by Dr. Jeannine Remy
Global - The steelpan music of Trinidad and Tobago has certainly come a long way in the past 50 years from 21 participating bands in 1963 preliminaries to 156 bands (totals for single, small, medium, and large) participating in the 2013 preliminaries. This number increases with the addition of the junior panorama (age 21 and under), which totaled 45 bands (primary, secondary, and non-school) at prelims. With a grand total of 201 bands this season, this type of growth proves that the steelpan movement is alive and well in Trinidad and Tobago.
Part of the growth in the number of panists over the years is due to the fact that many have steelband programs in their schools. This will continue as the Pan in the Classroom Unit, through the Ministry of Education, continues to place Pan teachers and instruments in schools which currently do not have such programs. As the youngsters age and want to continue playing pan, they find themselves in the non-schools category of junior panorama, which also encompasses youngsters who do not have pan in their school. At age 21, the youth find themselves gravitating to bands that need players, if they aren’t already playing in an adult band.
Little Women in Pan
At a glance, one will find that many of the conventional steelbands have a very youthful membership and the ratio of men and women is pretty much balanced. When one looks at the difference between 1963 and 2013, the fact that women comprise over half of the membership is a total attitude change on behalf of parents who now allow their children and young ladies in the panyard. Women even hold positions in the steelbands from captains to management and a handful are even arrangers.
There have been numerous changes in Panorama over the years from rules, judging, financial rewards, categories of competition… and the list goes on. But one fact that is different from the early participants is the loyalty to one band and today’s contracting of players.
Old Grand Stand, Queen’s Park Savannah
The competition has become a business - from finding the best players to having the best arranger the band can afford. In the 1960s the steelbands were not only expected to make an appearance on the panorama stage but also play in numerous parties/fetes and on the road. Today the panorama syndrome has evolved into an 8-minute arrangement that costs thousands and thousands of dollars. From paying players and arrangers, to tuning the instruments, to costuming, to transporting the instruments, the cost of competing in panorama almost always outweighs the financial reward.
As I reflect on the Panorama this year, one thing comes to mind. Youth need to be educated on the history of Pan and have a better appreciation and knowledge on the pan pioneers who went through all of those trials and errors of making the pan what it is today. The youth need to be educated about the blood, sweat and tears, clashes, etc. that were part of the early steelband movement. Today’s players have no idea of the responsibilities and sacrifices of the 1960s steelbandmen who, 50 years ago, toted their pans from place to place without a complaint. This observation was hammered home from an experience that happened to me this season while standing next to a youth in Invaders a few days ago when asked, “Miss, who is Francis Wickham?” This came about because on the backside of our jerseys it said, “In Memory of Francis Wickham.” I was saddened by her question but explained that he was one of the founding members of Oval Boys which later became Invaders Steel Orchestra.
One thing that needs to be corrected for next year, is this year’s lack of television coverage for medium and large band semi-finals in the Queen’s Park Savannah. I know there are folks out there who want to view the panorama on their television and somehow there was something going on, unknown to me, that appeared to be a battle of which station was going to cover the show - so nobody did. We were all snubbed. They have a year to figure it out and get it right.
Youth Steel Orchestra
Although the panorama season was very short this year, one of the highlights for me was the junior panorama. Commentating for Channel 4 (Government Information Services Limited) I was flabbergasted by the short amount of time some of the bands had to put their music together and appreciated the efforts and sacrifices that the students, their teachers and parents made to get a band on the Queen’s Park Savannah stage. It was nice to hear the arrangements the Pan-in-classroom teachers gave their students to learn and I strongly believe that the junior panorama arrangers should be homegrown youthful arrangers and we should discourage hired semi-professionals arrangers at the primary level just to win a title. We need to hone the skills of both our young arrangers and students.
This year the Trinidad & Tobago National Anthem was played on the Digital Pan© on an iPad. This digital pan sound is a free app designed by Gill’s Pan Shop and is officially endorsed by Pan Trinbago, Bp Trinidad and Tobago, and B Mobile. At first I was a bit skeptical of how this was going to work but when I saw and heard the young little fingers rolling on an image of the pan on an iPad with a steelpan sample, I thought it sounded okay. These are the types of electronic things we should expect from the 21st century after all. I am still from the old school and prefer instruments that don’t need electricity to sound.
Large steel orchestra
As Panorama 2013 has come to a close, there will be those who are happy with the results and those who will never be happy. For example, I thought the medium judges were spot on while I wasn’t so sure of some of the placings for the large bands. I still think that Pan Trinbago should really think long and hard about getting foreign judges in the mix of things. As with the World Music Steelband Festival and Pan is Beautiful competition, there are foreign judges. What Pan Trinbago needs to realize is the fact that there are many qualified foreign judges who live and breathe pan around the world.
Lastly, there is even a rumor going around that they want to include foreign bands in the panorama competition…an International Steelband Festival. At the height of Carnival Season, this would mean room and board and transportation for many foreigners and this type of thing needs planning at all levels. Again, this would be an eye-opening experience for Trinidad and Tobago.
Overall it was a short and sweet panorama season that already has people thinking about what they will do differently next year.
Click for more on Dr. Jeannine Remy
Dr. Jeannine Remy is a Senior Lecturer in
the Music Department for Creative and Festival Arts, University
of the West Indies (UWI) Gordon Street, St. Augustine, Trinidad,
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