Mannette Academy allows students to shine at Christmas concert

Founder and director of the Mannette Academy of Music, Barry Mannette. -
Founder and director of the Mannette Academy of Music, Barry Mannette. -

The name Mannette is indelibly linked with the steelpan movement in Trinidad and Tobago.

The contribution and legacy of brothers Ellie and Vernon "Birdie" Mannette, two of the founding members of the Invaders Steel Orchestra, have transcended generations; and live on through Vernon's son Barry Mannette.

Barry is the founder and director of the Mannette Academy of Music, an institution he founded to pay tribute and homage to his father. Predictably, Mannette’s roots and musical beginnings reside in the Invaders panyard where he first learned to play pan in the traditional manner – by ear. He reflects on the countless hours expended on rehearsing numerous arrangements over several years by rote; and, having now had the benefit of experiencing and presiding over the more efficient method of execution, using musical scores; he can attest to the benefits and value of pursuing musical literacy.

The same outcome achieved from weeks of rehearsal and repetition, without the benefit of a music sheet, could “just as efficiently be done in about an hour or two,” if players had the option of reading and interpreting the music instead, he told Sunday Newsday.

In 2010 Mannette graduated from the UWI with a first degree in musical arts, and three years later completed his master’s in music from the Northern Illinois University, where he studied under renowned Trinbagonians Professor Liam Teague and Dr Clifford Alexis. Once completed, he returned to TT with an overwhelming desire to pass on what he had learnt to the young local pannists; and his ultimate goal, to establish an academy primarily for pan.

“The first was to honour my dad and carry on the name of Vernon ‘Birdie’ Mannette; the one who really held down the legendary Invaders for several years as a master tuner, composer, arranger, everything. And then instil in the younger generation, the importance of music literacy.”

In 2017, those two aspirations conflated with the opening of his music academy.

Imparting knowledge has always been second nature for Mannette, and before completing his studies he had already began working with young people, training and tutoring in various aspects of music. So when he eventually opened the academy he had a base on which to build, as well as “...simple word of mouth referrals; you know, once you have a good product or service, the word will spread.”

The academy operates out of the St Ann’s RC Primary School, where Mannette offers music and pan lessons to the students in exchange for the use of the school’s equipment and facilities. During the covid19 pandemic he was forced to shift his operations to an online format. Starting from an experimental position, after some tweaking and adjustments, he is now satisfied that they had mastered this new technique and extended his reach. The academy has seen an increase in the student intake, and now has students from the US, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Australia, St Lucia, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. He has introduced additional instruments including the violin, guitar and piano. Soon he will begin offering voice training; and as a percussionist, basic drumming, traditional African and Indian drumming.

His students continue to capture their fair share of awards and accolades in the musical arena; including having a presence in several junior and senior bands for panorama, at Sanfest and Music Festival.

With his eye on continued expansion, he aspires “to continue to to offer students at home and abroad, the highest quality of music education they can get.”

With a student base of approximately two hundred, Mannette is supported by four additional pan teachers, two piano tutors, one violin teacher and one guitar teacher. But the focus continues to be heavily on the steelpan. The students are exposed to music theory and many have successfully written the external examination. And, of course, he gives them an opportunity to shine at the annual Christmas concert – this year on December 10.

“For me, as a performer, the whole idea of learning music is to perform. I mean, what is the point of learning an instrument and you’re just playing it in your house?”

The show will be held at the Bishop Anstey High School, Port of Spain, where patrons will be treated to samplings of local and foreign traditional carols, parang and soca parang by the students and a guest performance by El Caribe Parang Band.

All of Mannette’s achievements to date have truly been a labour of love and he said the lack of sponsorship inhibits his ability to showcase the excellent work that his students consistently put out “…even for this Christmas concert, the number of people that we wrote, and it’s just blank, blank, blank…”

But, he said, the show must go on.

For information on the Christmas concert follow the Mannette Academy of Music on Facebook or call 678-0505


"Mannette Academy allows students to shine at Christmas concert"

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