PLAYING the steelpan connects Cailen Gill to his family's musical history and their contribution to pan music.
Cailen is the grandson of Merline Gill, who has arranged in 40 Panorama competitions and started Gills Pan Limited, a company that exports steelpans. Merline also founded the Curepe Scherzando Steel Orchestra and the Sforzata Steel Orchestra.
Cailen's love for the pan started even before he knew of his family history with the national instrument. At age four, during a music class at St Xavier's Private School, his tutor Merle Albino-de Coteau noticed his handwork on the pan and advised his parents to invest in his musical talents.
He is now 13 and a student of St Mary's College, Port of Spain and the youngest member of the senior BP Renegades band. His pan music has been featured in the 2019 VS Naipaul documentary that was aired on BBC network last November, in several international documentaries on the steelpan and in National Geographic's Travellers magazine. Cailen shared his steelpan journey with Newsday Kids.
"I was always around the steelpan so I picked things up.
"My grandfather also helped me play and I believe I got his talents," said Cailen of growing up around the pan at his Curepe home.
"I started enjoying the pan and I continued with it."
Recruited into the Sforzata Steel Orchestra, which routinely enters Panorama's medium band category, he played his first Panorama at age nine in 2017.
"I feel excited and full of joy when I play the pan. I love it so I express all my feelings there."
Deciding to challenge his skills a little more, he auditioned for the junior BP Renegades band in 2019.
The band's committee recognised that his musical skills were on par with the adults and offered him a position to play tenor pan in the senior band.
"It is a privilege. I am enjoying the practice sessions and atmosphere of the band.
"I don’t see myself as being much different from the adults. I consider myself to be at the same level musically.
"But the adults make me feel safe and welcomed."
He wants to branch off into arranging and uses the work of prominent composer and steel pan arranger, the late Jit Samaroo as inspiration.
"I want to arrange for CIC by age 14 or 15."
But he is first looking forward to this year's Panorama.
"I’ve played Panorama in three previous years (2017-2019) so this will be my fourth. It's really exciting, energetic and a lot of fun vibes."
Beyond the pan, he holds a grade four in music and plays the piano, guitar and cuatro. He is now pursuing a grade five in music.
But his life is not just about music and school. To relax he swims, plays cricket and football. He also wants to be a paediatrician to help children.
"It’s really important to balance your life. Exercise and proper sleeping is important."
Planning out each day, he ensures there is time to finish homework, go to pan practice and sleep.
"I sacrifice sleep sometimes because it is important to get the music right. At practice, we go late some nights and finish early on others, but it’s worth it."
His parents Mazzini Gill and Cindy Gill said his gravitation to pan was not forced but came naturally.
"Music was one of the best opportunities we could have supported him in and allow him to do as it balances both his academic, creative and recreational life.
"I will encourage other parents to support and tap into your child’s interest and challenge the energy in a creative way."