Lara Pickford-Gordon, email@example.com
The National School’s Parang Festival, the brainchild of Diana Kathleen McIntyre, celebrates 40 years this year. Another milestone is the tenth anniversary of the festival’s introduction to Tobago. McIntyre described the two milestones as a “double whammy”, and noted that with all the focus on the negative things like children fighting, it is a credit to the youths of the nation whose involvement has kept the festivals going. For the naysayers who feel culture is being lost, she responded “go where the children are”.
“These kids are singing in fluent, accurate Spanish…correct accentuation everything,” McIntyre said in an interview with the Catholic Newson July 12 at the Catholic Media Services Ltd (CAMSEL) office.
Interestingly, it was a visit to the sister isle that exposed her to Parang. McIntyre said she spent a Christmas in Tobago and “bounced up this wonderful art form”. Although she can’t recall the exact place, she remembers clearly how she was mesmerised by the music. “I love this because here I am fluent in Spanish and here is an artform in Spanish.”
McIntyre worked as the Music Officer at the Ministry of Education and Culture and was enthusiastic about teaching music around the country. She also taught at the Teachers’ Colleges (in Valsayn and Corinth) however, she wanted to do something with music on weekends too. McIntyre found out about cultural research being done by officers of the ministry in rural areas on weekends and asked to join with them. McIntyre said, “I can write music; I can speak Spanish; I can speak Italian; I can speak French; and I have endless energy so I got a place on the Land Rover. I said ‘anywhere you all are going just call me’. She earned her spot being able to notate the tunes and arrange the music.
McIntyre said she travelled extensively in the 1970s and saw how people overseas appreciated the culture but saw a lack of respect in her homeland. When she brought up the topic of Parang at social gatherings there was disinterest.
“I would be telling people about this wonderful artform that I first learnt in Tobago and the conversation would stop as I say Parang. People would say ‘pass the cheese please’. It’s like you have not been to school, don’t scrub your teeth, can’t count and I said ‘this is madness: this is our culture!’.” McIntyre made up her mind she was going to “make them like it” and set herself 15 years to achieve this goal.
When the United Nations declared 1979 ‘The Year of the Child’, McIntyre decided she would dedicate the festival to all the children in Trinidad and Tobago. The festival was inaugurated in 1978 at Providence Girls’. McIntyre was involved at the school putting on a production of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ and one day shared her idea for a festival with Sr Regina Leiba SJC. She credits Sr Regina for saying the three words which launched the the festival: “take the school”. This site was favourable with parking, toilets, and school hall with mics. Parents could also feel comfortable with the environment. McIntyre got the idea to approach the Venezuelan Embassy for support.
She admits that her younger self was “ignorant” in approaching the Ambassador Abdelkader Marquez about the festival and to open the show without thinking of protocol. He ended up being the Master of Ceremonies for the day. The ambassador was impressed with the show in which as she said, “School after school was singing in Spanish”. There were Catholic and government primary and secondary schools as well as The School for the Blind and School for the Deaf among the 12-plus schools participating. “It was like a Parang-rama where you had schools performing in succession, straight Spanish…no dotishness like ‘I went to Toco and I bounce meh toe and ah bounce up some mosquito’. Everything went well.”
Before the year was finished other schools were calling McIntyre to take part however, Providence Girls’ could not accommodate large numbers. She went to the Mayor of Port of Spain to ask for a venue and she got Woodford Square for November 25, 1979.
After “birthing” the festival, a couple years later, McIntyre stepped back and others organised it. There was one year there was no festival because teachers were on work-to-rule as they were lobbying for a teachers’ union, which later became the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association.
The festival was established in Tobago in 2008. McIntyre and her band ‘Un Amor’ went to Tobago and conducted a seminar for children during the school term (September–December), one entire day weekly for 14 weeks, at Fairfield Complex. The children chose the instruments they wanted to play: maracas, box bass, cuatro, violin, guitar, mandolin. “I would do the vocals and co-ordinate the whole thing,” she said. McIntyre called Cynthia Alfred of the Tobago House of Assembly, “the force driving the Tobago activities…she was focal in rounding up all the schools who appeared.” McIntyre encouraged improvisation and said the children turned out to be good arrangers of the music they were learning. McIntyre said the festival has been like a “training ground” for adult Parang performers.
For the 10thanniversary of the festival in Tobago McIntyre wants to return to Tobago with her tutors and again teach different aspects of the artform and have a display concert which she believes will be “a massive explosion of the talent”.
McIntyre is seeking support from sponsors and can be reached at 622-4051 or firstname.lastname@example.org.