Denzil Fernandez (Date of Birth: 24th May 1944)
Trinidad and Tobago Icons Vol 2
Denzil “Dimes” Fernandez has been a steelpan innovator, tuner and educator for over 50 years. He pioneered the Bore method, which produces steelpans with greater tonal range and clearer, longer notes, and used it to create the Bore Pan, Panzer, Duo Bore Pan, U Bass/Den Pan, Bore Reed Pan, and the Bore-Reed Cello Pan.
Born on 24th May, 1944 in Belmont, Trinidad, Fernandez attended St. Margaret’s Boys E.C. School. He joined the Belmont Symphony Orchestra in 1956 but hid his new talent from his disapproving father.
His first attempt at pan tuning failed but when Lauriston McGill became his mentor, his second attempt succeeded and a life-long skill was born. Although Fernandez did occasional tuning for the West Side Symphony and performed in five bands over 12 years, he earned his living through offset lithography, which he had learned at the John Donaldson Technical Institute in 1970.
In 1984, Fernandez read a university physics textbook and learned about basic acoustics. With this knowledge, he theorised that replacing the characteristic steelpan groove with several cuts would allow faster steelpan construction. However, he lacked the equipment needed, and used a drill to make holes instead of cuts. The first Bore Pan was completed in July 1984 and Fernandez received the Rudolph Charles Award for its creation. The Bore method improved pan design and tonal quality, also providing superior amplification, ensuring that a musical ensemble made of Bore Pans could be smaller (and thus less costly) than a standard band.
Fernandez conducted his first pan construction workshop for Pan Development Unlimited in 1984, the first of five between then and 2000. In 1985, he quit his job as a lithographer to concentrate on innovation. In January 1987, the U Bass/Den Pan was created, combining the six bass instruments into a single unit. The Panzer followed in February 1987, combining the steelpan and guitar to produce a new tone. The Dual Bore Pan, Bore-Reed Pan1 and Bore-Reed Cello Pan were designed between 1987 and 1988.
Fernandez lectured on tuning and steelpan construction for the Ministry of Sports and Culture from 1987 to 1989. In a separate series sponsored by NEMWIL Insurance, he lectured to schools, state agencies and other organisations. He also served the Bureau of Standards as a consultant on steelpan standardisation and the mechanisation of steelpan construction.
Internationally, he served as the tuner for seven bands in Washington D.C. between 1991 and 1999, the World Missions Steel Orchestra (1992), as well as the Kawaguchi High School (1995-1999) and the Supersonic Steel Drum Academy (1997-1999) in Japan. He taught pan construction techniques for the Pan Rising Company in Japan, and in 2000, he taught pan construction and tuning in Amsterdam, Holland.
Today, Fernandez resides in Trinidad and travels throughout Europe, Japan and the United States sharing his skills. Despite its effectiveness and popularity abroad, the Bore method remains an unconventional construction method to local steelpan makers, who limit its application to frontline pans.
- A design that introduces a “reed” at the end of the note dent, creating a small, U-shaped groove that lowers the frequency of the musical note it produces. Reeds can be tuned independently of the steelpan’s note dents and provide pan makers with options for customising their creations. This variant has not been used widely.