Premier steel-pan tuner hits the right notes ahead of Cariwest Festival in Edmonton

Edmonton’s premier steel-pan orchestra has flown in the best of the best to take care of their instruments ahead of the Cariwest festival this weekend.

Cariwest celebrates 35th anniversary this year

Cariwest celebrates its 35th year in Edmonton this year. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Edmonton's premier steel-pan orchestra has flown in the best of the best to take care of their instruments ahead of the Cariwest festival this weekend.

The TrinCan Steel Orchestra sought out Augustus Peters, a renowned steel-pan maker and tuner, to ensure their instruments make sweet Caribbean music during the 35th annual festival.

"We're right down to the wire to make sure those pans are absolutely crisp for Saturday's performance," said Taneya Rogers, a performer with the band.

Peters hopped a plane from Japan to Edmonton to be here in the days leading up to Cariwest.

Steel-pan maker and tuner Augustus Peters made a special trip to Edmonton for the 35th annual Cariwest Festival. (Julia Lipscombe)

His art is subtle, and requires years of experience to ensure each note rings true.

"It's always a learning experience because they have so many different styles of pans and approaches to making it," said Peters, comparing his job to that of a tuning peg on a guitar.

"Unfortunately, unlike a guitar, the steel pan doesn't have that adjuster, so that's me."

Peters has been honing his craft for nearly two decades, and travels to several countries each year tuning steel pans.

Steel pans, or drums, originated on the island of Trinidad in the 1930s. They're made from oil drums with a special concave top. Different notes are delicately hammered into the curved surface to create harmonious musical tones.

"Basically, I adjust the pitch and preserve the precise pitch of the instrument," said Peters Thursday on CBC Radio's Radio Active.

Ensuring a good start

The Cariwest Festival is one of Edmonton's liveliest annual festivals.

It showcases Caribbean culture, recreating the original Carnival festival held in Trinidad and Tobago each year.

The steel-pan is a symbolic element of Carnival, and Rogers wants to ensure her band sets the tone for the festival parade on Saturday.

"We lead the parade, so we're the very first truck that you're going to see," she said.

"Trinidadians are described as the happiest people on the planet. Carnival is the happiest event on the planet and that's what we want to recreate."

Taneya Rogers, centre, has been playing steel pan with TrinCan Steel Orchestra for three years. (Nathalie Meyers)

The Cariwest festival runs Aug. 9-11 at the Federal Plaza Building near the Alberta Legislature grounds. People attending can listen to live music, try Caribbean food and dance at the Caribbean Village.

The annual Cariwest parade starts at noon on Saturday.

About the Author

Tanara McLean is a producer and journalist at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.

with files from Julia Lipscombe