Brooklyn, New York, USA
“BSO! - BSO! - BSO!” reverberated off of the glass facade and ceiling of Terminal 4 of JFK airport as the group assembled for their last group shot. Getting louder with each utterance as complete strangers chimed in. Cell phones, cameras, came out spontaneously from onlookers all around the group and began recording. Capturing something special and historic without even understanding the uniqueness, gravity or specifics of what they were witnessing - the onlookers became part of the orchestra’s story and magical journey. Nor did those onlookers care. As far as the latter was concerned, they (BSO) were decked out in USA colors, had a large US flag unfurled proudly during the picture session, and they “represented.” That was good enough for them.
“Who are they?” “What did they do?” “Are they a sports team?” were the questions heard around the arrival hall of Terminal 4. And without hesitation, proud parent Lisa Samuel—who was one of the very few on hand to greet the returning musicians, and ensured that each personally got a huge welcome as they came out of ‘customs’—would explain their accomplishments to the curious onlookers. And as per a special osmosis, they too would beam with pride and joy.
Ah, but let us backup for a moment.
Brooklyn Steel Orchestra at JFK
Some time around 11:20 p.m. on August 11th, Travis Roberts contacted When Steel Talks (WST) from aboard Caribbean Airlines flight BW550 to let us know that the Brooklyn Steel Orchestra (BSO) had landed at JFK airport. This was some five hours after they left Piarco International Airport, Trinidad.
Without any fanfare but with a sense of purpose they arrived as they had departed. Now tired and drained from the flight and the overall experience, but with very content faces they piled out of the US customs area and walked down the corridor into the open congregation of the Arrivals area, crowded from all the night’s incoming flights. Indeed, with looks of acknowledgement, satisfaction, and pride - fist bumps, hugs and high-fives were in order. And no doubt, the same pride of accomplishment must have been felt by the dozen or so BSO musicians who had returned ahead of the main group just the night before.
New York’s Office of the Mayor was not present when BSO landed at JFK from their successful and historic trip to Trinidad and Tobago for the International Panorama. Nor was Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. They definitely should have been there to greet the triumphant BSO members. But not to worry - as they say with a serious “BOOK-LIN” attitude - their sorry faces were not missed. Instead the BSO members got something much better and rewarding.
Their luminous presence attracted the attention and admiration of patrons in the packed JFK terminal. And as BSO exited the airport into the Summer night to head home - a pensive-looking Martin Douglas, the senior manager of this musical outfit said to WST: “They said it was impossible...” Our response to Douglas was that “It would have been impossible, only if you didn’t try.”
This venture was very successful on many levels but no more so than in cooperation, selflessness, resourcefulness, respect, sacrifice, love and commitment, all displayed by BSO.
The Pairing with Skiffle Steel Orchestra
Junia Regrello - Captain of Skiffle Steel Orchestra on working with BSO - Interview with Hollis Clifton - before the competition.
“Of course I was delighted and excited that they considered us - and a bit taken aback as well.
“...I decided to incorporate two other bands - as a San Fernando band, I approached San City which was a neighboring band and Hatters Steel Orchestra, to collaborate, ensuring that they [BSO] got the required instruments, because, you know, we haven’t standardized the instrument as yet - so it varies from band to band...That collective approach really solved the problems. So here we are today...It’s really been, like a seed planted. It’s doing very, very well, and we’re very happy to have them here.
“I am pleased as a San Fernandian, that San Fernando is—indirectly—now involved in this International Forum. Because, you know, all the bands are based in Port-of-Spain - the excitement is there, the ‘buzz’ is there... But we have a San Fernando - we have a band from abroad based in San Fernando, bringing their culture, their talent, their skills, their way of life to San Fernando. ...You can see people coming by on a nightly basis --- watching, observing, taking notes and interacting... So there’s that - whose fellowship and camaraderie - and that is what the steelbands are already about.”
“....The preparation process that this band has taken - this band [BSO] is based in a ‘first-world’ country. They obviously bring something to the table. They’re disciplined, their approach, their professionalism. We should be able to learn something from what they are doing. So there are many aspects of this - there are many elements of this arrangement, this collaboration. It’s more than just we (Skiffle) hosting a band. It’s an exchange of ideas, an exchange of culture, it’s a learning process. They could learn from us, and we can learn from them.
The idea or dream to participate in the International Panorama was the brain child of BSO captain Kernel Simon. Additionally, Kernel felt it was critical that BSO be paired with an organization in Trinidad, that could not only give them instrument support but also provide them with the proper atmosphere and logistics to sustain the pursuit of their goals - without distraction. In this regard, Skiffle Steel Orchestra located in southern Trinidad was deemed the ideal organization to partner with.
About six weeks prior to the International Panorama, Kernel Simon approached Skiffle Steel Orchestra’s captain Junia Regrello and asked if Skiffle would consider hosting them as they had selected the organization’s pan theater as their base for the International Panorama competition.
Mr. Regrello accepted the appeal. He viewed the request as an
overall positive, mutually beneficial educational arrangement,
where through this collaboration there would be an exchange of
ideas and culture.
Standardization or not
The lack of complete standardization among the family
of steelpan music instruments proved to be a little challenging.
In addition to securing instruments that were similar to ones
they were accustomed to in Brooklyn—and where the orchestra had
‘locked’ during rehearsals for several days prior— there was now
the plaguing issue of note placement and pan orientation.
This was a source of momentary performance discomfort that
forced for BSO - a realignment, and adjustments to the new
configuration particularly on the background instruments.
The Goal and the Song
When asked why the group (BSO) embarked on this venture and why they had chosen ‘Ah Feeling’ as their tune of choice, co-arranger Kendall Williams said in an interview with Hollis Clifton - “We tried to open it up to as much people as possible although we were aware of the fact that we could only bring down sixty.... the whole idea was to include as much of the community as possible, and try to build a bigger and better, stronger bond and unity for the steelpan community in Brooklyn.
“The song, we sort of decided based on the vibes of the band -
what they liked, what they were accustomed to, what they already
knew, and then what they were enthusiastic about. And we felt
it would be easiest that way, to build a better vibe, and a better
camaraderie amongst the band.”
BSO stayed in Gasparillo, South Trinidad. They were extremely
appreciative and impressed with the way they were treated by the
people of the Southland throughout their stay. There was a
steady stream of steelpan music lovers, curious onlookers and
supporters who made the group feel welcomed. In fact, BSO was
serenaded by the esteemed Skiffle Steel Orchestra stage-side
after their Panorama performance and shortly before departing
back to the US. ‘BFFs’ as some would now call Skiffle Steel
Orchestra in their Facebook entries about the trip and their
When asked what he thought the orchestra’s chances were, of
the three co-arrangers
Franklin said in part “....I’m here for respect. I’m not
expecting anything. I want people to see that we are just
as capable in New York - as in Trinidad. I’m here for respect.”
Just here to “represent and bring respect to Brooklyn Pan” was a
common refrain among the BSO musicians.
The Arrangers and the Arrangement
The standards for Brooklyn’s great panorama steel orchestra arrangements, and greatness in arrangers, have been set a long time ago. After all New York was known as the late great master arranger Clive Bradley’s town. While producing some of the most memorable music anywhere the greats like Bradley, Robert Greenidge, Pelham Goddard, Jit Samaroo, and Len “Boogsie” Sharpe—to name a few—have all locked horns in musical battle to achieve New York Panorama supremacy and convey the ‘Brooklyn panorama attitude.’
This arrangement for BSO seamlessly stitched the exceptional musical talents of three of Brooklyn’s finest arrangers (Kendall Williams, Marc Brooks and Odie Franklin) [not Odie ‘Gonzales’ as repeatedly and erroneously stated in various ICP documentation and event Press], to produce an interpretation of “Ah Feeling” in a manner that truly encapsulated and showed-off musically all the attributes and signature movements of the steel orchestras of Brooklyn, New York.
The outstanding musicianship of the Brooklyn steelpan
musicians was on full display.
Performing in position number 15, BSO brought their sense and urgency of now and uncertainty of tomorrow front and center to the Trinidad and Tobago stage. With the ‘attitude’ of a ticking time-bomb, that all Brooklyn steel orchestras live with strapped to their person (here today, gone tomorrow - regardless of accomplishments) - BSO delivered a fierce performance laced with Caribbean motifs and an urban outlook at every turn. BSO told their story through a musical celebration on the Queen’s Park Savannah stage.
Brooklyn Steel Orchestra delivered the goods with a ‘street approach’ that expounds their native elements of soca, funk, hip-hop and R&B through the rhythms of the drums, iron and steel that effectively translated the joys and pains of all the Brooklyn steel orchestras. Again, it was an outstanding performance wrapped in unabashed global youthful joy, of playing pan with full knowledge that another hard Winter was soon to follow in their native land.
No doubt, fellow Brooklynite, legendary drummer
Max Roach (a lover of Panorama, and, as he called it "the
magical instrument" - Pan), Cab Calloway and Clive Bradley were
high-fiving in heaven after that performance. And as fellow
Garvin Blake reminded us -
Rudy King, "Colours", "Sarge",
Mickey Enoch, Cyrus Busby, "Panta", Jeferrey "Sighting", Kenneth
Moore, "Bomber/Showtime" - among many other Brooklyn Pan
ancestors, were beaming with pride. Indeed, we can see them all
taking it in from the rafters of the heavenly Grand Stands as
they yelled "Look Trouble Now"!
The New York contingent is used to this one-and-done format
from its annual
New York Panorama. The 60-player limit for this
international competition was a non-factor as the New York
Panorama limit is 100 players. There were eight judges. Seven
were active and one was an alternate. The high and low scores
were tossed in a 100-points-max-per-judge marking system.
Jerry Guy - Drill Master
The Brooklyn Steel Orchestra earned a score of 452 points out of a possible 500 total. With this score they tied for 4th place with Phase II Pan Groove out of twenty-two other competitors. They were the highest-placing out of twelve foreign orchestras in the ICP competition.
Not bad. Not bad at all. It is an experience that the members of BSO will always cherish.
In spite of the clear and present danger to the existence of Brooklyn steel orchestras franchises through an unwanted and hideous displacement of the neighborhoods, people and culture, the members of BSO are now all back with their home orchestras. They are preparing for the New York Panorama where they will be again locked in fierce competition against each other, for at least on more year. And again, the art form will breathe.
All hailing from the great steel orchestras of Brooklyn, New York University, and Oasis of New Jersey.
Other related articles:
- International Panorama 2015 Results
- International Panorama 2015 Stage Set
- Brooklyn Steel Orchestra Armed and Ready for the Steel Band International Panorama
- International Panorama 2015 Line-Up: Bands, Tunes & Arrangers
Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
Brooklyn Steel Orchestra
Kendall Williams, Odie Franklin, Marc Brooks - arrangers
Travis Roberts (Manager)
DOUBLE TENOR SECTION
Liddell (Missy) Brooks-Rose
DOUBLE SECOND SECTION
Luz Carime Santa-Coloma
Howard (Bobby) George Jr.
Kernel Simon (Captain)
Brooklyn Steel Orchestra was formed in October 2013 by a group of friends and family from different steel bands spread out across Brooklyn. The initial intent was to prepare for a spot on America’s Got Talent. However, through the process of preparation, they all decided they should come together for a more special cause: Pan! This ensemble uses the steel pan to bring awareness to the versatility of the instrument, allowing the world to see that it is not only indigenous to Caribbean culture, but that it can be utilized effectively in other music practices as well. There is much history, love, passion, high performance, excellence, and etiquette involved with the steel pan, and this group strives to promote and educate with all of those things and more in mind. This instrument is the future catalyst for education amongst youths all over the world and the fuel for BSO to continue to raise the standard and credibility of the instrument.
The Arrangers - Mark Brooks, Kendall Williams, Odie Franklin
Bass Players - Kernel Simon, Sheldon Hoyte, Sharon Samuels, Tristan Samuel, Warren Webster, Curtis Lynch
Quad & Double Second
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