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Date:  9.01.05

New York

Countdown to New York Steel Band Panorama 2005

Thoughts from a Session Observer

A Conference with
Clive Bradley, Pelham Goddard,
and Yohan Popwell


New York - My name is Sarah Glover and I’m a Master’s student in Latin American and Caribbean studies at NYU (New York University), currently doing my thesis on the steel pan movement in Brooklyn.   I grew up in the Virgin Islands and am part of a musical family with an appreciation for the steel pan, so this topic resonates with me personally.  My research has three tiers: 1) the involvement of second generation West Indians (first generation Americans) in Brooklyn pan; 2) how transnational ties are formed and maintained between Trinidad and Brooklyn; and 3) how pan is being incorporated and “mainstreamed” into institutions in Brooklyn (i.e. school programs, community centers, etc.)

Last Friday, August 26, I had the pleasure of visiting Basement Recordings’ studio, where an arrangers panel, organized by When Steel Talks, was held.  In attendance were three men whose names I’ve become very familiar with through my research -- Yohan Popwell (Sonatas), Clive Bradley (D’Radoes and Pantonic), and Pelham Goddard (Marsicans).

It was truly a pleasure to witness the panel.  The men joked around with each other, laughing easily in the company of old friends.  As I’m not a musician myself, many of the issues the arrangers raised were new to me -- Popwell’s insights into how he can distinguish the distinctive styles of each arranger, Bradley’s ruminations on the challenges of arranging music for an instrument he does not play, and Goddard’s stress on the importance of creating other venues for pan outside of the competitive setting of Panorama.  The arrangers also speculated on winners for this year and the factors out of their control which could affect the outcome of the competition, such as the quality of the sound engineering, and drawing the first position in the competition.

The arrangers panel touched on many themes I hope to address in my research.  For example, the presence of three Trinidadian arrangers visiting New York for Panorama is in itself a study in transnationalism.  The back and forth flow of people and ideas between Brooklyn and Trinidad creates an ongoing conversation in pan, one that prevents stagnation and continually fosters innovation.

Mr. Goddard’s desire to make pan more commercial speaks the most directly to my interests.  The larger issue of whether or not pan can be made more mainstream raises many questions about the future directions of an always evolving movement: Can and will pannists be successful commercially? Who stands to benefit the most from commercial success, those who have pioneered the field or those with the most access to resources? Will pan be seen by the American mainstream as a “legitimate” instrument, and as more than just a vestibule for Carnival music? As the face of pan changes -- from Trinidadians to Brooklyn’s West Indians, and pan moves further outward, to Japan and elsewhere, what changes will this mean for the movement? What new meanings and social spaces are created when non-West Indians take on this instrument as their own? As a new generation of arrangers takes the scene, what innovations will they bring to pan-- both as an instrument and as a genre? And will these changes in turn be accepted in the pan hubs of Brooklyn and Trinidad?

Sarah Glover, above, with Clive Bradley
and Pantonic Steel Orchestra  practicing at their panyard


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