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

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Well said Liam, I myself would like to do away with Panorama competition, it gets too predictable

Thank you, Liam Teague for your insights

. I've been saying some of the same things for years, and either I haven't been heard or I've been misunderstood.

Thank you for your candor.

However you'd find your opinions on the Panorama very unpopular with the masses.

Excellent analysis! How do we communicate this to Pan Trinbago, judges (??), arrangers et al? I compliment you on your growth as a musician

Liam has well said what he has said. His is a clear articulation of the view that the Panorama as competition should come to an end, and some new format put in place that would be more financially rewarding to players. This is a serious view, and perhaps this is a debate that should be re-opened. But I for one would disagree, not with the facts he has cited, but with his conclusion.

I agree that pan is a labor of love for most players, because the money rewards would never compensate the expenditure of time involved, and sometimes not even the out of pocket expenses for transportation &c.

I agree that the competition or the event should be restructured with a view to better rewarding the average players, who now in effect pay to play, rather than being paid to play.

I agree that fans show unfair bias, either for or against, depending on this or that.

I agree that judges show unfair bias, either for or against, depending on this or that.

I agree that with such bias involved, arrangers are heavily constrained. They dare not push too far, or too fast, in attempting to innovate. 

All of that said, I disagree that the competitive aspect of Panorama needs to be taken out of the Panorama "event".

Without competition, you take away the adrenaline, you take away the defining aesthetic of panorama. There is a "warrior" spirit to Panorama music (that's what Ralph McDonald called it, and he is right). Take that away, and the "event" that it would become would define a whole different art form. I cannot agree to that. And I don't think most players want an event without the essential point of competition. 

But that said, not all music is warrior music, I agree. Not all music is festival music, either. I don't necessarily want to listen to Panorama music all the time. Sometimes I'd rather hear a small band playing smooth jazz with a spare, uncluttered, even gentle aesthetic. (Translation: you don't always have to *beat* the pan!) Music can evoke and project all kinds of emotions.

But at the Panorama, there are a whole range of emotions that are ruled out, and only a limited range that is ruled in -- the warrior spirit, the festival spirit, the lavway, the jam, the "spirit of carnival". The setting is not that of the intimate supper club. You cannot come with chamber music, or with smooth jam. You have to excite the spirit of patrons whose senses have already been dulled by an excess of alcohol consumption. That is a tall order for any arranger. You have to stay within musical form and genre, and at the same time, you have to find a way to make them take notice by just enough innovation. If you go too far with the innovative, you just make their head hurt. The cerebral stuff, that you have to listen to, over and over, to "get it", is good too. In time, that too can be absorbed as part of the defining aesthetic of this great musical art form that is Panorama. But take away the competitive aspect, and what you have will certainly be *different*. As art, I do not agree that it would necessarily be *better*.

Now as to the players, I also doubt that they would be better remunerated if the competitive aspect is taken away. The opportunity for financial reward is maximized when you maximize the spectacle. A heavyweight championship boxing match is more than just a fight. It's a spectacle. And it is from the spectacle that derives the opportunity to make money. It is because it is a spectacle that people will pay money to see it. And it is from gate receipts, pay-per-view, advertising etc. that the revenue streams come, to provide financial reward to the players. Take away the competitive dimension, and in my opinion, the spectacle is diminished, and with it, the opportunity for financial reward.

I am not saying you cannot have a spectacle without competition. Fake wrestling is the proof of that. Beyonce and Lady Gaga likewise.

But if you move to a Panorama "event", without the competition, then to my mind you would lessen the spectacle. More money could then be made by the average player only if there are fewer players, moreover put on paid contract to be part of an essentially commercial event, like a Nicky Minaj concert. That might be a viable approach, no doubt. This is the Harlem Globetrotters model. People will pay handsomely to see the best of the best do what they do, with or without competition.

But would it be true to the folk culture which spawned the thing? Would it be true to all the masses of pan players who continue to be willing to pay to play, to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Ultimately, the hard fact remains that for the average player, Panorama *is* a labor of love. Take away the competitive aspect, and the 8 mins. of glory, and you're left with professionals, playing for pay.

Instead of a folk music, you would end up with a music-school music. Instead of panyards, you would have conservatories. 

I am all for the Juillards of the world. I believe in excellence. But I also believe in folk culture, and folk music. It is not always excellent, in the sense of high art. But it always resonates at some level. It is part of social and cultural and even cellular memory. That is why all folk arts are deeply conservative, and why innovation is tolerated only in small doses at a time. True brilliance requires knowing how big of an innovative step to take, and restraining oneself if necessary. Cliche will fail, but so also will the avant garde revolutionary stuff. Brilliance lies also, in the discipline required to restrain oneself, in keeping faith with the past, even as one reaches out to embrace new ideas and innovations.

The steelband Panorama competition of Trinidad has grown out of a folk music. If it is to stay true to its origin, it must retain its present form as a labor of love. Yes, more money should be part of the equation for the average pan player, and even musical careers. But the money will derive from the spectacle of the occasion. And the spectacle is maximized when it is a competition ... the eight mins. of glory likewise.

For what it's worth...

- Big Sid

I totally agree with you Sid in all that you say.  Kudos to you.  I am not a "professional pan aficionado" - I cannot argue the rights and wrongs of chords, musical notes etc. but I do totally love the pan and like so many of the Trini people both in T'dad and T'bgo and in the greater world arena - the Panorama competition and the events leading up to the final makes me feel part of something special and totally 'of the people' whether educated or not, whether rich or poor, or country or town.  We all come together as a whole.  Pan people gather around the world via the Internet at all hours just to be part of the whole.  You would never get that without the excitement of competition and the glory of the win.  If we want to be innovative and make changes, we have to move slowly and the first step would be to fix the abysmal judges that are appointed every year.  This would give a huge dollop of encouragement to all pan players, arrangers, and fans to know that the judging was being done by men and women experienced in the pan arts of playing, arranging and musicology in other words a jury of their peers.  This more than anything is what is holding creativity back in Panorama.  Fixing the type of judges Pan Trinbago appoint would certainly be a "small step for pan and a HUGE step for pan-kind"!!!!

Panorama is definitely a " hypocritae religionis" (godless religion) but as all religions are fought for and clujng to for dare sanity whether or not they are abhorrently destructive to the practitioner or society it proposes to assist.
The dinosaurs went extinct for a reason... this too shall pass

Oh Please! Rubbish!

If Liam has that much issues with Panorama then he should refuse to participate on any level. There are many who would love to have his spot. Instead of wasting his time in "panorama" he should get together with those who think like him and start a different type of pan performance event.  Panorama is what it is. I will be the first to admit that panorama is far from perfect and needs major changes. Calling for panorama to die is extreme.  People who can't dunk are always calling for the rim to be lowered. Panorama is still one of the worlds greatest music events. The challenge is for Liam to come up with something as good or better. He should put something in place to make people change the channel.

PanTrinbago is a joke and will all know it. So that is not the point! Next!

My first recommendation Liam is that you win panorama this year. Drop some music that will get you an A on panorama night.  Don't give us music that we will give you an A grade the day before panorama and or the day after panorama. There is a difference.You may have to call an audible like in footbal two minutes before you take the stage based on the mood of the people or some other quirk you just discovered. When you understand that - then and only then would you have  mastered what panorama is all about. And now you are operating on a different level.

Take the judging out of the judges hands. I truly agree with you they the judges don't have the ability to judge your music or many of the great pieces panorama music that have past through the Savannah over the years. And that's the beauty of panorama. With all its flaws the great ones get through it. Clive Bradley said the exact same things you said many times over, but that didn't stop him from getting the job done. Just do it!


That attack on Liam is not necessary and unfair, Bugs.

Just because he expresses his opinions on  the negative side of the Panorama competition is no reason to suggest him not participating in the Panorama, or enjoying it.

We cannot deny that it is a grand festival.

I  too have been known to express my opinions on the negative side of Panorama, but I attend when I can, and I purchase the DVDs and CDs. 

Would you suggest that I shouldn't?.

I have spoken  to many of our well known cultural activists,  who have privately expressed similar views, and the discussions always end with something like "But you know Trini people, you can't tell them anything" 

Furthermore, I can assure you that Liam Teague is not the only arranger who participates in Panorama who has these views about Panorama.

Some are reluctant to speak because they recognize that Panorama is a sacred cow to many.

Oh come on Glenroy. That was not an attack.  You've seen me attack people before. The "Gypsy" I will attack with no apologies. Pan Trinbago I will attack with no apologies. Glenroy you are pulling a Pat Riley or Phil Jackson here.  This is the same thing they use to do with the refs against my Knicks back in the day with Patrick Ewing.

This was not an attack. I was merely bringing balance to his views. Die is a strong word - especially from someone who has options.

If Liam loves Panorama then he should say that straight up.

Panorama is a community based competition with national and sometimes international implications. It is not basket weaving or a Sunday hangout with church choir.  When Liam takes the stage with Starlift he is leading a tribe, a musical gang that is just as much intent on winning as the Los Lakers being led by Kobe.

There is nothing wrong with cultural activists theorizing or pontificating to the nth degree, but lets not get silly and forget what and who panorama is for and about. Let not forget whose opera and Broadway panorama belongs to.

So Glenroy, when Liam takes the stage does he tell his players "look we didn't come here to win"?


I agree with you on this one Bugs...who tell Liam that panorama panists want to become professional musicians in the first place?....Panorama today for the vast majority on players is simply a good hustle...where someone can somtimes make a few thousand dollars off a few "suspecting" steelbands....the very fact that one can compete against oneself means that the show is not a serous competition in the first place...but that is another matter by itself...."I ent goin dey atall atall"...as I see it, if Panorama has to die it will do so naturally by a process of evolution. I am certain that it will eventually become impossible for present day panorama-size bands to survive given the increasing costs of instruments and procurring personell, transportation etc...a steelband is the only orchestra I know of where one can just show up and receive an instrument to perform with...Steelbands are naturally very much community oriented and because of that competition of some sort will always exist whether we like it or not. 

Bugs what the hell are you doing in my head!!!! lol!!!!

Thank you for your insight if another arranger from a well known band (in that area) had said what Liam has said it would be okay with those who want to take his head off.  Feel free to bash me too.


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