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Steelpan In New York

Date: 09.07.06             

Panorama 2006 -
the Brooklyn, New York Show -

A victorious CASYM after their victory



New York - As it ended, the 2006 WIADCA (West Indian American Day Carnival Association) New York panorama was filled with joy and laughter for some, and sadness and tears for others.  CASYM Steel orchestra who played in position eleven out of the twelve competitors, emerged as the 2006 panorama champions. The annual New York steelband competition eventually took place almost twenty-four hours after its originally scheduled time.  Periods of heavy rains and winds from the tail end of what had been Hurricane Ernesto kayoed the September 2, 7:00 PM showtime, even as still-hopeful patrons stood in line at the ticket booth outside the Brooklyn Museum grounds venue, being soaked to the bone.  Officials would eventually appear and inform them and others awaiting word, that the show would be held at 4:00 PM the following day, Sunday September 3, as part of the All Day Caribbean Festival.

Malcolm from Sonatas plays the US national anthem, with ADLIB in the background

Sunday was the exact opposite of its predecessor; warm weather and a sunny day replaced a soggy and chilly Saturday.  Around 4:23 PM, young Malcolm, tenor player from Sonatas Steel Orchestra opened the event proceedings with an extremely skillful rendition of the US anthem on steelpan; and the crowd responded accordingly with an ovation at the end of his performance.  Immediately after, it was the turn of the first competing steel orchestra to occupy the spotlight; ADLIB from Long Island, took the stage playing De Fosto's Tribute to Bradley.  By this time, about thirty-five percent of the seating accommodation was filled.  Before the night was over however, there would be standing room only.  For 2006, seven of the twelve panorama participants honored the memory of the late master musician and arranger, Clive Bradley - four performed Len 'Boogsie' Sharpe's & Anthony Alexis' This One is for You, Bradley, and three others - De Fosto's Tribute to Bradley. 

The sound system remained a sore point as at previous panoramas held at the Brooklyn Museum grounds.  ADLIB, the first orchestra did not fare well with the sound system; the same was true for several others who followed in their wake.  In what might appear to have some bearing on the orchestra's eventual sound, ADLIB's captain Franklyn Mayers told When Steel Talks (WST) that on the Thursday night preceding the panorama, he was in conversation at the panyard with Michael George, the band's co-arranger (the other was Andre White).  Mayers said that he told George at that point he did not want the band to play with the sound system in use, because of ADLIB's prior distasteful experiences when playing at position one or two.  The first few bands feel as though they are guinea pigs, with the initial competing orchestra resigned to being the "sound check" for the rest of the show, thereby impacting negatively on the audience present, and on the adjudicators, who are positioned directly to the side of the speakers.

ADLIB Steel Orchestra on stage

As a result, Franklin Mayers continued, he planned to insist on having the orchestra perform at the competition without any sound amplification.  He told WST that John Schmidt, well known among the New York and Trinidadian steelpan communities, walked in on the conversation at that moment, and insisted that he, Schmidt "could take care of it [the sound system]....that he had more than "twenty years experience as a sound engineer"...and that "he knew the people."  Mr. Mayers said he continued to insist on no amplification whatsoever, and walked away from an escalating argument.  Also present at this interaction was a parent of one of ADLIB's pan players.

For their competition performance, Mr. Mayers is adamant that he had remained strongly against any "assistance" from John Schmidt, and categorically states that he never gave his consent for any sound engineering 'intercession' on his orchestra's behalf.  Mayers is unsure if John Schmidt eventually did "take care of the sound system" while ADLIB was performing.  But WST has learnt that allegedly Schmidt, along with Arthur Zimmerman, were responsible for the overall sound of ADLIB; however WST has no proof that this was indeed the case. 

Band captain Franklin Mayers remains extremely upset at the complete distortion of what the band had practiced all summer to accomplish, and at the gross disrespect and unfairness meted out to the debut arranging work of ADLIB's sixteen-year old co-arranger, Andre White (pictured right) - regardless who was at the helm of sound engineering at the WIADCA panorama, when his band took the stage.  And the end result was that ADLIB could only muster tenth place out of the field of twelve competing orchestras, which, after the results were publicized, left several of ADLIB's musicians openly distraught, sobbing in frustration and disappointment, having put many of their summer evenings into practice for their competitive ten-minute stage appearance.

Band after band fared unfavorably as they took the stage and performed, at least according to patrons who were further back from the area.  Totally disgusted members of the audience who were standing to the back of the seating area could only hear horrible distortion, unrecognizable as anything musical.  Some said it was particularly bad when one of the largest bands - Pantonic Steel Orchestra - took the stage.  With one hundred musicians and instruments in their arsenal, the 2005 panorama champions could do no better than third place, due in large part, many felt, to the fact that they were dealt one of the most punishing blows of the night by the sound system.   The sheer volume and power of the orchestra provided perfect fodder with which the amplification apparently wreaked havoc on the ears of any within earshot.

Despers USA, who took the stage directly after Pantonic, learned quickly - and specifically stated that they wished 'only their front line instruments to be miced/amplified', telling WST afterward that they made the decision immediately after they heard complete distortion for Pantonic's performance.  After Despers USA, several of the remaining orchestras, before playing a single note, requested similar micing 'arrangements' - all of which were announced each time by the Mistress of Ceremonies before the respective bands' performed.

Sonatas Steel Orchestra on stage with arranger Yohan Popwell, in blue

Sonatas Steel Orchestra who copped second place in the competition with a Yohan Popwell-arrangement, followed Dem Stars and was the third band to take the stage.  Their tune of choice for the 2006 panorama was This One Is For U, Bradley.   According to the MC, they fielded eighty-five players.  They sported instrument racks adorned with paintings of the late Clive Bradley along with musical notes; their 'engine room' was especially eye-catching.  But what unarguably stole the show for the panorama, was the appearance of a character (pictured directly below) in front of Sonatas as they played - a remarkable Bradley look-a-like - resplendent with white 'general' outfit, evoking memories of Bradley's competition attire in 2002, and complete with mannerisms synonymous with Bradley in the last two years of his life .

Sonatas' 'Engine Room''

Crossfire Steel Orchestra on stage

Not as big as Sonatas, but equally determined to do their best to cop the panorama title, were Crossfire and Sesame Flyers Steel Orchestras, respectively.  Regardless of what was heard by the majority of the audience at the show via the sound system, rest assured that the musicians from each band put on dynamic displays as they went through their paces.  Patrons fortunate enough to have been present while the bands were warming up in the rear of the  museum got a far more accurate audio representation of the bands' musical accomplishments.  Crossfire opted for Ray Holman's If We Really Want and placed eighth in the competition while Sesame Flyers selected Mark Loquan's Colours Again and came in sixth, up three notches from their 2005 placing.  And even though both bands came to panorama this year with smaller musical complements than in 2005, their players were quite pleased when their time came to show off the results of their hard work during the New York summer nights.

Sesame Flyers
on stage with arranger Freddy Harris, III (right)

Pantonic Steel Orchestra on stage

Pantonic proved wrong those who believed the size of the orchestra was going to be drastically reduced due to the 'changing of the guard' in arrangers.  In fact musicians who had not played in years, turned up in support of Keith Roberts, to whom fell the responsibility to deliver a captivating arrangement after the passing of Clive Bradley, the band's previous arranger for the last seven years, and to whom the entire panorama was dedicated.  The late master musician's daughter Kelly Ann Bradley shared a few poetic words with the audience before Pantonic's performance.  Pictures of some of the orchestra's many memorable moments with Bradley were given marquee status atop instrument racks, and were also showcased by youngsters, as part of the band's presentation.

Kelly Ann Bradley on stage

Despers USA on stage

Up next was Despers USA who returned to the panorama arena once again with arranger Eddie Quarless.  They were the second of two orchestras who performed Colours Again, and subsequently took fifth position in the panorama.  The six-time panorama champions were appropriately attired in various colors as per the theme of their panorama selection.  Perhaps reflective of the increasing younger membership of the orchestra, 2006 also marked the second consecutive year the band chose a 'popular and well-known' selection for panorama; in 2005 it was Shurwayne Winchester's Dead or Alive.

Harmony in the process of pulling their pans along Utica Avenue toward the panorama venue

Harmony Steel Orchestra, who WST spotted earlier during the afternoon rolling their racks and pans along Utica Avenue as they made their way to the museum grounds, followed Despers USA up on stage.  With a crew of youthful pan players on board, Harmony opted to continue the soccer fever which had seized Trinidad and Tobago earlier on in the year, and combine it with the youthful fervor of the band's eager young musicians.  The twin-island country had set its hopes for success in Germany on their soccer team nicknamed Soca Warriors, which was also the name of Harmony's 2006 panorama selection.  The interesting work put in by co-arrangers Michael Joseph and Kirk Jardine was intriguing, and made one wonder at the thought of hearing their version of Soca Warriors executed by a larger musical contingent; it also netted them seventh place in the competition.

Harmony on stage

Caribbean Youth Panoramics on stage

Caribbean Youth Panoramics was one of the seven orchestras who paid tribute to the late Clive Bradley, executing De Fosto's Tribute to Bradley as arranged by band leader Joseph 'Franklin' Gerald.  The palpable energies which linked arranger and orchestra manifested as one of the most intense musical Bradley tributes delivered that evening, but the band was allotted eleventh place.  One young lady who exemplified the phrase 'pan is ah jumbie' was bass woman Teneisha Gerald (pictured directly below) who did not let the availability of mainly one hand (the other was in a soft cast, and clutched to her side) cramp her style!

CYP's bass woman Teneisha Gerald with hand in soft cast - in action!

New York Marsicans on stage

The band playing in position ten, New York Marsicans, was known as Marsicans from 2002-2005.  A drastic reduction in players and change in management did not daunt this set of determined young people who have given great accounts of themselves in the last four years.  They remained resolute and still took part in the 2006 panorama.  However this incarnation placed last in the competition, with Destra Garcia's Max It Up as their tune of choice.  But these are passionate steelpan musicians, so it will not be surprising if they are back next year with renewed enthusiasm and bolstered numbers.

CASYM on stage

Playing in the penultimate position for the night was the band who would take the treasured title of panorama champions home with them for one whole year - CASYM Steel Orchestra. The second band with one hundred declared players for the night, CASYM put on the type of overall panorama concert presentation that entranced many who saw them in action.  They too, paid tribute to the late arranger Clive Bradley with This One Is For U, Bradley, arranged for them by their long-time panorama arranger, Arddin Herbert.

D'Radoes on stage

D'Radoes Steel Orchestra closed the panorama performances for the competition, and was the second band (the other was Pantonic) to keenly feel the loss at the November 2005 passing of master arranger Clive Bradley.  Since splintering off from Despers USA in 2002, D'Radoes had secured the talents of Clive Bradley every year since.  For 2006, the orchestra asked for a moment of silence in Bradley's memory, then, like CASYM just before them, executed This One is For U, Bradley as arranged for them by Raf Robertson.  At the end of the competition they came in fourth.

From left to right: WIADCA vice president Ken Faustin, president Yolanda Lezama-Clarke,
Michael Greaves, MC Jemma Jordon and Hyacinth Williams

The Dimanche Gras show was set to follow the steelband panorama at 10:00 PM, and even though the results for the panorama were a little bit longer than usual in coming, the event organizers were not far off schedule.  As soon as the panorama judges were escorted safely off the museum grounds by security personnel, the competition results were announced by MC Jemma Jordon, with WIADCA officials - president Yolanda Lezama-Clarke, VP Ken Faustin, Michael Greaves and Hyacinth Williams - looking on.  In a few minutes thereafter, ecstatic CASYMites raced up and took over the stage with euphoric abandon for a short while, before exiting the stage area so that it could be quickly set up for Dimanche Gras.  WST takes this opportunity to thank WIADCA for this year allowing stage access for photographic coverage - as mementos for the competing bands to look back on and enjoy, and for sharing with the global steelpan community.

C. Phillips, Basement Press Corp
2006 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

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