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Steelband Panorama 2011

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Do something for Pan and get EDUCATED!

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Opinion Piece   

The Pan movement utterly lacks humility amongst its peers and supporters; conversely, it lacks audacity and a sense of community against its offenders... “Boogsie” had it right … “Do something for Pan”. Not for your ego. Not for the political assailants that, at the drop of a farthing would sell out everything that makes pan beautiful to the highest bidder...

by Khuent Rose

 © 2011 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

Panorama 2011Global - Sixteen years ago, I began my modest and energetic beginnings in CASYM (Caribbean American Sports and Cultural Youth Movement) Steel Orchestra’s basement-panyard. A young Dwight DaSilva helmed as Captain of the band then. I was immediately told to start learning “Big Belly Man” on a guitar from another player before he had officially started the class. Gillian Lake mentored me the best she could, but I had little patience and she had far less. Eventually we would begin the actual lesson for the evening and we learned a single major scale in different rhythms and durations. This was my foundation of education in the Panyard. You play before you understand what you play, and then make sense of the parts as they move along, bewildering and magical.

Musical Director, arranger, composer - Khuent Rose

Eight years ago, I attended Florida Memorial University to be graced (and tattooed) by the presence of Dr. Dawn Batson-Burel. During our weekly floggings private classes, she would ask for, what seemed- at the time- to be impossible to play, with the most ordinary tone of voice and annoyed expression she could muster, often saying “What’s the problem?” This was my foundation of education in the Classroom. You must understand what you are capable of before you hope to shatter that convention and impress the scholar.

Two years ago, a young Jahlani Roberts, currently of CASYM, asked me to assist his studies of musical theory/structure and arranging. I was more than delighted to share what little I had amassed to share, and started by accessing where he was, on our similar road of discovery. Three elements were necessary for this to be approachable: physical dexterity, musical literacy and an obsession with the “ART”…I cannot stress this enough… the “ART” of Pan. With some work on literacy to do, he was well on his way. I would grab the mishaps of his panorama practices and leisurely arrangements, and have him analyze their pieces and fragments. Eventually, he not only saw the forest through the trees, he was able to tell what type of fruit they would bear before they were in season. This is the foundation of education that evolves from the Panyard to the Classroom. You create, paint the mural, then analyze each brush stroke.

This morning, my 7-year old nephew, Amari, saw my tenor set up in the living room and demanded (literally pulling me out of bed) that I teach him something to play. Of course, I did. Within a short 30-minute period, this hyper-intellectual, hyper-active youngling was able to learn a hymn and practice on his own with minimal nudging or insistence. This is the foundation of education that leads to the perfection of Art. You stare at the Night sky and wonder if the stars are holding up the dark sky, or if the sky is merely speckled with light. Either way you will fall in love with the moment.

I use these instances to suggest that education, not politics, money, or cultural hysteria, is the key to the progress of the steelpan movement. We’ve experienced a flood of resources over the last three months devoted to Trinidad & Tobago’s Panorama competition. In its wake, we have- AGAIN- some of the most questionable judging for some of the most expected arrangements of the final bands. Arrangers habitually place their rubber stamp over 5 -7 minutes (repetition withstanding) of musical slight-of-hand and well-crafted recycling, only to ensure the popularity of their name-brand and the identity of their commissioned band. And for what?... The “jump up”? The opportunity to play on a huge stage? To utterly rape a hand-crafted instrument for a teeming mass of half-inebriated crowds?

Len "Boogsie" Sharpe
Arranger Len “Boogsie” Sharpe at Panorama 2011 with Phase II Pan Groove performing his arrangement of his composition “Do Something for Pan”

The truth of the matter is that “Boogsie” had it right … “Do something for Pan”. Not for your ego. Not for the political assailants that, at the drop of a farthing would sell out everything that makes pan beautiful to the highest bidder. Not to the judges and commentators who lack the ability to understand, much less articulate the cacophony of notes and tones that flashed by their ears at the hands of the 100+ mixture of musicians, instrumentalists, and pretenders. Not to the grumpy old men holding onto delusions of grandeur lost in their mummified youth. Nor the cocky up-start that has fallen in love with the idea that they’re God’s gift to the instrument.

The Pan movement utterly lacks humility amongst its peers and supporters; conversely, it lacks audacity and a sense of community against its offenders.

I’ve seen bands get devastated by losing their practice spaces, having their pans destroyed, their musical and executive director fall ill and/or die, police raids, noise fines, gang violence, statutory rape accusations, money laundering, embezzlement, tax fraud… (the list is longer that I can possibly type in a lifetime). And what do “pan people”, their peers, their colleagues do? Laugh, Lie, and Let things get worse. When outsiders make stakes to patents, claim the originality of the instrument, mock the wisdom of our elders, insult the integrity of our peers, and disenfranchise our youth “pan people”. Again, they Laugh, Lie (to themselves) and Let things get worse.

My friends… My family… We have to seek education in order for the art-form (manufacturing, tuning, playing, composing, arranging, innovating) to truly flourish.

In Panyards all over the world, there is a GRAVE deficit in pan history. It boggles the mind to see that non-Trinidadians under 40 have greater historical recall about the development of pan than that of many native Trinidadians and their progeny. If you doubt me, ask a 25-year old Trinidadian about Rudolph Charles or Tony Williams and see what they tell you. In colleges there is an abundance of “concert” learning and prepared music but a lack of the “panyard” experience. BOTH ARE NECESSARY! In the same way a musician must learn to read as well as play by ear, there must be a way to facilitate the atmosphere of the “energy matrix” exclusive to a panyard. Colleges should establish grants to send students to panoramas to have this experience. Without it, it is like teaching someone the chemical, physical, and nutritional properties of a Mango but not letting them taste one grown wild. (It’s just not the same).

Sheldon Elcock, Freddie Harris, III, Iman Pascall, Kareem Thompson, Khuent Rose
at WST Studios

Young aspiring arrangers/ composers need to have more avenues for them to experience and explore the creative experience of writing for pan. For the lucky few that spend their life around the instrument and are fortunate enough to be graced with a musically-inclined brain, they either have to traverse the gauntlet of naysayers in a panorama/carnival setting (i.e. Andre White, Amrit Samaroo) or abandon that avenue all together and find success in more peripheral audiences (i.e. Andy Akiho, Jonathan Scales). Then you have the personalities that venture into the field of straddling the central and peripheral lines (Freddie Harris III, Leon “Foster” Thomas, myself). In reality, the modern generation of rising iconoclasts knows that they have to deal with scrutiny and the harsh opinions of their audience, BUT NONE SO severe as are found in the Caribbean population. It is a riddled with experts who have never played the instrument for more than a school semester while passing through forms.

Finally, we have the generation that is still oblivious to any of these retarded, senseless, egotistical ills. They see the pan as a beautiful, mystical entity; not an instrument to gain popularity or a means to exploit others for personal gain and renown. When they play, it’s to impress those that they love, those that love them and -most importantly- because they see the Panist is a role model. Put a pair of sticks in the hands of a child and put them behind a pan and the first thing they will do is emulate someone else they have seen play. My nephew thinks that I’m a few steps away from Superman and if I fail to educate myself, I will not only fail to educate him, I will have failed to do something for Pan and have the ignorance of generations after me on my hands and my art.

click to contact:  Khuent Rose

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