Steelband Panorama 2012


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Arranger Liam Teague - on Panorama 2012 & more

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

by When Steel Talks

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, the prolific steelpan artist, educator and composer speaks about the Panorama 2012 and more.  Liam Teague is currently the arranger for Starlift Steel Orchestra...


WST - Beyond the obvious competitive nature of Panorama, it is the largest musical convention of any music culture based on a family of instruments. What musical statements and/or trends do you expect to be made within the 2012 Panorama proceedings? 

Liam Teague
Liam Teague

Teague - “Let me categorically state that I am not an advocate of Panorama as a competition. A very wise steelpan musician once said that, for many years, Panorama has been breeding conformity rather than innovation. I totally agree.  Because arrangers are so fixated on winning this competition, many of them have become reluctant to try and break new ground. They are hesitant to expand their respective musical vocabularies and, to a large extent, have become predictable. Panorama music is now being shaped mainly to appeal to the nod of judges (many of whom, mind you, have never studied composition and/or arranging, have never worked in the steelpan arena and, quite frankly, do not possess the talent, expertise, and knowledge of some of the arrangers whom they are adjudicating) rather than being created to stand the test of time, to provoke the intellect and appeal to the emotions (objectives of true artistic expression, in my estimation). Instead, we have language that was used in the 1970s,´80s and ´90s, being regurgitated and, in some cases, being praised as having innovative characteristics.

“So, with the exception of a few arrangers who I believe will display the kind of courage to go beyond the status quo, I would be very surprised if the arrangements heard in 2012 sound much different to past years.

“Having said this, I would genuinely love to be proven wrong.”

WST - And more specifically - what musical statements can we expect from Liam Teague and Starlift?

Teague - “My approach has always been based on the presence of cohesive, emotional, intellectual and musical statements. More importantly, I have tried to address the challenge of creating an arrangement that would exhibit different characteristics. While many people have commented on the “originality” (I use the term loosely) of my arrangements, the Panorama environment is not always conducive to approaches that are based on being fresh. As a result, even while still trying to stay true to my artistic merits, I do find myself having to compromise my arrangements from year to year.  I am forced to (I imagine other arrangers also are faced with this predicament), because, at the end of the day, no matter how creative an arranger is, the management and band’s desire is to win the competition- full stop!

“The reality of Panorama is this: there are very few people who listen to the music in an impartial fashion. Most people are there either to “lime” or simply to support their band/arranger. I have observed, on numerous occasions, steelpan “fans” and adjudicators being quite dismissive and indifferent to certain bands and arrangers. Thankfully, there are still a few die hard aficionados who will actually listen to arrangements the way any piece of musical art should--- multiple times, in an honest manner.

“As far as what musical statements you will hear from Liam Teague and Starlift in 2012, I can say this: if people are really serious about the music, and actually take the time to listen and digest my contribution, then they will most certainly hear a number of different approaches which, ultimately, I hope will elicit positive responses.”

WST- 2012 may go down as the year of ‘change’ in Panorama - several bands have new arrangers, for example Change is inevitable.  What does all this change mean to you as it relates to the culture and the music, locally and globally?

Teague - “Change is indeed inevitable; however, it is not always progressive. I am cautiously optimistic that the insurgence of “new blood” into the Panorama arena will bring about fresh, exciting and thought-provoking music. As I indicated before, Panorama has placed creative shackles on arrangers and, as a result, I would not be surprised if we hear more of the same. From an economic standpoint, I can certainly empathize with arrangers’ reluctance to go “outside the box” for fear of not having a job the following season. Unfortunately, we live in a time where not too many bands are willing to maintain the services of an arranger for the long term if results are not delivered within a two or three year time frame- no matter how skilled he or she may be.”

WST - Is there any difference in your approach in arranging for different bands, i.e. Skiffle Bunch, in relation to now, Starlift? 

Teague - “My musical vocabulary has grown in several ways since my stint with Skiffle, so there are certain lines, chord progressions, musical devices, etc., that I am now using which I would not have used back then, and there are also devices which I am employing with greater frequency e.g.  more bebop-related lines, diminished scales, creative use of dissonance, approaches to modulation, etc… Starlift’s 2012 arrangement will not be as technically demanding as some of my previous arrangements; however, I have still tried to maintain a strong overall musical effect.”

WST - Starlift's tune of choice is "Vibes."  Why this song?

Teague - “‘Vibes’ has a very infectious and memorable melody. Within that melody are a number of motivic elements which I felt I could effectively manipulate in several musical ways. The chord progression of the piece also lent itself nicely to re-harmonization, substitutions, alterations, etc.”

WST - What are key elements you look for in a panorama tune?

Teague - “I have always viewed the Panorama “arranger” to be more of a composer than an arranger. After one arranges the original melody of a song, one basically adopts the role of a composer for the next seven, or so, minutes of the Panorama arrangement. Of course, one’s compositional ideas are basically still framed around elements of the original song. So, while it is useful that a song does have devices such as what I mentioned can be found in “Vibes,” I also feel humbly confident that I could do a good arrangement even if the original song was lacking some of the aforementioned aspects.”

WST - If you had the power to change some things in the Panorama scene what would they be?

Teague - “My dream is for Panorama, as a competition, to die. I think that, in its current format, it has run its course; and the focus should be on the development of an event(s) which will allow all the various stakeholders (players, arrangers, tuners, etc.) to be able to reap musical and financial benefits in a consistent, meaningful and respectable fashion. As it stands - with the exception of some arrangers and tuners - who really commands any respectable income at the end of the season?  No wonder why players no longer hold allegiances to one band, and, instead, perform with multiple ensembles - it is simply a matter of economics and survival.

“Are long-term careers being cultivated by learning an 8-minute Panorama arrangement year after year? I do understand that for some, Panorama is simply a labor of love; however, I am more focused on my brothers and sisters who toil in the panyards, year after year, for a mere pittance. I want them to have proper careers as musicians rather than needing to have “day jobs.”  We only have to look at what is happening in the Soca and Chutney industries to see how limited our vision is. Look at how many opportunities they have to earn a decent living inside and outside the Carnival season. Why can’t this happen for the panist? I believe that one of the reasons (there are too many to mention right now) is simply because we have become fixated on the competition that is Panorama.

“After the Panorama results have been announced what is next for most panists? I look at the dejected faces of arrangers and members of steelbands that did not win the competition and I am deeply saddened by this state of affairs. After spending so many sleepless nights in a panyard; so many hours crafting a piece of art; how can it be worth it to continually subject ourselves to this? Is this truly the “8 minutes of glory” that we hear about every year?

“As an alternative, why not create an event(s) which fosters mutual love and respect amongst bands, arrangers, audiences, communities; which treats the musicians and the music with the same reverence afforded to great artistes; an event that promotes art for art sake, rather than one which subjects musicians to audiences who are more focused on consuming alcoholic beverages than seriously listening to the works of art being performed on their so-called national instrument?

“From a musical standpoint, the death of Panorama as a competition would now allow arrangers to create music without feeling inhibited. Usually, when this point is made, folks argue that the opposite effect would happen and arrangers would no longer try to push the envelope. Well, look at what is happening right now to the music-- stagnation at its finest. Any musician who adopts a lackadaisical attitude to their craft because competition is not involved should probably not be regarded as a true artiste, anyway.

“Eventually, the public would grow accustomed to the absence of competition and would start to listen to the music objectively. As it stands currently, many people listen to steelbands at Panorama with certain obvious biases. There are folks who will not listen to bands simply because Band X didn’t happen to be from their part of the country, or the arranger of Band Y may be at a disadvantage simply because he/she was not a childhood friend of an adjudicator…I could go on and on…

“Additionally, we would no longer be subjected to misinformed, clichéd, and, in so many cases, totally incorrect commentary from members of the media who purport to be experts and aficionados of steelpan music. It always saddens me that these people are given platforms which allow them to be so irresponsible and not be held accountable.”  

WST - What are your three all-time favorite panorama arrangements?

Teague - “I cannot pick three-all-time favorites. There are so many arrangements and arrangers that I love and that have influenced me.

“Sometimes, there are only certain sections of arrangements which I may care for.  There are even some arrangers and arrangements that are not well known, but have had impacts on me.

“Also, some of the Panorama arrangements that have been labeled ‘Classics’ don't always move me in a meaningful and lasting manner.  I am a bit of a free thinker and my opinions are not often formed based on what is the general consensus or what is politically correct.

“I leave you with this quote from the great trumpeter, Nicholas Payton:
‘People, by and large, lack the ability to think critically. We’re not trained to be thinkers in our society. We’re trained to be followers of preexisting thought. Always stuck in the past. As a result, the masses are intimidated by those who aren’t afraid to unapologetically call it how it is. We live in a world that makes people feel sorry for being brilliant.’”

Click for more on Liam Teague

Click for WST's Trinidad and Tobago Panorama 2012 complete coverage

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