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A When Steel Talks Steelband Panorama Competition Special - by: Dr. Jeannine Remy

“You want me to do what?”

Panorama 2011I found an email in my box from WST (no given name) asking if I could pen an article on the 2011 Panorama rules. My reply to this mystery person was, “What are you looking for exactly?” The response came back, “As one who has participated in the event on many different levels (judge, educator, player, commentator and arranger) you are in a good position to comment on how these rules have shaped the competition.” I decided to take the challenge.

When I read the rules [], I had some questions, so I decided to make a phone call to Pan Trinbago. Reaching Pan Trinbago head office, I explained what I was doing, and they told me I would need to speak with Richard Forteau, the current secretary. Mr. Forteau kindly proceeded to fax me an addendum that cleared up most of my questions. I was a bit hesitant about agreeing to write something since there are so many controversial issues this season and I did not want to get caught up in any argument. Some of these issues started in December 2010 ranging from the threatening boycotts, the $800 prelim payment, Boogsie’s lyrics, the 2 million dollar first prize, the revamped judging sheets, and the possible benchmarking of scores… to name a few. As pointed out by WST, I have been on both sides of the fence so I agreed to cautiously address the tip of the iceberg… so here it goes.

A Bit of History

Only in Trinidad can we say that the rules were created as a direct result of the panmen themselves. Three judges adjudicated participants of the first Panorama in 1963: Miss Umilta McShine, Major Rupert Dennison, and Commander McDonald of the U.S. Naval Base in Chaguaramas.1 The first Panorama had gotten off to rough start from the very beginning. The points were supposed to be aggregated; however, the first band to perform, Invaders, was only judged by 2 of the 3 judges. Some witnesses claim that Invaders played too early, while others say the third judge, Commander McDonald, was late, causing confusion for the then president of the National Association of T & T Steelbandsmen (NATTS), George Goddard. The fact remains that none of the judges were panmen but were musicians who did their best at evaluating the music they heard.

Phase II
Phase II - Panorama - Trinidad & Tobago

In the 1960s it was the panmen who were educating the judges and outlining the criteria (through their musical arrangements) on which the bands would be assessed. People like Anthony Williams, Bobby Mohamed, Beverly Griffith, Earl Rodney and Ray Holman were experimenting with formatting, orchestrating, and musically developing their arrangements. What were the criteria on which they were judged? At that time it was mainly musicality, performance and carnival spirit. The panmen were coming up with creative ways of arranging music by taking a verse and chorus and finding ways of manipulating it (i.e. interesting orchestration, countermelodies, bridges, jams, modulations, rhythmic, harmonic and melodic variants). Eventually these young arrangers became so skilled that it became easier for the judges to use Western musical nomenclature to explain and evaluate what these brilliant young novice arrangers were formulating. The categories of judging (arrangement, performance, tone and rhythm) are a direct result of the panmen’s musical experimentations. Today the components from which the bands are being judged have been recently revised to help accommodate and evaluate what arrangers and performers are putting forth to the public. 2011 marks 60 years since the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) performed in the Festival of Britain in 1951 and 48 years since the first Panorama. The acceptance of the steelpan as a musical instrument has come a long way since then for now it stands as the National instrument of Trinidad and Tobago embracing the world. The rules of Panorama 2011 must reflect the musical growth of the instrument as a symbol of national pride.


In the 1960s the steelbands were in the Golden Age of the steelband movement and panmen seemed like the Lords of Carnival as they would perform from one venue to the next. The first Panorama, for many steelbands, was just another performance venue for Carnival. But the focus of Panorama has changed over the years as more prize money was awarded and as steelbands were getting fewer performances. As the focus shifted more toward the Panorama competitions, DJs slowly began replacing steelbands as Carnival entertainment. For Panorama 1963, 10 bands were selected for finals (same number as 2011) with the first prize being $1000, the second $500 and $100 as an appearance fee for the other 8 bands.2 Since the DJS provide the majority of music for masqueraders and the first prize went from $1000 in the earliest, to the 2 million dollar first prize today, why should an arranger focus on teaching several Carnival tunes anymore? One tune is all you need to get paid to play for Panorama.

Gemonites - Antigua - Panorama
Gemonites Steel Orchestra - Panorama - Antigua & Barbuda

As any eclectic collector of newspaper articles on pan will tell you, the concern over the shift in focus toward Panorama has been a topic since the 1970s. Many older panmen will tell you that the youths will never know what it was like to physically carry a pan from fete to fete. They describe it as rite of passage, an honor, a distinction, a feeling of self pride… not to mention the fights one might encounter. They will also tell you that playing pan and being a panman was about blood sweat and tears. But the concern over concentrating on one piece (as compared to the many pieces learned during the Golden Age) for Panorama added some new words to our Panorama discourse such as: Panorama syndrome and Panorama mentality.3

Ebony - United Kingdom - Panorama
Ebony - United Kingdom - Panorama

Many things have changed since the first Panorama.  For example, if you look at the average steelband from then to now, one thing stands out clearly: the number of women playing pan being equal to slightly more than the men. Another glaring difference is the fact that most single pan bands perform on racks. The rule was changed because there were complaints that the very small youths could not handle the weight of the instrument.  Focus on dedication has also changed.  We are beyond the era in which a player’s dedication and loyalty was to one band; although it is very nice to see a sign up in Desperadoes practice site that says (rule 3) “no players are allowed to perform with another steelband.”  An interesting tidbit since this is the band that currently holds the record of the most wins for Panorama (10).  From the player’s point of view, the endless hours of practice and commitment hardly seem worth the small financial reward that trickles out from the bottom of the financial bucket.  As for Multiculturalism Minister Winston “Gypsy” Peters and President of Pan Trinbago Keith Diaz, they seem to be talking and saying “all’s well” between them as they were spotted together at the Despers rehearsal venue recently. Although the payment for each player is $200 less than it was last year, it is suggested that the extra million dollars of prize money should “restore the $1000 payment to panists.”4 Panmen have had to find “clever” ways to get money for all of their hard work as they seek their fortunes.

Numbers of Players

Rules concerning the numbers of players allotted to compete per band has been a touchy subject that made headlines recently. In the case of the treatment meted out to Exodus when they appeared onstage at the 2009 finals and were forced to reduce the number of players before they were allowed to perform, a public apology from Pan Trinbago was printed in the Trinidad Guardian almost two years later (December of 2010).5 An addendum to the 2011 rules (4.4 – 4.7) clearly states the numbers of players by giving a minimum and maximum number of players per competition. The number of players in large, medium, small and single pan steelbands that are allowed to compete for successful bands in the preliminary round increases as they move into next stages of the competition. This also ensures that the bands are full and players who want to play can move into another band if the band they originally performed with was not successful. It is my understanding that players get paid ($800) from Pan Trinbago for their preliminary performance only. Other payment arrangements for the semis and finals must be negotiated between player and band.

For some steelbands in the preliminary competition, the maximum number must cause some grief. For example, there are some large bands that already have 120 plus players ready to go but because of the rules, they must trim it down to 100 players. It must be a difficult decision to decide who plays in the preliminaries when you have an abundance of good players. See Table 1.

Players play their cards right

Pantonic Steel Orchestra
Pantonic - Panorama - NY

For most players these days, playing for Panorama is a means of making money while doing what they love to do most: play pan. Although some people are put off by the lack of loyalty displayed by these players, a panist who is performing to make a little extra cash has to carefully choose which band they register with, since their other choices are generally based on monies earned from percentages of prize money from their unregistered band selection(s). A recent addendum to the 2011 National Panorama Rules and Regulations states a player can only be officially registered with one (1) steelband [rule 3.7a]. I believe the key words are officially registered which is the loophole for the many contracted players out there. The trick is to pick the correct band to officially register while performing on contract in other bands. Most contracted players’ work is based on the success of each level of the competition. Working as an independent contracted steelpan player means picking a band that hires you to perform for each level of the competition. There is also a rule about registered players/performers that states that only registered players shall be allowed to participate in the competition. So one has to read between the lines and figure out a way to make this happen.


The recent uproar about Boogsie’s Lyrics to his calypso “Do Something for Pan” has been a topic of hot debate since the 2011 Panorama rules came with reference to “calypsoes which contain libelous and/or obscene words.” One of the key compositional elements found in any indigenous Trinbagonian calypso is the fact that lyrics identify this genre. I agree that steelbands play and are judged on what they do to the melody, harmony and rhythm of the calypso but I must also point out that the lyrics are heard by the audience as the calypso is played over the speaker system as the band sets up on stage. An addendum to rule 5.1 removes the language aspect and keeps the part explaining that the calypso selected cannot be a piece that was performed by the steelband in a previous Panorama competition. The problem now seems to be sorted out and we move on.

I do like Boogsie’s statement to the press about the 2 million dollars where he said, “I say let the bands play for it and may the best band win.”6 The fact that the prize money may never be 2 million dollars again should be more incentive for the bands to work their hardest and perform one the best Panoramas shows ever!

Foreign players

The first time a saw something about foreign players having to register to be able to perform in Panorama was in 1998.7 The idea of foreign players coming to Trinidad proves the global acceptance of Trinidad and Tobago’s national instrument. Requiring non-nationals to pay dues of $100USD (rule 3.4ii) to Pan Trinbago for temporary membership is written in the 2011 rules but I am not sure how strictly these rules are going to be enforced. I wonder how one could keep track of all them since the number of visitors who come to culturally experience authentic Trinidadian steelbandsmanship is on the rise. This foreign “statistical census” should help keep track of how many visitors actually come to Trinidad to play for Panorama but realistically I am not sure if everyone would be honest. Maybe someday complete foreign steelbands will join the venue, like we witnessed for the World Steelband Music Festival in 2000. I asked Mr. Forteau about a rumor I heard regarding pan players wearing IDs. He himself wondered how that rumor had reached so far. Image the time that would be wasted checking everyone’s ID before they entered the holding bay. However, that is not to say they might not still do something to check your identity. Normally players wear coloured bans around their wrist. So we will see what happens this year.

What significant changes have taken place over the years?

Grenada - Panorama

The most significant rule changes that have affected the face of Panorama were done in 2004 during the presidency of Patrick Arnold. These changes included the following: (1) the categories of small, medium and large (2) the ruling that arrangers can only arrange for 1 small, 1 medium, 1 large, and a single pan band and (3) the time limit of the performance (i.e. large bands now play 8 minutes instead of 10). The time limits on the arrangement were cut by two minutes having a drastic impact on the musical format of a Panorama tune. Repeats of variations were cut. Jams, interludes and episodes were shortened and some felt that creativity was stifled. The current time limits are 8 minutes for conventional bands and 6 minutes for single pan bands.8

St. Lucia's  Diamond Steel
Diamond Steel - St. Lucia - Panorama

Although the intention was for a more level playing arena, it caused many bands with number problems to move down to the medium category (except for Silver Stars who eventually moved up from medium to large in 2008). For the large bands, the competition became tighter as it only recently moved from 8 bands to 10 bands that are selected to play in the finals. There are not enough large bands to disqualify anyone from making the semi-final round of the competition so those arrangers who have a large band and up to 3 others are mostly concentrating on the smaller groups getting in first. As for the large bands making finals, most people have it down to this analogy: the top 5 guns, and a fight for remaining West, Central and Tobago bands. See table 2.

Originally, the preliminary judging was done in a common location (Queen’s Park Savannah, Skinner Park, and Shaw Park). It was later moved to the panyards. Now this year it has been decided to take it back to a single location in each zone. The lyrics in Boogsie Sharpe’s 2011 Panorama Calypso lament on the removal of the panyard judging. This was a time for the local communities to socially interact and hear their band compete in their panyards. As a judge I did not mind visiting all of the panyards and seeing all of the supporters. The groups certainly sounded different in their own space depending on whether they were covered or in an open area. I did not mind getting in and out of the maxi but it made for a very long night for some. On the other hand, I can understand the reasoning for the attempt to level the playing field.

Transportation becomes an issue for those bands who have to find their way to the Savannah(for finals) or the other locations designated for the various zones. Even though Pan Trinbago does financially assist in some way, bands from south for example have to be really organized to get the Savannah on time [addendum 14.1]. If you are not fortunate enough to find a spot to camp out around the Savannah, then the extra preparation time to get to the venue must be well organized. Ken “Professor” Philmore often tells the story of Fonclaire pulling position number 1 in 1999 and his frustration with the group when they reached late and were disqualified.9

Judging criteria

The categories for judging remain essentially the same (1) Arrangement, 40 points (2) Performance, 40 points (3) Tone,10 points and (4) Rhythm, 10 points. After a few judges’ seminars, the definitions for each of the four above areas were more clearly defined and the subdivisions of marks in each category were set. There were discussions about benchmarks and a clear rubric, which could be implemented. My personal take on “tone” is that it should say “tuning.” For me, tone is how the players play the instrument. For me, poor tone is slamming the pan or using worn out rubber on the sticks. Lastly, I believe each judge will be making an effort to provide constructive criticism with specific comments on how the group could improve. As before, no written comments will be given for the final performance. See appendix 1 at the end.

Table 1 (minimum and maximum players per competition according to the 2011 Panorama rules)

Large Medium Small Single
Prelims Minimum 80 Minimum 60 Minimum 35 Minimum 25
  Maximum 100 Maximum 70 Maximum 50 Maximum 35
Semi-finals & Finals Maximum 120 Maximum 90 Maximum 60 Maximum 45

Table 2 (number of bands competing for each competition…ties might alter this chart)

To date, this is the data provided by Pan Trinbago on the numbers.

Large Medium Small Single
Prelims 16 registered* 24 registered 49 registered 67 registered
Semi-finals 16 14 14 32**
Finals 10 10 10 16

* Since there are only 16 large bands competing, it is my understanding that they will all move onto the semi-final round of the competition once they show their readiness (rule 4.2) and have all their players properly registered (rules 3.4 – 3.8). ** By region it breaks down like this: 14 from North, 11 from East, 4 from South/Central, and 3 from Tobago.

Table 3 (the panel of judges, once selected, draw from a ballot prior to the start of each stage of the competition for seated positions and the alternate position)
Single Pan Bands (Traditional)

Competition Number of judges (seated) Alternate* Description of points
(The highest possible score being 300 points)
Prelims Each of the 4 regions will select a panel of 3 judges 1 alt. Aggregate points.
Semi-Finals 5 seated judges 1 alt. The highest and lowest points are excluded. The points awarded shall be the aggregate points of the 3 remaining judges.
Finals 5 seated judges 1 alt. The highest and lowest points are excluded. The points awarded shall be the aggregate points of the 3 remaining judges.

Conventional Bands

Competition Number of judges (seated) Alternate* Description of points
(The highest possible score being 300 points)
Prelims 2 panels of 3 seated judges (small and medium bands) 1 alt. Aggregate points.
Semi-Finals 5 seated judges (small, medium and large bands) 1 alt. The highest and lowest points are excluded. The points awarded shall be the aggregate points of the 3 remaining judges.
Finals 5 seated judges (small, medium and large bands) 1 alt. The highest and lowest points are excluded. The points awarded shall be the aggregate points of the 3 remaining judges.

* The Alternate judge could take the place any seated judge if the seated judge is unable to function for the entire stage of the competition.

Article Disclaimer: The author is not responsible for any inaccuracies and advises steelbands to consult with Pan Trinbago for clarifications, addendums, questions, and/or concerns. This article was written from the author’s interpretation of what the rules mean.


  1. “Invaders to Start March.” Trinidad Guardian 22 Feb. 1963: 13. Print.

  2. “Ten Bands Compete for $1000 First Prize.” Trinidad Guardian21 Feb. 1963: 10. Print.

  3. Joseph, Hamlet. “Panorama Will Kill the Steelband.” Daily Express16 Mar. 1984: p. 8. Print.

  4. Nero, Sean “Friends, Indeed Gypsy: All’s well with me and Pan Trinbago.” Trinidad Guardian 26 Jan. 2011: B4. Print.

  5. “Pan Trinbago Apology to Exodus.” Trinidad Guardian 3 Dec. 2010: A27. Print.

  6. “Panmen Split on $2m Panorama Prize.” Sunday Express 23 Jan. 2011: 11. Print.

  7. Nero, Sean. “Foreign Panmen Must Pay.” Trinidad Guardian 13 Jan. 1998: 13. Print.

  8. Terry Joseph, “Panorama Shakeup: Reduction for Playing Time for Steelbands.” Daily Express,12 Jan. 2004. Print.

  9. Ken “Professor” Philmore, telephone interview by Jeannine Remy, 21 September 2010.

Appendix 1


Here are a few musical terms that might be used by a judge in their written comments. These definitions were not written by Pan Trinbago or by anyone who attended the judges’ seminar. These are terms which I use when I teach pan arranging at the University of the West Indies; they are written in a colloquial manner of expression.

Background Pans:

The background pans read bass clef and they include the guitar, cello, tenor bass, bass and sometimes quads.

Call and Response:

When one sections plays something (call or question) and another section responds (answer). Arrangers sometimes call this “pitting one force against another.” This is often heard as frontline instruments making a statement and the background instruments responding or vice-versa.


This is an adaptation technique in orchestration. Since the Steelpan is one timbre, dovetailing is a sneaky way of making one very long and probably very fast melodic line sound like one person or one section. To dovetail is to overlap the parts and weave them between two sections or split a section so that it sounds like one part. Dovetailing music is interlocking the music tightly so that it sounds like one part. It is a form of hocketing music.


A dynamic is an articulation or performance instruction for volume. Dynamics are usually effected in two ways: (1) by an Italian symbols below the pitches or (2) by an orchestrational arrangement or compositional device such as a large group of players (tutti) or a smaller group of players (concertino). In other words, balance and numbers affect dynamics. The Italian symbols such as forte (loud) and piano (quiet) can also have gradual louds and softs called hairpin crescendos and decrescendos.


In steelband music, an episode of music is a piece of musical material that is part of a larger section or a fragmented version of thematic material. An episode can act as a bridge or interlude that moves from one section to another. A jam could also be considered an episode.

Frontline Pans:

The frontline pans read treble clef and they include the tenor, double tenor, double seconds and sometimes quads.


The hook of the melody is a very familiar melodic part that is often associated with the lyrics that climax the punch line (usually in a calypso). The hook is therefore a melodic fragment that is tossed around in an arrangement. This can be considered as a form of motivic development and can catch the listener “hook, line and sinker.”


An interlude is a short piece of music that lies between two longer sections. In a steelband arrangement, an interlude can refer to a bridge or episode that moves away from the main themes for awhile.


A jam is a section of music where there is a looping chord progression, sometimes called a montuno, whereby the music “lets loose” with “flashy” sounding improvisations (usually pre-conceived) in the development section of a Panorama arrangement. There can be more than one jam section which adds to the climax of the arrangement, especially if the jam has motivic development and crowd-pleasing surprises.


The process of orchestrating is assigning music to specific instruments. Orchestration gets more involved when one is transcribing music written for one group of instruments and reassigning the same music for another such as taking a symphony orchestra score and reassigning the parts to a steelband. Orchestration can affect the balance in steelband arrangements. A creative and effective orchestrative effect in the development section of Steelpan arrangement is to pit the frontline instruments against the background instruments. Musical orchestration can be compared a painter’s palette. Because the steelband is one timbre (sound) it is important to have well orchestrated music so the parts can be discerned and the listener does not become bored.

Melodic Development:

The melody can be altered by developing whole parts called melodic development or pieces of the melody called motivic development. A melody can be manipulated/developed in several ways (e.g. through inversions, retrograde inversion, augmentation, diminution and ornamentation to name a few).

Mid-range Pans:

These are the instruments that are found on the low end of the frontline instruments and the high end of the background instruments. Although it is not necessary to identify them as mid-range, sometimes instruments like the quadraphonic are categorized as such. A mid-range instrument could have music written in both treble or bass clef and can oscillate between both clefs.

Motivic Development:

Motivic development is a type of melodic development whereby a fragment of the theme or melody is developed. In a Panorama arrangement, motivic development often involves taking a part of the melody and using it to hook the listener into recognising a very familiar part of the tune. See hook.


To modulate means to change the key. Learning how to modulate requires some theoretic training to make a seamless transition. A Panorama arrangement that takes too long to change key can become monotonous. The very first Panorama arrangers simply put a 7th on the tonic chord and changed key to the subdominant. Although our “grassroots” arrangers may not have a strong musical theory background, they have learned to modulate through careful listening and experimentation.


The process of reharmonization can be described as altering the original harmony slightly or drastically. When chords are altered slightly they generally function the same, (ii or IV) have common notes, or are extended. Drastic harmonic changes are more noticeable and require the chords that surround the reharmonization to also be changed, facilitating a smoother progression. Those adjudicating Panorama must have a keen ear for reharmonization and listen carefully for those sometimes “subtle” harmonic alternations put forth by the arrangers.


The rhythm section of the steelband is the engine room. One of the things that Panorama judges are asked to assess is the rhythm. This not only includes how the rhythm section backs up the steel orchestra but how well they do it. Sometimes steelbands take a creative approach to assigning many different kinds of percussion instruments to their rhythm section. The rhythm section must be aware of musical stops, add to the texture of the steelband, and keep a steady tempo (not slowing down or speeding up the ensemble). Rhythm refers to the many aspects of musical timing, including pulse, beat, metre, note and rest values, and organization of notes in a time signature.

Rhythmic development:

Changing the rhythm of the original theme as a form of variation. Usually melodic and rhythmic development work hand in hand together as a variation technique. Melodic fragments, motives and hooks can have their rhythms manipulated by augmentation, diminution, hemiola, polyrhythms and syncopation. Rhythmic development is often a component criterion for the assessment of a Panorama arrangement.

More about Dr. Remy

Jeannine Remy earned her Bachelors and Masters Degrees from Northern Illinois University and her Doctorate from the University of Arizona.  Dr. Remy lectures music in the Department for Creative and Festival Arts at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad.  She currently teaches courses in percussion, steelpan (arranging, history, literature), world music, and musics of the Caribbean. 

Dr. Remy first visited Trinidad in 1989 as part of her doctoral research at the University of Arizona.  She subsequently received numerous faculty research grants, including a Fulbright in 2000-2001, to research and archive Trinidadian steelpan music.  Moving to Trinidad in 2003, Dr. Remy became the first foreign female arranger for large conventional steelbands competing in panorama and music festivals. 

In 2010 she won the Pan in the 21st Century Competition with the Curepe Sforzata Steelband.  She continues to be an active composer, arranger, adjudicator and musical commentator in cultural music.  Since her tenure at the University of the West Indies, her compositions for steelband and percussion ensemble, The Rainmakers Tropical Journey in Percussion and Steel, earned a showcase performance at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in November of 2008. 

Dr. Remy released her first CD with the UWI Percussion Ensemble in May of 2010 and is currently working on co-authoring a book on the history of Invaders Steelband with Ray Funk in 2011. =====================================

Dr. Jeannine Remy - Department for Creative and Festival Arts, University of the West Indies. Gordon Street, St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago, W.I.   1 (868) 645-0873 (Direct Line); 1 (868) 663-2141 (Fax)   



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