Ace pan arranger Duvone Stewart is calling for the national instrument to be mandatory in the school curriculum.
Stewart was awarded this year's Medal of Honour (gold) for distinguished and outstanding service in the sphere of culture at the annual Tobago House of Assembly Tobago Day awards last Thursday.
The 43-year-old is coming off an unprecedented historic Panorama treble with victories in the small (Defence Force Steel Orchestra), medium (Pan Elders) and large (bp Renegades) band categories for the 2019 Carnival season.
He told Newsday by phone on Tuesday: “It’s absolutely amazing. I’m ecstatic about it, I’m very grateful about it. I feel very honoured to receive such an award from the THA. This award means a great deal to me. It is very affirming and also serves to make me want to do and even better job.”
He dedicated this award to everyone in Tobago who assisted in his journey.
“My parents, both my mum and dad, and extended family members, Mrs Gwyneth Armstrong, my music teacher in Tobago, who saw the vision in me to be what I am today. I am grateful and thankful for her being around. Members of the Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra back then, very, very nice group of people and to everybody in Tobago that supported me in crossing that bridge and walking the path to becoming the individual I am today,” Stewart said.
Born on September 17, 1976 to Curtis and Virginia Percival, who were both musicians, Stewart went to school in Tobago, doing his last two school years at Signal Hill Senior Comprehensive School.
Today, his wish remains “to see this instrument in all the schools as a compulsory instrument for students to learn music.”
“Funny enough, I have been a student at the Scarborough RC School… no pan, Scarborough Junior Secondary School…no pan, Signal Hill Senior Comprehensive School…little pan, because the musical director at that time was Mr Frank Stanisclaus and he was also the arranger for Our Boys Steel Orchestra, and we had a little steelband."
He said pan needs to treated with the status it deserves.
"It is our national instrument, it is an instrument where we need to respect. The same way how we stand at attention in singing our national anthem with pride, it deserves the same respect too because it’s what the red, white and black represents,” he said adding, “We tend to be followers in what we want to do in music and in life in general, so I believe we need to take a stand in becoming a leader in setting that trend in having steelpan instrument in the school system, compulsory from primary right up to the tertiary-education level.”
He described pan in Tobago as a “slow artform.”
“It’s there...but you have to make it what you want to make of it, and you can’t sit around to make things come to you, you have to go get it. That’s what I did, and we can’t blame authorities fully, but we have to be very mindful to get up and go get the job done. But I believe a lot more can be done still. A lot more can be done still to get steelpan in Tobago more and...more interesting for everybody to enjoy.”
Stewart, respected globally for his arranging prowess, began his musical career at six. Under Gwyneth Armstrong, he performed creditably at Trinity Music Exams, an initiative of the London School of Music.
After accompanying his parents to a steelband practice one Saturday evening, Stewart picked up a pair of tenor pan sticks and the rest was history.
Indelibly etched in Stewart’s mind is his performance for Nelson Mandela in 2004 on his visit to TT. He still recalls the memory of the historic figure shaking and dancing to his music as one of the highest honours in his life and a milestone in his career.In 24 years of playing, Stewart has shared stages and performed with the likes of Len "Boogsie" Sharpe, Ken Philmore, Jit Samarro, Earl Brooks, Mavis John, Mark Mosca (Canada), Black Stalin, Gabriel Sandy (Cuba), De Fosto and Arturo Tappin (Barbados) to name a few.
And as he prepares for the 2020 Carnival season, Stewart said he is looking forward to a bumper one and defending his crowns.
“It’s going to be a busy one, its going to be a challenging one also to because after 2019 historic events winning three categories; small, medium and large with the TT Defence Force Steel Orchestra and BPTT Renegades respectively. Everybody is now coming down, they’re coming at you, because they also want to be winners too, but everybody has to work hard.
“That’s what I’ve been doing, I’ve been working hard, I’ve been investing time into making my craft become what it has become today. But I am going back at it hard again. I’m trying to remain positive, remain humble, remain focus in trying to be a success again to the various bands that I am going to be working with for 2020,” he said adding that BPTT Renegades is looking to achieve a hattrick of wins.
“Seeing that I have worked with the band 2018, 2019 – 2020 could be the year for the hattrick, the band has done it before under my biggest role model, my biggest idol Dr Jit Samaroo: 1995, 1996, 1997.
"I played with him in that time also too, so it would be so fitting to be a player that played in the hattrick, now to become an arranger and arrange that same said band and achieve that milestone."
He said he would give the effort his all. "With God’s grace and God’s presence, God’s support and God’s love and guidance."