The Grenada powerhouse, New Dimension, has been around for seventeen years, and with David 'Peck' Edwards as both leader and arranger, the strides the band has made have been impressive. Edwards spoke recently with When Steel Talks about New Dimension, their history, the pan movement in Grenada, the future of New Dimension, and shared a bit about himself.
The core of the orchestra hails from the nation's capital, St. George's and consists primarily of teenagers. The band's assistance of eight schools in the steelpan art form enhances their youth membership, in addition to New Dimension's own training programme which begins every September. That initiative also contributes to the teenage influx.
At it's inception in 1988, the band had twenty-three players, but has grown to eighty. Edwards admitted that the interest is such in their musical organization that they can field more, but for their panorama contingent, he finds eighty a manageable number for a quality product. Their stage side usually numbers about thirty. He also commends the heavy involvement of women in the Grenada pan movement over the years; in fact now they outnumber the male pan players in Grenada - this - considering that it was taboo for women to be involved in the pan movement years ago.
It was not only difficult for the ladies interested in pan of course, but at that time, the stigma of steelband permeated society. Edwards recalled the daily beatings he would receive all because he would not cease playing his homemade pans. He had lived not far from a gas station and found that the small tins in which oil came, served his pan playing purposes very well.
The New Dimension leader also works with the Grenada government and travels around the island to community parishes where there are steelbands nearby. There is an ongoing collaboration between the bands and government, assisting them with tuning and maintaining the instruments, and in return the parish schools have access to the bands' equipment. The government works continuously to enhance public awareness of and appreciation for the steelband movement, and the art form is a definite item of national interest on its agenda. The administration supports the national pan movement in a variety of ways, such as ensuring the hosting of an annual series of steelband concerts in the parishes, in addition to organizing workshops for young arrangers, etc. They also assist bands in acquiring equipment overseas and facilitate duty-free concessions, etc.
The history of New Dimension started as a breakaway faction of City Nutones of which Edwards was a member. Differences in opinion led to the need for a "new dimension in pan" in St. George's, hence the name "New Dimension Steel Orchestra" from inception.
Widely recognized and respected not only in Grenada, but also throughout the region, Edwards remembered his penchant for musical instruments instead of traditional toys. From his first mouth organ, he determinedly bought what instruments he could as a child. Even though his parents were upset with his growing fascination with pan, the daily flogging he received because of it did not daunt him - instead he set about making even more pans to play.
About eleven years of age, a gentleman who managed his own steelband took note of Edwards' love and talent for the instrument, and made a deal with his grandmother to allow him to play with the orchestra, once he kept up his grades in school. But his passion made him just a little bit too attentive to pan, and his schoolwork began to slip, resulting in a six-month suspension from playing pan. Of course, the enterprising young Edwards put that time to good use, picking up drumming in the interim. The result is today not only is he a prolific musician, but also an excellent percussionist.
"It's a calling I've had from inside, just a craving from inside" says Edwards, affectionately known as "Peck." Years later, the arranger for the band which he played in at that point - City Symphony - was not at practice regularly, and he volunteered to attempt to do some music for the band. Eventually his arranging responsibilities grew. Sometimes, the band's senior arranger got the credit, but that was fine for Peck - as it was a great opportunity for him, and it gave him time to develop his talents.
Moving from smaller to larger bands, with his skills as an arranger and love for it growing, Edwards began arranging for Panorama. His grounding became cemented as he learned even more about the tools for his chosen trade. He listened to the bands from Trinidad, did workshops with two of the senior arrangers in Grenada, one with the legendary Clive Bradley, and more. He spoke to instrumentalists, pianists, vocalists and observed and studied their use of chord structures, techniques and more to expand his knowledge. All in all Edwards made sure to interface with many people, and also attended jazz workshops (Edwards loves contemporary jazz). "Music is music, whether it's pan, it's keyboards - it's the same basic principle for chords, harmonics and so forth" declared the New Dimension arranger.
Edwards' favorite pan instrument turns out to be the double tenor. Asked about favorite arrangers, "I must say one of my greatest influences has been through Clive Bradley, I love to hear his harmonization; his level of harmonies is excellent." He also respects and listens to the work of Jit Samaroo, Ray Holman in his earlier years with Starlift, Boogsie Sharpe and Pelham Goddard but adds that he listens to many arrangers, studying and understanding for growth as he goes along. They all feed into his love of experimentation with new musical ideas and techniques.
The hotel industry is a boon not only to the nation of Grenada but also to its pan movement. Hotel performances and competitions are what keep New Dimension viable as a music organization. Their repertoire is a jaw-dropping eighty selections, and the variety includes lots of ballads, reggae, calypso/soca, a couple jazz pieces, bossa nova and classical. They also have to their credit two classical productions with a choir. There are eight classical selections, focusing on voice and steel. New Dimension has done a jazz concert with Canadian-based Grenadian performer Anna Romain.
New Dimension will be part of the Grenada 2005 panorama event but will not compete. They will be appearing as guest artistes, having - as a group, come to the decision not to compete, because of the short runway left to them for preparation for panorama, after representing Grenada at the 2005 World Steelband Music Festival (WSMF) in New York. The August 6 Panorama date left the steel orchestra with only six weeks of prep time, and they wanted to maintain the band's noted standards and caliber of performance.
The multiple Grenada panorama champions have performed in Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua and most recently at the WSMF in New York. They are hopeful to visit the UK in the near future, and would also like to be back in the United States as early as 2006.
New Dimension's appearance at the 2005 WSMF was their second such participation. The other was at WSMF 2002 in Trinidad. Edwards says there were differences this time around, including the number of bands participating. He mentioned there were sufficient orchestras to have a semi-final round before the finals. If there had been a semi-finals leg the New Dimension leader believes that their final place in this year's competition would have been more favorable. Judges from this year's finals told the New Dimension leader that the band gave excellent performances but that there had been issues with their submitted score sheet, which was also part of the adjudication process. Edwards remains convinced that if those comments had come at a semi-final stage of competition, that any and all score sheet inconsistencies/issues would have been addressed and rectified, resulting in a more accurate reflection of the steel orchestra's talents, and the work they had put in.
Edwards would definitely be pleased with just one of the responses to his orchestra's interpretation of the classical piece. Poets and Peasants Overture was performed to critical acclaim in the 1960s by Trinidad's famed North Stars Steel Orchestra. One of the original members of that steel orchestra who played the piece back then, was in the WSMF audience at The Theater in Madison Square Garden on June 19, and he said that to hear New Dimension's excellent performance of that piece "brought tears of joy to his eyes." Incidentally, the incessant, non-stop and disrespectful loud chatter of fellow WSMF attendees during that performance brought tears of anger to his eyes as well...
As far as the organization of the festival, Edwards talked about the 2002 WSMF measures that were in place then for participants, as opposed to what unfolded in New York. One was that they were in Trinidad four days before the semi-final leg. They made it to the finals, and had their own panyard to practice in. This time around for the 2005 WSMF, they were flown in late Friday, and had to share a practice area for a sole session which turned out to be just three hours in duration. According to Edwards, New Dimension is used to extremely long and rigorous hours of practice, and had been looking forward to nothing less, to fine-tune the minute details of their two festival pieces. Transportation arrangements to and from the practice site also posed challenges.
In response to When Steel Talks queries regarding the disappointment voiced by some in the pan community who felt that the Grenada competitors should have placed higher, Edwards had this to say: "we would want to support all the concerns voiced by those in the steelpan community for our positioning. The band worked hard and performed well, and thought they deserved a higher placing, but of course abide by the judges' final say." He also took the opportunity to reiterate that the judges had said that their performance and quality of their music were excellent, and that these alone did not determine their final position, but also their submitted score sheet. Finally Edwards said that the musicians of New Dimension "are happy in one sense, knowing that they did perform well; we were excellent, but of course we are disappointed we did not get the kind of results we thought we should have based on the performance that was... but it is a learning experience."
Asked for some suggestions that may perhaps improve other international pan competitions, Edwards noted the ratio of Trinidad and Tobago bands to other competitor countries, and the lack of proper promotion beforehand of the event. He observed that the majority of people in attendance were not there through a marketing thrust, but were drawn rather from a combination of the pan community, family and friends. Also a point of concern was the composition of the musical judiciary. The fact that three of the four members of the adjudicating panel may have been Trinidadian was not lost on the non-Trinbagonian competitors. It would appear that California, USA-based Dr. Eugene Novotney is said to be Trinidadian-born. The others are Dr. Anne Marion Osbourne and alternate judge, Ms. Merle Albino-De Coteau. Dr. Larry Snider is not a Trinidad and Tobago national. It seems that if only for the sake of "transparency" a bit more diversity would have been advisable.
Grenada uses their national Panorama competition to determine the entrant to WSMF. The band that becomes the panorama champion the year prior to the next scheduled WSMF, represents the country. Since the 2005 WSMF was originally carded for 2004 in London, New Dimension was to represent Grenada as panorama champions in 2003.
The orchestra has won Panorama seven times in the last seventeen years (Edwards personally has nine panorama titles as an arranger under his belt, the seven with New Dimension, and two others in addition, on the Grenada pan scene). While acknowledging the importance of Panorama, he continues to look forward as always for even more diverse accomplishments and responsibilities in the name of the steelpan movement.
David "Peck" Edwards says that the focus for New Dimension Steel Orchestra now is to market Grenada pan overseas as the nation's cultural and musical ambassadors, and he is simultaneously looking forward to exposing the pan musicians to other world music and cultures through travel. This would include touring, etc. and showcasing the musical achievements of the country's pan movement, festivals, concerts, CD recordings, and the like.
about New Dimension Steel Orchestra and David 'Peck' Edwards, including
his thoughts in detail on the 2005 World Steelband Music Festival, and
suggestions for organizers of future international pan events, in this exclusive and in depth
Steel Talks interview!
C. Phillips, Basement
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