St Francois Girls pays homage to successful steelpan arranger

A St Francois Girls' steel orchestra player during the school's performance in the 2018 Junior Panorama. - ROGER JACOB
A St Francois Girls' steel orchestra player during the school's performance in the 2018 Junior Panorama. - ROGER JACOB

Peter Rorry Aleong, arranger of St Francois Girls' College successful pan orchestra, was presented a legacy award by the school in February during its month-long 60th anniversary celebrations, in large part for his contribution for making the school synonymous with the national instrument.

Aleong, his arrangements and the school's orchestra continues to receive its rightful plaudits after winning a record six Junior Panorama (secondary schools) titles from 2011-2019.

This success undoubtedly gives St Francois, already highly regarded for its academic achievements, a reputation to behold among non-denominational government schools.

Thousands of students have graduated since the school officially opened on February 6, 1962, a considerable number of whom stand among this country's most esteemed members of society. Many have been inspired by, or directly involved in the orchestra.

Days after Aleong received the legacy award, students and teachers hosted a tribute function at the school in his honour.

Aleong, 59, has gifts most suitable for his role as a music teacher, arranger and leader, current and former school staff told Newsday.

Retired vice principal Suzanne Roget said, "I think it's because he understood the students."

"He was able to connect with them and they connect with his music, and in some way, that symbiotic relationship just gelled and that's how he was able to put down his music."

Pan and personal development go hand-in-hand, as evidenced by St Francois' extra-curricular and academic successes, and the pride those affiliated with the school often project.

"Pan (is one of the) most positive moves the school could have done...What happens is pan, and music on the whole brings and has brought a lot of benefits."

St Francois was one of, if not the first all-girls school to incorporate a pan band into school activities, having formed the orchestra on its ten-year anniversary in 1972 as part of a project for the Duke of Edinburgh Award (now President's Award).

Talent quickly emerged, enough to see a team represent their country on tours to Canada in 1979, the UK in 1984 (along with the school choir), and Canada again in 1988.

It placed runner-up in the Junior Panorama from 1977-1979, before winning its first title a year later.

St Francois Girls' College steel orchestra, winner of Junior Panorama (secondary schools) 2018. - ROGER JACOB

The orchestra, however, became largely dormant before it returned to Panorama in 2005.

Aleong previously taught music at St Francois for a year in 2007.

He returned to the school shortly before sealing his first Junior Panorama title and the school's second ever in 2011, ending a 21-year drought with the song, How We Coming?

St Francois and Aleong went on to win an unprecedented Junior Panorama hat-trick in the following two years, and more titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

The school finished second to Bishop Anstey & Trinity College East (BATCE) steel orchestra in the last competition staged in 2020.

Aleong told Newsday how pan has helped the girls, and himself, in their personal development.

"Pan," he said, "comes with practising discipline, focusing, persistence, determination, diligence, and all these things (which) will filter into their academic studies to give them the motivation and drive.

"If you can do it for music, you can do it for all the other subjects."

As for the team's incredible resurrection in the last 13 years or so, Aleong laughed saying, "I want to be modest, (we've been successful) because of the the arranger's ability to foster and motivate the children, and because of the school's support...(But) most importantly, the school's and the parents' support.

"They are the big contributing factors in the success of St Francois Girls'."

He lauds current principal Sasha Seecharan, past principals Jennifer Gittens and Patricia McIntosh, vice principals and regular teaching staff, practically all of whom Aleong said always expressed sincere interest and investment in the school's orchestra.

Aleong, who turns 60 later this year, first played pan at age seven to the annoyance of his parents. Like many old-timers, he attests, they viewed the instrument with "the Bad John stigma of long time," which obviously transformed decades ago.

He played for Renegades in the early 1980s and is still a member although not active in the orchestra. Aleong enjoys strong bonds with his players, having taught at two previous all-girls schools.

"Being an arranger and a male, a lot of them see me as a father figure and a role model," a role he said he takes joy in.

"I always try to project that profile that you have my support."

Arranger Peter Aleong, centre, and drill master Aaron Pereira, bottom centre, surrounded by past and present players of St Francois Girls' Steel Orchestra. -

Although Aleong suffered a health condition in 2019 that temporarily slowed him down, he is active again and ready to help the school return to winning ways, with his creativity brimming once more.

Captain Tsian Callender and the orchestras approximately 15 current players will train throughout the year in preparation for the next big event, hoping to attract more as circumstances provide for it.


"St Francois Girls pays homage to successful steelpan arranger"

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