The Pan View - from the Pan Yard of Sonatas Steel Orchestra

Champion Sonatas entering the “Battle Zone” - no prisoners allowed...

In Pictures

Sonatas Steel Orchestra at practice
Sonatas Steel Orchestra at practice

New York, USA - The crowd was there, the food was there and of course the music was there. On this warm Summer night the  community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn was rocking to sounds and music of a world-class steel orchestra preparing for a major competition with two weeks to go. Area residents took full advantage of the front seats and view that their perfectly positioned homes provided them.  In addition, many out-of-towners could be seen throughout the yard ‘vibing’ and taking in the scene.  Yes indeed, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Radio City caliber performances in Brooklyn for free.

As one turned the corner onto the block of the orchestra - the sound of Sonatas hit you with full effect.  It awakens and fills your senses with anticipation like the aroma of your favorite food.

Tonight, there is a flurry of activity taking place in the yard, as is normally the case.  Food for the 100-plus players and fans, work on the stands and uniforms sizes... to name a few.

Sonatas Steel Orchestra at practice
Sonatas Steel Orchestra bassist at practice

As they prepared themselves for the “Battle Zone,” which happens to be the tune of choice - the current New York steelband panorama music champion,  Sonatas Steel Orchestra made it very clear to all present at their panyard last night that the 2010 ‘Empire State’ panorama championship would be coming through them.  Indeed, “all challengers beware.”  Arranger Yohan Popwell says the tune is finished  - all ten minutes - which means that for the next two weeks, all Sonatas is potentially doing, is drill, drill, drill!  Almost certainly, none of the other eleven advertised competing steel orchestras in the 2010 New York panorama, has the luxury of two full weeks to drill a finished arrangement.  It is simply not the norm.  But this is Sonatas, operating on a completely different level, and they are the defending champions.

Sonatas musicians listen to arranger Yohan Popwell
Sonatas musicians pause to listen to their arranger Yohan Popwell

The band was out in full force - this year electing to come out of their Winter digs to their outside practicing facilities much earlier than in past years. The spot lights lit up the yard while bouncing rays of light in star shaped patterns off rows of chrome frontline and background instruments, shadowing the traditional Sonatas colors of black and gold on the basses.

Arranger Yohan Popwell takes Sonatas through their paces
Arranger Yohan Popwell takes Sonatas through their paces

With a relaxed, focused, determined and confident atmosphere, their field general and noted champion arranger Yohan Popwell put the attentive young crew through their paces.  Popwell is a highly successful musician who represents the new generation of arrangers that must be innovative with new approaches that embrace the changing times, taste, environment and players, while simultaneously delivering a quality product in one of the most pressure-filled musical environments.  Indeed, for an elite musical organization - as second place is not an option.

Sonatas at practice
Sonatas at practice

Moreover, Popwell understands what is at stake.  The highest form of the steelpan artform and musical expression is representing community, one’s family, and collective.  And in this regard, the members of Sonatas - as of all the other competing orchestras - have invested a tremendous amount of time, energy and effort over the past two months readying themselves for that final moment on the panorama stage.  There is simply nothing like Panorama.  Be assured that if Bach, Beethoven and Mozart were alive today - they would be trying to get an arranging gig with a steel orchestra in Brooklyn.

Sonatas players rehearse for the 2010 New York Panorama competition
Sonatas players rehearse for the 2010 New York Panorama competition

The linch-pin to a successful steelband panorama music season that has tremendous investment in financial and human resources, is the arranger.  There are many factors that contribute to a championship.  But none is more important than the arranger.  Yohan Popwell may not be completely immune to the pressures of arranging for a champion class organization in the Empire State, but he is successful, un-phased by it and moreover, in tune with his players and management.

This musical juggernaut remains on track to maintaining its record as one of the finest music performance units in the world.  No strangers to the task at hand - the very young but abundantly talented veteran crew is up for the challenge - as they attempt to capture back-to-back championships.  And it would be their 3rd championship in the last four attempts.  For many musicians this is the final hurrah for the Summer before heading back, or going to - college, high school and Fall/Winter routines.

Sonatas players rehearse for the 2010 New York Panorama competition
Sonatas players rehearse for the 2010 New York Panorama competition

Sonatas is a large orchestra.  Remaining under the 100-player limit will again surely create headaches for Sonatas management.  However, it is a great position to be in.  There were throngs of enthusiastic young players present hoping to make that final cut.

From what When Steel Talks (WST) saw and heard last night - Sonatas is in the air and gearing up for its final approach to successfully defending its championship.  Enter their “Battle Zone” at your own risk.

Click for more on Sonatas
Contact Sonatas at |

In Pictures

Leave a comment in the WST forum

When Steel Talks...
Everybody Listens!!

Get your WST Tee shirt now!
Click for details

WST google search

WST Forum

WST facebook page

WST on Twitter

WST Newsletter

Global Steelband listings


© 2010 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

 More on Steelpan In Trinidad        Pan Global Page

©2010  Basement Recordings, Inc. All rights reserved