THIS YEAR records the 40th anniversary in Trinidad and the tenth anniversary in Tobago of the National Schools Parang Festival; something indeed to celebrate, especially in this current context of loss, chaos and sadness.
In this week’s edition of TTUTA on Tuesday, we take some time to celebrate the work of Diana McIntyre who has held fast all these years to her mission to promote and sustain traditional parang music as part of our cultural expression here in Trinidad and Tobago.
Launched in 1978, the National Schools Parang Festival was the brainchild of McIntyre, who, having experienced the joy and magnificence of traditional parang music, decided that it needed to be shared and experienced by a wider community.
With a passion for music and foreign languages, and a sense that parang and parranderos were not receiving the regard they should, McIntyre felt that the best place to start would be with young people.
With this mind, and a contingent of 12 participating schools, the inaugural festival was held at the hall of Providence Girls’ Catholic School in Belmont. Among these pioneering schools were Arima Government Secondary, St Dominic’s RC Primary School, the School for the Blind, and the School for the Deaf.
This first event was so successful that by the succeeding year, the event had outgrown its initial venue and needed to move to accommodate its increasing number of participants. This move took them to Woodford Square courtesy of the Port of Spain City Council. By 1980 the event moved to St Joseph’s Park in St Joseph, and subsequently to El Dorado Senior Comprehensive School from 1981 to 1982.
By 1990, hosting of the festival was vested in the Catholic Teachers’ Association which held the reins until 2007. The festival has received endorsement from the National Parang Association of Trinidad and Tobago, and even received corporate sponsorship from bpTT at its 30th anniversary. Throughout the years, this competition has received support from the Ministries of Education and Culture.
A unique characteristic of this event was the integration of mentorship in the preparation of the schools. McIntyre mobilised elders of traditional parang bands from across the nation to adjoin themselves to schools with their villages or neighbouring schools so that they would be able to tutor them on the art of producing authentic parang songs, and not versions tainted by the addition of soca or Latin dance music.
After 30 years of a continuing successful run in Trinidad, McIntyre thought it fit to return to Tobago where she was first exposed to traditional parang music. Thus, in 2008, with the support of the members of Un Amor parang band, she hosted workshops which culminated in a free concert held at the Fairfield Complex.
Participating schools included Bishop’s High School, Mason Hall, Signal Hill, Roxborough, Scarborough, Speyside, Goodwood Secondary, as well as the Pentecostal Light and Life Foundation.
The focus was to showcase authentic parang music sung in Spanish, accompanied by traditional parang instruments which maintained the sacred message characteristic of the original form.
In a country where we are often lured by nine-day wonders, TTUTA embraces this opportunity to celebrate this educator who has persisted in her desire to see one of our cultural traditions elevated to the status which it now holds in national esteem, especially among our youths, both at the primary and secondary levels.
Culture helps to shape our national identity and traditional parang music is an integral part of our cultural expressions, as much as many of the other traditions which we celebrate as a nation.
With its 40th anniversary launch last Sunday, we salute Diana McIntyre and the National Schools Parang Festivals Organising Committee. We celebrate their indomitable spirit that has kept this festival alive and we wish them continued success in the years to come.