By ORVILLE WRIGHT
When I learnt about the passing of Miss McIntosh I was conflicted. How do I pay my respects to a woman who had had such a profound impact on me as a young classical player even though she had never been my music teacher?
I had known that she was ill. Her niece, Pat Drayton, had told me about her condition, saying that Miss McIntosh wanted me to know. Hearing that it was cancer of the pancreas, I immediately feared that she would not be long with us. Of the eighty different kinds of cancer, pancreatic cancer is the worst. I had already lost someone to it. Last year, on May 24, my older brother had died, not too long after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
It took quite a bit of maneuvering to get to Trinidad for her funeral on Monday September 14 and back to Boston in time for my classes. It was, after all, only the second week of class; it would have been unfair for students to miss classes so early in the semester. As it turned out, Caribbean Airlines’ schedule worked in my favour. I was able to attend the service at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Mt. D’or Road, Champ Fleurs and still make it out of Trinidad on Monday afternoon.
For all the years I knew Louise, she, like me, had attended the Good Shepherd Anglican church in Tunapuna, so I was somewhat surprised that her funeral service was to be at a Seventh Day Adventist Church. I want to state quite unequivocally that I see nothing wrong with changing faiths; we are all children under one God. In any case, Louise was never afraid of change and her decisions were always well thought out.
Walking to the church on the day of the funeral, I was not sure what to expect. This was my first time attending a funeral in a Seventh Day Adventist Church. I knew that Len “Boogsie” Sharpe had offered to play at the funeral and was on the programme. As I was entered the church, I was immediately struck by the musical instruments before me.
When you think about the Pan Pipers Music School, you see the brainchild of Miss Mc Intosh that has blossomed into an institution encompassing all facets of music. But perhaps most important than anything else about it is the fact that Louise—long before anyone else had even entertained the thought and a full twenty years before it was declared the national instrument- had embraced the steelpan as an important instrument of choice for children wanting to learn music.
The presence of the National Steel Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jessel Murray was a fitting tribute to Louise McIntosh at her funeral. In no way am I suggesting that she had been disrespected. Miss McIntosh was, after all, honoured with the Public Service Medal of Merit (Gold) in 2005. But I do believe that if education policymakers had embraced her concept of teaching music for the steel pan, schools in Trinidad and Tobago would have been much farther along in incorporating the national instrument in the school curriculum.
I have no doubt that Miss McIntosh’s legacy will endure for a long, long time. The eulogies and words of appreciation at the service spoke volumes about her impact on generations of students with whom she had so generously shared her passion for music and perpetual commitment for making children feel at home—at her home- when they showed up for lessons.
Saturday was the day to be at Miss McIntosh’s Pan Pipers Music School; whether you were beating pan, learning to play the piano, getting a boof every now and again, or just having some tea, it was the place you just had to be on a Saturday.
Miss McIntosh’s parents and my parents had quite a lot in common. They were maccummeres. My home on Bowen Street was just around the corner from hers on Niles Street in Tunapuna. Our fathers, Mr. McIntosh and Mr. Wright, both worked for the Trinidad and Tobago Railway. Both of us had pianos at home and as far as Louise and I were concerned, we were the ones who really carried the music gene in our families. Back in the day, it was not unusual for family visits on Sunday afternoons, and it was on those visits that I got to know Miss McIntosh’s passion for music and the arts.
As far as I could remember, we both had phones at home, but in dem days, maccummere and dem going by each other house to ole talk. I also remember going to the McIntoshes with my father who would always send me to some part of the house where I could not see the piano keyboard. Once I was out of sight, he would play a note on the piano and call out to me asking: “Orville, what note is that boy?” and I would say “G Daddy”. Always, he would boast about my ability to tell any note on the piano, neither of us aware that he was actually nurturing and grooming the perfect pitch that I was born with. That was the kind of relationship enjoyed by the Wrights and the McIntoshes.
At the service, it was just heart-warming to hear Louise’s students speak about how she had enriched their lives. I am not sure whether Wayne Harris—a tenor with a richness of tone comparable to some of the best in North America—was a student at Pan Pipers Music School, but performance at the funeral, indicated the kind of impact that Miss McIntosh had on the music scene. When a past member of Pan Pipers, Brent Cyrus, approached the podium I thought he was going to sing, despite the fact of the recorder in his hand, so musical was his voice. I must confess that it was the first time that I heard bent notes played on a recorder with such brilliance.
For me, the highlight was the contribution from Emile Baptiste, a past student of Pan Pipers who spoke on behalf of all Louise’s students. Taking his time, he delivered a string of anecdotes to demonstrate how Miss McIntosh has approached her school, mixing the methodology learnt at Training College with the art of music to bring out the best in her students.
And then there was the steelband performances.
Louise’s funeral service was the first time I was hearing the G-Pan in an orchestral setting.
It’s been two years and two months since the G-Pan was unveiled but until that day, I had only heard a tenor by itself and had actually played the bass pans in Phase II’s yard. The National Steel Symphony Orchestra performed the processional and recessional at the service as well as some very well executed classical pieces. I spoke briefly to the conductor, Jessel Murray, and was thrilled to learn that all the members of the band were reading their parts. The tonal quality of the instruments was really pleasing to the ear, and the technology and tuning that went into the instruments proved to be worthy of Dr Copeland’s team and UWI’s involvement in the development of the G-Pan.
Despite having heard Boogsie play many times before, I was confounded by his expertise on the instrument. He played What A Friend We Have In Jesus with all the nuances that anyone in the educational field could analyse and pass on to a student as an example of how a solo performance should be performed.
He started off by simply playing the melody, and at the completion of each chorus, he added elements like embellishment, intricate accompaniment, re-harmonisation—all with one stick in each hand—which, for me, really exemplifies Boogsie’s awesome talent. I know that from wherever she was, Miss McIntosh was relishing the quality of music at the celebration of her life.
Miss McIntosh had never taught me music, but I clearly remember going to her after learning a piece of classical music and asking her to critique my work. She always offered some advice to help me improve on what I was doing without being too critical. Pan Pipers Music School really flourished after I left Trinidad to study abroad, and in many ways I wished I could have benefited more from Miss McIntosh’s musical wisdom.
Her passing has left a big void as far as music education is concerned in the St Augustine/Tunapuna area, and I do hope one of her former students takes up the mantle and continues her work.
I spoke to Louise in March 2009. She said then that she was still teaching, and the reason she had to teach was because she had left a very secure position as a teacher with the government to devote all her time to her passion for music. I do not know of many people in Trinidad who would have done that, and it really shows the true character of a person dedicated to music and to the arts.
May she rest in musical peace.