Rudolph Charles

Tuner, Maximum Leader and Master Innovator.

In the area of pan design, no one could hold a candle to the unflagging energy and enterprise of Rudolph Charles. Leader of the Desperadoes of Laventille – a steelband famous for the sound of its massed pans, whether on the concert stage or on the streets during Carnival – Rudolph Charles gave his life to the passionate pursuit of ‘the perfect tone’ from the steelpan.

The quadrophonic pan was designed by him in 1975. It was produced by Tony Slater in time for Carnival 1976. Lincoln Noel was its tuner. The quadro’ is thus a relatively new instrument, although it is described as ‘the Ellie Mannette double second pan’. Spread over four pans and covering three octaves, the quadrophonic’s 36 notes are laid out in chromatic sequence ranging from B2 to Bb5, so as to achieve a major chord in each pan. The quadrophonic pan covers the widest tonal range of all steel pans. Apart from being used in the harmony of the arrangement, it can also reinforce the melody of the tenor pans. The quadro’s one disadvantage is, that covering as it does, the both the second pan and the cello range, the player’s way of rapping the sticks cannot work satisfactorily for both low and high notes. “However”, in the words of Tony Slater, “if a player uses the same sticks with which the pans were tuned, all the high and low notes would be clearly heard.” The quadro’ has a new and pleasing tonal quality with a unique sound vibration.

The ying yang pan was another Rudolph Charles’ invention which involved the same highly skilled team of Tony Slater and Lincoln Noel as producer and tuner respectively. The ying yang introduced a bass range used only by Desperadoes. It is one step below the tenor bass. Where the tenor bass starts at F, the ying yang starts at Low E. The ying yang also has a higher range than the tenor base , reaching up to E – Sharp one octave higher. In other words, the ying yang encompasses the entire range of the tenor base and goes one octave higher and one note lower. It can also be used to play the melody line – tenor and bass.

The ying yang pan costs about $5,000 (TT) to produce, which makes it a bit expensive. Perhaps that is why other bands have not attempted to incorporate the ying yang into their pan ensembles.

In another major undertaking, Charles flared the bass pans in order to better harness and control their rich, deep tones. His experimentation extended to rocket cellos, as well as developing a foot bass in the air – all to facilitate the beating of nine and twelve bass pans by one player – and giving rise to the saying, ‘Pan in the sky’.

Rudolph Charles was himself a specialist bass tuner and according to Tony Slater, one of the best in the business. But it was as dreamer, originator and caretaker of pan’s progress that his tragic death on 29th March 1985, caused deep national trauma. Some anguished that the course of pan would be disrupted, its momentum and innovative spirit lost forever with the passing of his genius. “ Where the man with the hammer gone?” In the Carnival following Rudolph Charles’ death, David Rudder launched this inspired tribute to the man who had meant so much to the steelband movement. Maybe it helped to heal the trauma and to expurgate the pain of his loss. Maybe this partly explains its overwhelming popularity with the public at large. There is no doubt however, that this tribute in calypso to a fallen giant of the pan movement, added impetus to David Rudder’s full sweep of the top Calypso prizes in the year 1986: Young King, Road March King (which he won with ‘Bahia Gyal’ ) and Calypso Monarch.

Source: The Trinidad and Tobago Steel Pan

History and Evolution

By: Dr. F.I.R. Blake