In the world of music, there are stories that resonate with passion, dedication, and the power to transcend borders. The remarkable journey of Charlene "Char" Lusk (an American) and Ansel Joseph (a Trinidadian who now lives in America) is one such tale, a narrative that intertwines the love for pan with a deep commitment to education, cultural preservation and the promotion of an art form that continues to captivate hearts worldwide.
As Lusk, a former middle-school music teacher, and Joseph, a renowned pan maker and tuner, share their experiences, insights, and aspirations, it becomes clear that their lives have been symphonies of unwavering devotion to pan.
For Lusk, music was a family affair from the beginning. Growing up in a household where the rhythmic beats of percussion and the sweet melodies of wind instruments filled the air, Lusk's connection with music was innate.
"I came from a musical family. My father was a percussionist, my mother played trumpet, and my siblings and I all started playing instruments at the age of nine in school.
“I majored in instrumental music with an emphasis in education at San Francisco State University and began teaching instrumental music full time in September of 1972, until I retired from teaching in 2005. However, my life still revolves around music, mostly pan, to this day."
Similarly, Joseph’s journey into the world of music was a tapestry woven with familial influence.
"My father was a police bandsman in Trinidad and when I was in school, the Toussaint family brought steelpans to the school and performed. I was shocked to see people my age playing pan. They invited me to their yard, and that's where my journey with steelpan began."
Lusk and Joseph's connection with pan wasn't merely a passing interest – it was a lifelong love affair that became the cornerstone of their existence. Lusk's journey led her to become a dedicated educator, teaching music to young minds for over three decades.
"Pan rekindled my enthusiasm for teaching. I can't give you an exact moment when I fell in love with the instrument, but I can give you hundreds of examples of the manifestation of that love in relationships with my students," Lusk said.
For Joseph, the love for pan was an instant connection.
"When I walked into the Invaders' panyard and saw Ellie Mannette working on double pans," Joseph recalls, "the beauty of his pans, the skill in his hands –I fell in love with pan that day."
Joseph's journey led him across continents, performing jazz across Europe and ultimately settling in various parts of the US, where he continued to build, tune, and teach the art of pan.
Lusk and Joseph's partnership isn't just a personal bond – it's a shared commitment to pan and its cultural legacy. As a couple, they've been instrumental in bringing the vibrant rhythms of pan to schools, communities, and stages across the US. "We tune pans for schools, conduct workshops and presentations, build and tune pans for groups, and work with various organisations."
Their tireless efforts have not only enriched the lives of their students but have also forged connections between different cultures through the universal language of music. Lusk has even written a book, So You Want to Start a Steel Pan Band…How to Start, Maintain, and Grow with a Steel Pan Program.
While the couple’s dedication to pan has been unwavering, they acknowledge the challenges that the art form faces.
"Trinidad needs to take the training of new pan tuners seriously," Joseph emphasises. He calls for a true apprenticeship programme, where the craft of tuning is learned over years of dedicated vocational training. They both stress the importance of collaboration and knowledge-sharing within the pan community, as well as adapting to the changing musical landscape.
In spite of these challenges, Lusk and Joseph firmly believe pan will never fade away. Lusk's teaching legacy continues to flourish, as the programme she initiated decades ago thrives to this day. Joseph's journey as a pan maker and tuner has left an indelible mark on the global pan community, and he remains dedicated to sharing his expertise.
As Lusk and Joseph continue to live out their passion for pan, their dedication serves as an inspiration to musicians, educators, and cultural enthusiasts around the world. Their stories remind us of the power of music to bridge divides, uplift communities, and preserve cultural heritage. While the future of pan might hold challenges, these two individuals continue to be a beacon of hope, guiding the way for generations to come.
In a world where traditions often face the risk of fading away, the stories of Lusk and Joseph remind us that when passion and dedication combine, cultural legacies can be kept alive, melodies can continue to resonate, and the sweet sound of pan can harmonise with the rhythm of life itself.