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Four Champions Plus One - Launch Equals Steelpan Music Magic

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Past Panorama champions CASYM, Despers USA, Sonatas, Pantonic and Higher Levin come together for memorable band launch

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New York - Sometimes less is indeed more as was the case at Pantonic’s 2010 band launch. Whenever you bring three past New York panorama champions - Despers USA, CASYM, Pantonic and the reigning champion, Sonatas  - together in the same setting, you are going to get a memorable music experience.  Also, added to the mix and not be left out was the young Higher Levin Steel Orchestra. Tradition, pride and protocol demand that no panorama champ ever give anything less than an outstanding performance - less they risk getting their feelings hurt and cast into ‘panman purgatory.’

And this is what makes the annual Pantonic Steel Orchestra  Launch so different from all the other band launches.  There are always a limited number of invites to the Pantonic Launch and they are usually of championship class.  The reduced amount of performing orchestras allows the bands to give the audience a more rounded and respectable musical account of their abilities as the time-restricted format when there are numerous bands to be heard - usually only permits a “one and done” scenario - leaving both the audience and performers less than satisfied.  The Pantonic yard has great acoustics for a steel orchestra.

Higher Levin perform at the 2010 Pantonic Steel Orchestra Band Launch
Higher Levin performs at the 2010 Pantonic Steel Orchestra Band Launch

Both audience and performers got their fill last night.  Higher Levin opened the program with a medley of popular reggae tunes.  The young Higher Levin is well on its way towards establishing its organization among the New York steelband fraternity.  For many, this was the first time they had heard the group.  The comments we heard were all quite favorable.  Despite by far not having the best instruments on the night and performing in a lineup with seasoned orchestras, Higher Levin did very well in engaging the audience throughout their performance.

Sonatas perform at the 2010 Pantonic Steel Orchestra Band Launch
Sonatas perform at the 2010 Pantonic Steel Orchestra Band Launch

Sonatas followed with a stage side that seemed a little smaller than what we saw at previous launches but just as effective.  Their multi-faceted repertoire again showcased their considerable performance skillset and ability to comfortably handle a number of different musical genres.  Their effortlessness and abundant talent often mask just how young many of their musicians are.  They remain one of the best orchestras in North America.

Despers USA perform at the 2010 Pantonic Steel Orchestra Band Launch
Despers USA perform at the 2010 Pantonic Steel Orchestra Band Launch

The unmistakable Despers USA sound and touch were out in full display.  Almost from the first note, it was clear Despers was in the house.  The distinct smooth, soft hands and controlled performance approach/techniques required by the orchestra clearly resonated with the audience.   The ‘soft touch’ approach entices the listener to open the ears and absorb the full sonic effect of their performance.  Indeed, the phrase “sweet pan” and Despers USA have become synonymous.  It is at times difficult to realize that we are looking at new generations (in many cases literally the off-spring) of Despers USA players who are just as effective as the previous.

CASYM performs at the 2010 Pantonic Steel Orchestra Band Launch
CASYM performs at the 2010 Pantonic Steel Orchestra Band Launch

CASYM’s spirited performance is its trademark.  Last night the orchestra performed signature music pieces like “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Pan in ‘A’ Minor” with the well-known CASYM hallmark.  In addition the orchestra showed its ability to introducing new players to its performing fold without sacrificing quality.

In spite of the late start which clearly affected attendance - as many attendees opted to not hang around but instead left in disappointment and frustration - there were a lot of good performances and music at this launch.  The late start of the event was illogical, given the presence of the orchestras on site.

As is customary, the steelpan community can always depend on the support through their attendance, of several elders and veterans in the New York steelpan cultural community; this night was no different.  Among those who were at the Pantonic band launch, was long-time Despers USA panist Verne Rosemin - himself a former Vice President of USSA (United States Steelband Association).  President of D'Radoes Steel Orchestra, Junior “Mann” Samuel was also present, among others.   Former USSA President Horace L. Morancie had also been sighted much earlier in the evening.


Verne Rosemin


Junior “Mann” Samuel - center

The New York steelband music summer season is in full effect now.  There are at least two major steel orchestra music functions every week.  This pace will continue right up to the NY panorama competition - D’Radoes later tonight and Utopia and Sonatas next weekend.

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