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Revisited -- A Trinidad and Tobago Philharmonic Orchestra?

It is now five years later since the original opinion essay below was written by Mr. Nestor Sullivan. WST member Marcus Ash ask -- What are your thoughts and feeling on the subject today?


An Opinion Piece

by Nestor Sullivan

Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - I recently read an advertisement in the local daily newspapers inviting applications for positions in the Trinidad & Tobago National Philharmonic Orchestra. The ad made a call for nationals who could play oboes, trumpets, saxophones, violins, violas, clarinets etc., to join this orchestra. I was totally confused by this development. My immediate question was....“What do we need a philharmonic orchestra to do?” My next questions were.... “Whose idea was this?” and “what were they thinking?”

For reasons of this article and to encourage further debate on the subject, I will offer my own answers to the questions above. I will also attempt to link the philharmonic orchestra to issues of nationalism, independence and identity of our country and region.
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Great idea Marcus.  Let's see what folks opinions are today...

In reply to the philharmonic orchestra article:
There seems to me after a short period of independance from colonian rule there is still some remnance of it´s bad influnce still in the system, which needs to be eliminated.
This introductroy of a philharmonic orchestra is a blatant introductory of Bigotry into the system of Trinidad and Tobago by some fool in the ministry.
This instance reminds me of an incedent that happened with Silver Stars steel band around
the year 1955 when they were raided in their yard due to a neighbour´s
complaining of the disturbance of her opera singing rehearsal by the noise of their practising.
A better view of this happening could be had from any member of the band from that peroid who was involved in that raid. . I got this information from my friend Vincent Gomes who was a member (no relation to Albert Gomes). He now lives in England.
Even better would be a conscript or files of the case inpoint from the archives; where the judge awarded the Silver Stars steel band the benifit of the case and the members who was arrested were awarded compensation.
The information from this case would help to eliminate the attempt to reintroduce bigotry
into the system.

That was quite an interesting thread.

Though I feel like many of the initial points were somewhat abandoned, and it turned into steelpan versus traditional instruments.

Here's my two cents....

Music is music. Steelpan is steelpan. Steelbands can play any type of music, because all 12 notes are universal. The only areas that I deem as "unplayable" (as originally printed) are the parts that are very very high in octave, however arrangers can transpose those parts to fit in a steel orchestra. I'm sure members here can give you all the technicality as to ranges and the like that would have to be "adjusted."

In reading Nestor's (original poster) write-up, I interpreted one of the main issues being - Why is the government spending money on a national philharmonic orchestra and neglecting the development and promotion of Trinidad's national instrument? To be clear, I, personally see nothing wrong with 'having' a philharmonic orchestra. There are many T&T musicians who play instruments other than the steelpan. I think that the issue comes to play as to why are they neglecting the steelbands? Steelbands "are" T&T's culture and it may be a better choice to first pour the country's money into steelbands instead to something that has already been done for hundreds of years.

From what I read, I feel that other posters may have felt like what was being said was that there is no reason to have a philharmonic orchestra, which is not how I took it at all. Having a orchestra is a great idea. From the point of the steelpan though, Trinidad is definitely not where it should be in regards to production, manufacturing, and distribution of its own national instrument! Why would you allow another country to become better than you in making your own instrument? When someone thinks "Where can I get a good steelpan from?" , T&T should be first on the list (why of course - from its country of origin). There is lots of potential profits that are being lost in that area because there is no money in R&D - unless the country feels like the coffers are full enough :) . WST member Salah Wilson did a research project that covers some of this information and I found the interviews he conducted fascinating.

During Panorama, you have people from all over the world that come and tries to get a spot in a good steelband because that is considered one of the heights of the artform. I doubt T&T will see the same response in regards to its classical orchestra because there are so many of them all over the world. Maybe someday T&T's philharmonic orchestra will be world-renowned, but as of today, that would be the steelbands.

I definitely think that the money would have been better spent on developing the steelpan artform further if T&T had to choose only one.

one of my favorite responses thus far...

There was a lively conversation between two respondents back in 2009, "Merrytones" and "A L Nunes".    Nunes could have done a better job explaining what he meant, but it appeared that the debated became a bit too personal, and he lost the opportunity.   He needed to explain to Merrytones why steelbands do not play the classics as written, but adapt the music to our instruments.   

One of the main problem with steelbands playing the classics, is simply that we cannot sustain the notes as the wind and string instruments.    We roll, and if a roll has to be transposed it would be exceedingly difficult as we do not know how many times the stick is hitting the pan.  We would have to film it, slow it down, as it done when showing how a humming bird is able to stay airborne.  Then the composer will have to count the number of time the sticks hit the pan, and express it as a hemi-demi-semi-quaver (or something to that effect).  Just imagine you have to roll on a note for four bars.   Try transposing that on paper.  Maybe in time we will find a better way to express rolling on paper, but until that time we are stuck with the medium  we have presently.

Merrytones I trust that this might better explain it.  Maybe you would not agree with me, but while steelbands have played the Classics, the music had to be adapted for us.

Love to the steelband community, and good luck to all in the Panorama.


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