not surprising to hear classical and jazz blended with calypso or even zouk music in some of his pieces. His introduction of a jazz element to steelpan music arrangements have made them more lyrical and today, Ray’s music is noted for sweet melodic lines, beautiful extended chord harmonies and syncopated rhythms.

Growing up, Ray was surrounded by music. At home, he was exposed to Hit Paraders Steelband on Ana Street and Invaders when his family moved to Roberts Street. He watched the score sheets as his neighbour Errol Hill played piano and listened ardently to classical records by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and other composers. At school, Ray was introduced to jazz music by teacher Scofield Pilgrim and at home, he listened to waltz music which his mother Iris loved.

Out of his restlessness to learn and grow musically, Ray formed his own steelband when he was 18, using pans from Starlift Steel Orchestra. A year later in 1963, his group was relationship with Invaders, as an arranger for several Panorama competitions, with the band progressing to the Finals five times. A pioneer of the ‘Pan in Schools’ programme, “Teach” Saunders, in 1962, introduced steelpan at Blanchisseuse Government Primary School. He teamed up with colleague Patricia Adams at St. Augustine Senior Comprehensive to lead this school to several Schools’ Panorama and Music Festival victories. Interestingly, Mr. Saunders was the Agricultural Science and Biology teacher, not music! In 1997, he joined the Centre for Creative and Festival Arts at The University of the West Indies and currently co-directs the UWI Festival Steel Ensemble whose winning test piece in the 2002 World Steelband Music Festival was arranged by him.

About the Directors

JESSEL MURRAY is considered to be among the finest ensemble conductors resident in Trinidad and Tobago. Besides his joint leadership of the UWI Festival Steel Ensemble, he cofounded and now directs the UWI Festival Arts Chorale at the CCFA and is the music director/conductor of the Trinidad and Tobago National Sinfonia. Mr. Murray also maintains an interest in music theatre and is the music director of the Town of Amherst, Massachusetts’ annual music theatre productions.

Mr. Murray received his undergraduate degree in Music Education at Temple University, Philadelphia with a concentration in Piano and Voice; he completed his Master’s in Music at the same institution in Choral Conducting with a concentration in advanced Piano Accompanying. Further studies in instrumental conducting took place at the Oregon Bach Festival under Helmut Rilling and at the Hart School of Music with Harold Farberman. 2005 was another active year for Mr. Murray: he conducted two full-length musicals: Cinderella and Crazy for You in the USA and Trinidad respectively; conducted the UWI Festival Arts Chorale and the National Sinfonia in performances of the Vivaldi Gloria and other choral/orchestral works; and conducted the National Sinfonia in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto # 3 with Sothie Paul-Duraisamy, concert pianist, as well as other works for orchestra.

NERVIN “TEACH” SAUNDERS has been playing the steelpan for the past 59 years, having started at age 10 with the D’Abadie-based band Starlight. At 14 years, he was already arranging for Starlight at a time when learning by rote was standard and only few players could read music. Today, he has a Grade 8 Theory and Grade 5 Piano certification from the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (UK) and is helping young players to achieve music literacy at the Eastern School of Pan Music which he founded in 1991.

Mr. Saunders has arranged for several Arimabased conventional steelbands including Simple Sounds and Angel Harps and the pan-roundthe- neck band Trinidad Nostalgic. He played with Eastern Syncopators in the early 1950s and later with the Woodbrook-based Invaders Steel Orchestra. He had a long and satisfying asked to join Starlift and a relationship began that established Ray as a pioneer and innovator in steelpan music. His innovative arrangements made Starlift the then most popular band in Trinidad and earned two Panorama titles - in 1969, with Lord Kitchener’s “The Bull” and in 1971 with the Mighty Sparrow’s "Queen of the Bands".

At 20, he became the youngest player to win the solo “Ping Pong” (an early version of the tenor pan) competition in the 1964 Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival. In 1972, he became the first arranger to compose and arrange his own music for the National Steelband Panorama competition. Appropriately titled “Pan On the Move”, the composition won the National Preliminaries but placed Starlift 3rd in the Panorama Finals. Playing a non-calypso in a Panorama competition was a revolutionary move which was criticized at the time but nevertheless, paved the way for a new mindset and allowed other composers to showcase their talent in the years since Ray’s – and Starlift’s – bold move elevated steelpan music to another level.

Ray has arranged and recorded with steelbands and artistes in Trinidad and Tobago, USA, Canada, Latin America, Japan and Europe, including televised performances with the German National Orchestra which showcased his compositions. He composed the highly acclaimed score for Black Orpheus, staged by Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey in 1991.

In 2005, Ray collaborated with Composer/Arranger Len “Boogsie” Sharpe to take Phase II Pan Groove to an exceptional victory in the 2005 Panorama competition (Large Bands). The band’s amazing performance of Sharpe’s “Trini Gone Wild” put Phase II ahead of the runner-up by an unprecedented 20 points.

Ray has received several prestigious music awards including the Hummingbird Silver Medal of Merit from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and a Pan Legend Award from the New York Folk Arts Institute and the United States Congress. He was recognized for his contribution to steelpan music by the Republic Pan Fiesta 2003: A Tribute to Ray Holman.

A University of the West Indies Honours graduate and retired high school teacher (after 30 years at Fatima College), he continues to conduct annual workshops abroad. Maintaining a passion for perfection and combining his jazz sensibility and unique improvisational style, Ray continues to delight audiences worldwide with the timeless quality of his music.

Dr. Anne Marion Osborne
Coordinator, Academic Music Programmes
Centre for Creative and Festival Arts,
The University of the West Indies, Trinidad

Composers of steelpan music worth preserving beyond its one-off seasonal performance are still rare. As the first person to compose his own works for Panorama (in contrast to arranging calypsos written by others), Ray Holman brings a lifetime of creative skills and experience to this collection. The titles illustrate previously unknown compositions in a variety of styles including Reggae, Latin and of course Calypso.

Ray is known for his exquisite harmonies and memorable melodic lines and is already a featured composer in Pan Literature courses at The University of the West Indies.

At this academic institution pan is valued as an instrument in its own right and original works for steelband undergo formal and harmonic analysis. In the case of Ray’s music, this is done presently by aural means, so the notated pieces are a most welcome addition. The scores also make his works accessible for performance and will form part of the repertoire of our five instrumental ensembles at the Centre for Creative and Festival Arts. The available music can also be a resource at secondary schools as pan music is already an option in the set works component of the regional Caribbean Examinations Council music examination.

We thank Yara Trinidad Ltd. for its involvement in this most worthwhile project. The company has generously funded the entire production at the various stages, including computer scoring and sound recording. The collection will be a contribution to music education and will directly benefit music students at secondary level, and even more so those pursuing advanced studies at tertiary institutions both locally and abroad.

Indeed “Heroes of the Nation” and “Socking it with Steel” point the way back to the heritage of Panorama music, a heritage on which Ray Holman has made an indelible mark. This Panorama styling is evident in the fanfare-like opening, the theme and variations format, the strumming patterns, the driving momentum to the climax of each section, the unmistakable “jam” section and Holman’s incomparable fondness for lyrical melodies with lush harmonies and innovative rhythmic twists.

The versatility of the works offered in this CD and the long history of master music-making more than qualifies Ray Holman himself to be identified among the heroes of the nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

U.W.I. Festival Steel Ensemble

The UWI Festival Steel Ensemble is the premiere performing instrumental ensemble at the Centre for Creative and Festival Arts (CCFA) at The University of the West Indies, Trinidad. The CCFA, part of the Faculty of Humanities and Education, is a Department that prepares students for Certificate and undergraduate Degrees in Music, Theatre, Visual Art and Carnival Studies with an accent on Caribbean repertoire.

Formed by undergraduate students in 2002 to compete in the “small ensemble” category of the World Steelband Music Festival held in Trinidad in November 2002, the Festival Steel Ensemble won first place in their inaugural effort and was subsequently adopted by the CCFA in 2003.

The Festival Steel Ensemble, one of the very few Trinidad and Tobago steelband ensembles that play from music scores, has garnered praise for its precise and musical performances within the classical canon; and for its vibrant performances of Calypso and ‘Soca’ music as well as other Caribbean music. It is also rapidly becoming the CCFA’s ensemble of choice for the premiere of new works.

In March 2004 the Festival Steel Ensemble was one of the featured ensembles performing at the gala opening night of the Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival and in that same year gave the world premiere performance of Hugh Sam’s Trinidadian Rhapsody – a concerto for Piano with Steelband, with concert pianist Ray Luck as the soloist.

A year later, the Festival Steel Ensemble embarked on its second overseas tour in as many years (the first was its USA East Coast tour; this time, a trip to Martinique to present two gala concerts under the patronage of the Mayor of Fort-de-France.

Satanand Sharma, M.Mus., B.Mus. - Editor
Lecturer in Musical Arts Centre for Creative and Festival Arts The University of the West Indies, Trinidad

The six pieces display Ray Holman's penchant for contemporary and Caribbean idioms: the luscious extended chord progressions of the stylized Jazz feel of “Waltz for Iris” and “Changing Time”; the Jazz/Pop fusion sound of “Playa Larga”; the Reggae-Pop accent of “Sand Point Reggae”; and the straight-out, heavy strumming rhythm of the Panorama-type orchestration in “Heroes of the Nation” and “Socking it with Steel”. What make this collection of originals particularly unique are the clever compositional strategies and the palette of harmonic colours that Ray exploits to make a refreshing wash of sound to the discerning ear.

The enchanting “Waltz for Iris” is as attractive as the well-loved “Christmas Waltz” being a truly melodious Jazz Waltz with enigmatic chord progressions. A perfect cadence seems never to come until the very end, delaying the final resolution only to make it all the more satisfying. “Changing Time” also shares the rich chord extensions as the Waltz but Ray this time further explores the element of meter, shifting from quadruple time (4/4) to a quick triple feel in the form of a compound duple (6/8). These two pieces avoid a repeated chordal rhythm (“strumming” patterns) which is a feature of all the others to varying extents.

“Playa Larga” and “Sand Point Reggae” use some of these strumming patterns to create a contemporary cross-over mix: “Playa Larga” is a more pop style and “Sand Point Reggae” of course establishes that grounded Reggae pulse. These two, like all the other works in this set, feature the variation and jam format, typical of steelband arrangements for the Panorama competition. This reflects Ray’s influence of the tradition of steelband arranging, a tradition that finds full expression in the remaining two selections.

Dr. Jeannine Remy - Musical Transcriber
Lecturer in Musical Arts Centre for Creative and Festival Arts
The University of the West Indies, Trinidad

The steelpan, originally a grassroots instrument from the 1940s, grew to become the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago in 1992. Along with this long process of eventual recognition and acceptance, the steelpan has also battled with the topics of music literacy and rote learning.

As a former schoolteacher, Ray Holman recognises the importance of documenting and archiving music for future generations to study and enjoy. Thanks to Yara Trinidad Ltd., six of this steelpan music pioneer’s compositions are being preserved in this double CD. As a musician, Ray advocates balance between retaining aural skills and writing music, attributing his keen ear for chord progressions, chord extensions and chord voicings to the old school where listening and developing one’s aural skills was as important as learning to read music.

Scoring Ray’s music required that we sit together for hours and weeks at a time. From his various sketch sheets, Ray would sing the parts and I would enter them onto my computer with a music-writing program. Very careful consideration to voicings (harmonizing a melody) is something not every arranger would think about. Ray does not just put any harmony under his melody; he thinks about the entire piece! For Ray, it’s “who gets what note of the chord” and “how would that sound on the pan?” To the average arranger, a C Major chord is CEG...but not Ray. His meticulous placement of notes is part of his unique sweet sound. His perfect pitch was a determining factor for “keep that” or “now try this” that went on until it was correct.

Syncopation and shifting rhythmic patterns are other compositional elements consistent with the “Ray” sound. As an acoustic guitar player, and mainly a double seconds man, his concept of rhythm is innate. It is Ray who invented some of what is now considered cliché in terms of combining and sequencing melodic polyrhythmical note patterns in a hemiolic fashion. His strumming (the rhythmic suspension of chord changes) which was uniquely different for its time, is now a staple part of every arranger’s vocabulary.

As a whole, this unique selection of works by Ray Holman showcases his melodic genius. From an ethnomusicological point of view, this selection of music demonstrates the growth of Ray Holman from his younger Starlift years to his current eclectic cross-cultural jazz phase. From jazzy licks to complex rhythmic passages, the sweetness of Ray’s music intervenes throughout.

Order the Double (Audio and Data) CD set here


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Last update: 03/19/12

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