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Obit: Bertie Marshall: Pans Player/Innovator

meself 29 Oct 12 - 10:38 AM
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Subject: Obit: Bertie Marshall: Pans Player/Innovator
From: meself
Date: 29 Oct 12 - 10:38 AM

Bertie Marshall Obituary

Laventille mourns: another hero falls
By Teddy Belgrave
Story Created: Oct 27, 2012 at 10:57 PM ECT
Story Updated: Oct 27, 2012 at 10:57 PM ECT

The following is the full text of the eulogy for pan maestro Bertie Marshall at his October 23 funeral service at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port of Spain.

I am sure that no one paid more than the usual attention to the birth of Bertie Marshall. Mid 1930s , colonial period, John John—most unlikely. As he developed, it became obvious that this youngster was clearly gifted. By the time he was 14 he had become a virtuoso player of the harmonica. He stood and he wondered at the old, rusty drums that Spree Simon and others were pounding and pounding in order to place notes upon. So he developed an obsession with the question: why can't their instrument sound like my harmonica? His obsession led him to become a sort of nuisance, because he too began pounding and pounding. Bertie decided, together with his pals, Arthur (Sharkey) Ashley and Robin Belgrave, to turn their backs on academic education at Tranquillity School. Bertie
obviously determined to pursue his passion otherwise: why can't it sound like my harmonica!
The criticisms continued: he was destroying too many good drums, he was told. By the end of the decade of the 1950s, however, his critics started to sit up and to listen. Bertie had begun to turn the art and craft of pan-tuning into a science. Harmonic tuning had arrived.
I remember, as a little boy, riding my bicycle from Espinet Street, Success Village, to QRC every morning, down the Back Road past Bertie's house. Often, I would stop to see what he was up to.
On one such morning, to my fascination, he was tuning a pan with triangular notes. Checking on him, on my way back home, he had already condemned his experiment as a "foolish idea". There were many other examples of the scientist at work.
Bertie was also ready to stand on the world stage. Maybe it was the times we were going through as a new nation, but Bertie was ready to take on electronic amplification.
Here we are not talking about putting a microphone in front of an instrument. No! Bertie was in the business of attaching contact microphones to the instruments or, in the case of the basses, developing an acoustical chamber and using five microphones etc.
In the case of the bertfone or damper pan, more than an elementary knowledge and understanding of the science of sound and acoustics were required. But our brother was up to the task.
A voracious reader, he continued to expand his knowledge base.   No citizen of Success Village could have returned from a visit to the States, without having brought back some kind of "foreign microphone" or attachment, or even some book of science for Bertie, who must have picked it up in some catalogue or magazine. This was long before the Internet!
In this regard Bertie, self-taught as he was, genius as he had become, was some 30 years ahead of his peers, or the other scientists, at UWI.
Yes, he acknowledged the criticism of "Chinee music". Bertie was quite clear in his mind as to the cause of some distortion of sound. He would have corrected it, if only he had the financial and other means to work with, and not have to utilise his meagre resources.
Now is the time (oil and gas for so) to establish the Bertie Marshall Steelpan Institute, and resume this research in his name.
My final revelation:
Bertie was quite clear in his mind who he was, that he stood on the pinnacle of pan internationally. He knew that with this rank came responsibility which he took most seriously.
I remember Bertie calling me on the telephone (he was quite agitated) He had a tuner's manual that came out of a conference held at North Texas University, with his name and that of Tony Slater, his protégé, who had also attended the conference.
In a nutshell, he was scared that he and Tony had violated some code, with which they were operating, and that they were guilty of selling-out secrets that the foreigners could use to their advantage. After consulting with senior counsel and a number of tuners, and the late Pat Bishop, we concluded that Bertie's fears were unfounded. He was never more relieved.
So there was Bertie Marshall, the nationalist; and, as we have seen, Bertie Marshall, the internationalist; and, finally, there was Bertie Marshall, the community person.
There was no neighbour of Bertie's, who needed some form of assistance and whom he wouldn't try to help. Bertie loved Laventille and its people, and it was his greatest pleasure to achieve his exceptional accomplishments in their name.
Farewell, dear friend. Your life has been and shall always be the greatest inspiration.
Laventille mourns. Another hero falls.

Teddy Belgrave, a former Hylanders panman, works as a steelband educator.

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