Steelband Panorama 2011

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Observations about Panorama 2011

It’s Showtime

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Dr. Jeannine Remy

by Dr. Jeannine Remy

 © 2011 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

Opinion Piece    

Panorama 2011Trinidad &  Tobago, W.I. - The whole theme of Panorama 2011 was a show time.  Show in antics, bling, performance and musicianship. The TT $2,000,000 (USD $315,955) prize was the driving force that pushed large bands to out-do each other as they all rolled across the stage on finals night on March 5th, 2011.  The south stands were full of people who waited in anticipation for the large bands and all of their splendour.  Never before have I attended a panorama final with so much confetti, glimmering decorations, balloons, fireworks and sound effects.  The lighting was exceptional and most of the finals’ outfits were extravagant.  

I was fortunate enough to have a seat to the right of the judges behind the radio announcers, as this was one of the “benefits” to having adjudicated the single pan competition. Since Channels 4 & 16 did not get the contract to broadcast, Orville Wright and I had our own little private music commentary together since our seats were side by side.  We wondered if the current commentators could do justice to describing and explaining what was happening with the music (worried because it was an international broadcast).  But we got over that and enjoyed listening and analyzing the music for each band amongst ourselves.  After each band played people would tap us on the back and ask us what we thought of that band.   We thought that was amusing, smiled, offered a few words, and settled in for the next band. 

If you were wondering, the late start was due to Pan Trinbago forgetting to pick up one of the medium band judges, whereby a small band judge was substituted as the alternate judge.  The event was one of those “must be there” experiences, that watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio was just not the same. 

What’s New in the Savannah?

Many things were new. For one, the venue was different. Yes, it was right where the Grand Stand used to be, but everything inside the covered stands has changed. The line-of-sight from the audience’s perspective was different (many blind spots). The stage was bigger, the sound system and lighting were better, and the North Stand had white plastic chairs to sit on during the finals. From the entrance to the washrooms, it’s all new and inviting to concert-goers. Efforts to keep the place clean during the competition, from the washrooms to sweeping the stage, were accomplished; but on the downside, parking was still a fiasco.

The ladies are doing it!

In years past March has been Woman’s Month for PanOnTheNet. I would like to point out that this year the ladies were doing something brave and different in their arrangements. They stunned their audiences with interesting and creative experiments that have never been done before in a panorama setting.

In the medium band category, Michelle Huggins-Watts left the semi-final audience in a paralyzed state of awe.  Shocked that anyone would stop the pace of a panorama tune, she completely changed the mood of “Do Something For Pan” as she broke into a blues. No one saw that coming; the reaction stirred the audience in the semi-finals but in the finals they cheered her on. I am glad she did not take it out. She also did some very clever re-harmonization to the funky part of Boogsie’s piece that was really programmatic in her aggressive arrangement to get the point across.

The next lady arranger that we need to watch out for in the near future is Shenelle Abraham who arranged for the small band St. Margaret’s Superstars. Her arrangement was out of this world. I was impressed and believe it went over many folk’s heads that did not realize the genius in this arrangement. What was very impressive was her obvious knowledge of musical chords and how to distribute them. The orchestration was top notch and the players were clean. There was clear text-painting of the motif “Calling Meh” which was depicted in both the melody and rhythm. Even though the arrangement had technical passages with rich harmony that challenged the players, it still had a Trini flavour throughout.

The last lady arranger I was impressed by was Vanessa Headley who arranged for Golden Hands in the small band category. The music selection was most definitely one of the oldest coming from the mid-1970s when calypso was changing into soca. The piece was very groovy and even went into a swing. Golden Hands was very clean, well-balanced, and definitely set a mood that no other band accomplished that night. It was obvious they had put a lot of work into their music and presentation. The jazz section, which was originally a lavué, was also a break in the panorama arrangement style. Like Michelle-Higgins-Watts, Vanessa Headley also broke the traditional panorama tempo for the sake of the music.

The Best Kept Secret

If you did not attend the finals of the single pan and small bands in Arima at the Larry Gomes Stadium, you really missed a show. I had to judge the single pan bands, and was very happy by the quality and improvement of the performances as compared to the semi-finals. I was disappointed that there were not many people in attendance and felt saddened that so much musical talent and preparation was only appreciated by a handful.

It is unfortunate that more bands can’t play in Champs in Steel Plus because there were many deserving groups. Although the judges’ decision is final, as judges we are sometimes surprised at the results as our marks are either added or thrown out according to the highest and lowest marks of our colleagues. 

Special kudos to the Trinidad & Tobago Defence Force Steel Orchestra which may have not won in points but won my heart. Robert Tobitt has broken through as an arranger to be reckoned with in the future. The small bands were also very excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to every note these bands played. The almost intimate setting, if you can call it that, was also a private showing for the privileged listener. I became mesmerized by some of the small bands, as they really sounded a lot larger than they were. Even though the competition got off to a late start, I was shocked when someone told me it was 3:00 a.m. already.

I talked to a few of the bands who had made the trip to the Larry Gomes Stadium to compete, and questioned them about how they felt at the Arima venue. I got a whole list of negatives, but the most disturbing, was one of the reasons that they wanted to move the venue to the Larry Gomes Stadium; to provide the ladies with proper bathroom facilities, which they did until the bands had to move away to the outskirts of the stadium. The distance was so far from the facilities that instead of leaving their practice area, the ladies had to urinate by the side of the road.

Additionally, many of the south supporters were afraid of the traffic they would encounter on the east-bound highway, but those who did make it down did not know where to get their tickets once they arrived.  As was explained to me, the cost for transporting the bands (7 out of the 10 were from south) was more expensive to Arima, than to Port-of-Spain, where they had competed for semi-finals.

When some of the bandleaders approached and questioned a Pan Trinbago official about what was going on, he confessed that he was exasperated at the disorganization. To top it off, the event got off to a late start. Some of the bands were not sure if the players were counted, and fear some bands may have had more players than the rules stated… especially for the unsponsored bands who do take the limited number of players seriously when they are orchestrating their arrangements. This includes tactics in setting up the band to produce a proper balance and stage presence. They also expressed disappointment in the number of ties this panorama season and questioned why it was so hard to discern the bands from one another.

Judging Sheets Again

Although this is a sticky subject for me, I can’t believe after all of the seminars - that the judging criteria from which bands were awarded points, still contain some head-scratching “rubric” problems. Take for example all of the sub-categories found in the large categories of arrangement, performance, tone and rhythm. If you take off a point or two for each sub-category, the band might find themselves in the 70s for their marks.  To get good marks one must be close to perfect, or perfect, in a few of the sub-categories.

Brainstorming sub-categories for judging criteria also means we are telling the arranger what do to, and not allowing them to be creative. By now the arrangers must have seen their judging sheets. The category of arrangement had four sub-categories (introduction, harmonization/re-harmonization, melodic development, motivic development) which could easily be worth 10 points each.

I had problems with two of the sub-categories in arrangement. One was the definition of melodic development and the other was the question of why we are judging the introduction separately when the ending is just as important.

The next category was general performance with only three sub-categories: interpretation, dynamics, and balance. That is where you ask yourself: is it 14 + 13 + 13 or 20 + 10 + 10?  So, we are dictating that musical dynamics must be in the arrangement and that it is worth 10 or 13 points?  I must compliment all of the judges for giving points without getting too caught up in the subcategories and their values.

Some of the best judging sheets and criteria I have seen, have come from adjudicating Trinidad & Tobago Junior Panorama and the St. Vincent & the Grenadines Panorama. Our judges from Trinidad and Tobago come to us with a variety of talents, and it would be unethical and incorrect for me to say derogatory things about those who work so hard, and put in so many long hours evaluating steelbands for such little pay.

Our judges are selected because of their contributions to Trinidad and Tobago’s musical and cultural society and they should be applauded for their efforts. In the next breath though, I think there is a cry to bring in a few foreign judges. The art form has reached so far, and there is the fact that we do bring in foreign judges for the music festival. Why not panorama? The pan has reached the global community and there are many foreign experts who know all of the idiosyncrasies of pan. That is the “Something” Pan Trinbago could do for pan.

Analysis of some of the Panorama music performances:

Trinidad All Stars (It’s Showtime)

The introduction was very different as compared with the rest of the music in this arrangement. All Stars’ introduction was rhythmically diverse (it had the rhythmic elements of Kabalevsky’s The Comedians’ gallop) and was quite long in length.  It climaxed nicely as the arranger moved “Smoothly” into the original verse; very clean playing as all of the parts were heard from the front. People in the back rows of the south [Grand] stand were surprised that the volume of All Stars was not what they expected. This was not their fault; it was, after all, the first large band to cross the new stage and no one knew what volume of sound to expect.

Trinidad All Stars
Trinidad All Stars

The performance used many fireworks that were sometimes in sync with the music, which added to the audience’s thrill and drama of the evening. Although it was my personal feeling All Stars were on top for the semi-finals, I was not so sure how they would fare given the fact that they were the first band on stage, the evening dew had not settled, and they had to set the standard.

The arrangement had many layers, which featured some chromatics and a long pedal note that was held out adding tension and excitement to the music. I particularly liked the thick harmony (sometimes chord clusters) the arranger used between the tenors, double tenors, and double seconds. The bass had very good rhythmic structure. Their dramatic ending did not stop as they pulled out an enormous amount of fireworks.  Arranger Leon “Smooth” Edwards utilized the rhythmic hook of the melody to create a 2:3 ratio over the barline. Many arrangers did that but his version stood out. The arrangement was not predictable in any way and was creative and effective.

Exodus (Calling Meh)

Again Exodus gave us a very clean performance. They have stuck to the idea of keeping their canopies off since 2008. From the time they starting doing that, they have been experimenting with plexiglass sheets over the rhythm section. Acoustically they are trying different things with sound projection and stage appearance with their tiered risers. This year I noticed that they had actually created sound shells, which cradled the band. The only negatives I have been hearing about this was the fact that the North stand did not hear the band in the same way the south [Grand] Stand heard them. It was indeed a very powerful sound projection from the judges’ side.

Exodus Steel Orchestra
Exodus Steel Orchestra

Arranger Pelham Goddard used the melodic hook over the barline with creating a hemiola pattern of 2 against 3. What was really climatic in this arrangement was the rising motivic development over the “Calling Meh” riff. That was very effective as it added much excitement and suspense to the arrangement. Another memorable moment was the modulation (key change), which instead of going up, went down… a crowd ‘fooler’ that again added excitement to Exodus’ performance.

I believe I also noticed the use of two drum sets in the engine room. As far as the clean tenors go, there were lots of interesting little “flicks” and very powerful “punches” that were featured as part of the percussive use of the rhythmic development aspect. In fact, if there was one thing that stuck out in this arrangement, it was the excellent use of motivic development.

Fonclaire (A Raging Storm)

A week before the finals arranger Ken “Professor” Philmore called me about getting some timpani for the ending of performance. He wanted to create a storm in a “Pan By Storm” way. The new Savannah sound system was put to use and just as the band was about to start, a sound sample of thunder was heard shaking up the stands with its vibration. The lighting system also created flashing lightning effects.

Fonclaire Steel Orchestra
Fonclaire Steel Orchestra

The arrangement started off with a good tempo utilizing a repeated rhythmic motif from the start. Somehow this group’s setup on stage created some balance problems; I was not hearing all of the inner parts coming out from the right side of the judges. In addition to the pans, I believe the players had a part they sang or chanted … what sounded like a football chant. There were not many dynamics in the arrangement either; I believe I heard one long crescendo. There was an interesting walking bass part that was very different and worked nicely.

The arrangement attempted text-painting whereby making some of the music sound like a storm. The timpani were positioned stage front the entire time, and at the end there were two players playing a stereophonic effect of a Beethoven tonic/dominant ending. The sound system kicked in one more time at the end of the piece as the ‘storm’ ended.

Phase II (Do Something for Pan)

As Phase II rolled onto the stage the enthusiastic supporters did not want to leave. After a persuasive announcement came from the house announcer stating that the band could not start until all left the stage, they finally moved off.

Phase II Pan Groove
Phase II Pan Groove

The count was given and the band answered in unison in the same rhythm of the count. I thought that this band could have used two drum set players, or if they did, they rhythm section was not powerful enough for this group. The arrangement was rich and full and I believe I saw a G-pan off to the side of the band.

Boogsie used many modulations but the most impressive was the key change before the jam. His music had jazzy punches but the set up did not lend to a good balance on stage. At times the tenors could not be heard. There was an interesting solo bass break with a large crescendo into the bridge. I liked the dissonance he used in the chord clusters in the frontline pans and also loved the idea of the basses hammering home the theme and rhythm of “Do Something for Pan” over and over again. Boogsie’s music was full and thick in arrangement; I am not so sure everyone was able to hear all of the parts coming through.

Desperadoes (Trini)

What was always so impressive about Despers is their community support. Their tune selection was a crowd favourite as the entire Grand stand rose to their feet, and sang and danced to the “Trini” as it was played over the loudspeaker system.

Desperadoes Steel Orchestra
Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

Despers had a solid start and a clean rendition of their version of Trini. The arrangement contained some really interesting ripples of colour along with some pretty virtuosic passages. What was interesting about this arrangement was the fact the arranger, Beverly Griffith, tried to represent Trinidad as a cosmopolitan nation. One could hear a Chinese part and an East Indian part. Some text painting was also done with the words “walk,” “walk,” “walk,” as the basses walked their straight quarter notes. There were jazzy riffs, a wonderful jam, and an interesting running cello part into a modulation.

The only sloppy part that stood out was the break that occurred right before the swelled rolls. Despers was very creative in their stage presence as their racks were decorated in the Caribbean roofing style architect. As they rolled onto the stage they really did look like a community of Caribbean houses being pushed across the stage.

Starlift (In She Rainorama)

The count came from the back of the band in a solid tempo. There was a nice Latin cello solo against the tenors. The arrangement moved through several groove changes. The shac shac player (maracas) came out front for the audience to hear.

Starlift Steel Orchestra
Starlift Steel Orchestra

The arrangement did not come off as clearly as it should have, perhaps due to a balance problem created on the stage. There was a very nice jam in a minor key. At times it sounded cluttered and dissonant, almost like the band had phased apart. The group seemed to lack the impact needed to enforce the piece. It was a very intellectual arrangement that I would have loved to hear it again.

Invaders (Doh Be on Dat)

Invaders’ tune of choice was composed for the band by their arranger Arddin Herbert and his friend Ricardo “Ricky” Jones. Invaders’ arrangement was full of musical surprises, and included a very energetic performance by its members. Containing many rhythmic punches and aggressive phrasings, there were only a few rolled sections that were saved for the minor.

Invaders Steel Orchestra
Invaders Steel Orchestra

There were two very effective chromatic scales that sent the arrangement into a climax that seemed to please the crowd. In fact, the crowd’s response to Invaders performance earned them the only standing ovation from both the North and Grand stands. They were very clean in their articulations; as the arrangement unfolded, it featured almost all of the sections in the band with the motifs. As the driller for Invaders, I left to join the band on the track.

Silver Stars (It’s Showtime)

As I was heading out of the Grand stand through the massive audience, I stopped and wondered what was going on, as the crowd became very silent.  The original tune [It’s Showtime] had stopped playing and they were still pulling some tall, shimmering blue and silver items onto the stage. The audience waited breathlessly as they wondered what was going on.

Silver Steel Orchestra
Silver Stars Steel Orchestra

Talking to the players afterwards they, too, did not know what it was. But as it turned out, it was a giant curtain, to depict the opening of a show. Listening as I was walking out, I heard Silvers Stars performing their piece in a very fast tempo with many chromatic scales. The introduction was a bit uncharacteristic of Edwin Pouchet, but it still transcended into the original verse.

In Closing

Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to listen to Siparia Deltones and Redemptions Sound Setters as I had already joined up with Invaders on the side.

Congratulations to one player in particular who performed in 18 bands! Bolo:  how you did that?!


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