Memorization of Repertoire in Trinidad & Tobago Steelbands: A Cognitive Approach - Université Paris Nanterre Access content directly
Proceedings Year : 2023

Memorization of Repertoire in Trinidad & Tobago Steelbands: A Cognitive Approach


This presentation focuses on the quick memorization abilities displayed by players of the steelpan, Trinidad and Tobago’s famous melodic idiophone made out of between one and twelve second hand oil drums. This instrument, invented at carnival festivities in the late 1930s and 1940s and later consecrated the “National Instrument of Trinidad & Tobago”, has been institutionalized through the creation of various national competitions. At the “Panorama”—the largest musical event for steelbands where orchestras of up to a hundred players compete in a challenging music contest—seasonal players, playing for about one month a year, and sometime even beginners, are able to memorize and perform by rote a symphonic-like tune, with a lot of technical constraints, at an extremely fast tempo. Without the help of score sheets or the use of variation, at the same time they encounter the constraints of written and oral traditions. Interweaving a classical anthropological approach and background (participant observation) with the input of the cognitive sciences—an oriented bibliography and methodology, I here propose a comprehensive analysis of the way these non-professional musicians retain the music in a challenging context. This involves the presentation of several hypotheses, supported both by fieldwork observations and the cognitive psychology bibliography: the memory of songs, the visuo-spatial memory and mental images, and an implicit understanding of the intervals on the instruments. Another hypothesis, the assistance of feeling the simultaneous performance of other players, was tested by an experiment inspired by cognitive psychology and successfully identifies a positive group influence on individual memory.
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hal-04391668 , version 1 (12-01-2024)




Aurélie Helmlinger, Filippo Bonini Baraldi. Memorization of Repertoire in Trinidad & Tobago Steelbands: A Cognitive Approach. Proceedings of the Second Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Sound, Movement, and the Sciences (SoMoS), Instituto de Etnomusicologia - Centro de Estudos em Música e Dança (INET-md), Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, NOVA University Lisbon, Portugal, 2023, ⟨10.5281/zenodo.10423804⟩. ⟨hal-04391668⟩
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