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I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Michael Bump, Associate Professor of percussion at Truman State University, a couple of weeks ago. He talked about his experience in Trinidad and Tobago during Panorama 2011. Michael recently performed with the Invaders Steel Drum Band while on sabbatical at Truman State.

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Let us know your thoughts.

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Of course they are. Its so simple. They play music on an instrument called the steelband! A musician is someone who writes, performs, or makes music.
I agree they are musicians in their own right. However, it would not hurt for panmen to learn to read or write music.This could give them a better perspective on what the composer is feeling or what is required of the piece.

Interesting topic.


I've played pan for years and am decently proficient at it.  In my mind I always thought I would never be "complete" unless I was musically literate.  I still believe that the player who understands what they're playing from a theoretical standpoint and aligns that with the natural "feel" that they have would have the advantage of a player who only has one of those components.


But to put the question of whether a pan player is a musician or not in perspective, I look at someone like Boogsie Sharpe.  I really don't know if Boogsie is musically literate (can read and/or write music).  But assuming he can do neither, there isn't a person on the planet that can tell me he is NOT a musician.


Do you have to be gifted like a Boogsie Sharpe to be a musician?  I say no.  Maybe another question to ask would be "is a singer a musician?"  If your answer is yes, then a pan player should be no different.

No one can argue against the benefits of music literacy. However, for those who are musicians par excellence without it, are they are just that - par excellence musicians nonetheless.


As a composer, Len Boogsie Sharpe has his own way and language, of getting his music creation across to his pan players.  As a composer himself, he has composed some of the most brilliant pieces on earth for pan, and himself cannot read or write - music. Think "In the Rainforest" Boogsie's composition for the winners, Skiffle Bunch for the World Steelband Music Festival 2000.


So in regards to not-formally-musically-literate-composers such as Boogsie, as per your point "give them a better perspective on what the composer is feeling or what is required of the piece" - this does not hold true. 

In Trinidad and Tobago there is a now whole new generation of young musicians who can learn by BOTH the oral tradition and by reading music.  There is absolutely no conflict.  It is similar to learning to speak and then to read and write a new language or one's native language. Being musically illiterate does not mean you are incapable of producing good music in the same manner that being unable to read does not mean that you can not make a very good speech or create lyrics.   You are simply unable to write it down and pass it on and to read works produced by others.


I am not sure why there should be an argument over this.  It can not be a question of one way OR the other but the use of BOTH ways of working in the panyard.  The experience that Dr Bump went through is simply one that was caused by the way the Arranger/Composer works in-situ in that he composes as he goes along and the tune is a dynamic and continually evolving creation.  That is perhaps why "Doh be on Dat" was one of the most musically coherent tunes of the entire Panorama and received the only standing ovation in the finals thanks to the brilliance of the Composer/Arranger and the absorption rate of the players including Dr Bump who has been immeasurably enriched as a percussionist.


The tune was memorized not only in the heads but in every muscle and fibre of the players and they played in absolute and total unison.  This was repeated time and time again by all steelbands who, by and large, went through the same process.


The problem will arise when asked to play the tune again three months hence without a score and this is the main drawback of the oral tradition.

A musician is someone who thinks, shapes & most important feels sounds. One in fact cannot read music, one can only read notation! Which IS HALF OF THE PICTURE! Otherwise every 'classical' pianist would be a star. They are after all reading the same "score". But the score doesn't score until an artistic interpretation lifts it off the pages through the soul of the musician/conduit into the hearts of the audience. A musician is someone who thinks, shapes & most important feels sounds, & is occasionally given to repetition so we get the message!
Tigah, that's a PhD dissertation you have going there! & consistently filled with merit.
Remember, notation is for people who can't remember!
But at the end of the evolving spontaneous 2 month composition of the panorama arrangement,
it behooves the arranger & or pantrinbago to permanentalize the final product,
& for that you need that glorious audio notated, notated, notated.
So many creations have disappeared like day everynight, & we can never rediscover the inner workings of an arrangement; only the salient bits.
Part of cherishing our culture is surely to document it so others [ people from elsewhere, or pannists of the next generation] can learn its intricacies byboth sight, write & sound.
I should hope that Pan Trinbago is "permanentalizing" (why is that such an ugly word?) every Panorama performance ever played. DVD, VCR, film, etc. Scoring would be a plus, but that is up to the individual bands and arrangers, I would assume.

That said, it is absolutely amazing how much high-quality new music the little country of T&T puts out. It is intrinsic to the culture. With such an emphasis on the new, it is almost as though scoring is a pointless exercise. As Sidd has amply demonstrated, it is not needed for the creative process, and moreover actively unwanted. And if a band ever had a need to recreate one of its own finished Panorama pieces, would it not be sufficient to refer to the video recording to bring back to memory all the intricacies?

The academic and university bands are of course another matter. I would imagine scores would be essential for them.

But how often does a T&T band revisit an old piece, unless it's a touring side on the road performing in Paris, Tokyo or somewhere? So a Panorama piece is essentially a perform once and throw away phenomenon, just like a pretty mas'. Like a sky-diving formation it can never be exactly repeated as live performance. The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on... And the panyard, being a creatory rather than conservatory, will not see hits of yesteryear being recreated except by special demand, e.g. to make a commercial recording, and then they will not sound the same. Even Champs in Concert performances sound flat compared to Panorama night.

We are blessed to be here to witness this golden age of pan. We should cherish every moment of it. Permanentalize it for sure, but treasure the DVDs more than written scores.

- Big Sid
I really, really, enjoyed this podcast.

It brought back memories of my days in the panyard.

It is hard to explain to someone who doesn't know about the dynamics of a panyard, but Dr Bump does a great job.

The steelband is like family and you're so proud to wear the bands t-shirt, the band's colors.

This is why the steelband cannot be a seen in business terms.

Pan culture is becoming a culture that has no national or ethnic boundaries.
Most panists don't necessarily have ambitions to become professionals, and they join the steelband for a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.

You can join a steelband with no musical credentials, and players will gladly show you the ropes.

I love pan, and playing in steelbands have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Thanks Glenroy! I am glad you enjoyed the podcast.
I would say that there is room for both approaches. I teach pan using rote methods and generally play from memory (except when playing long or complicated pieces that my poor old memory cannot cope with!) but learning to read means that you can perform music very quickly without the need for rehearsals. Yesterday I was involved in a concert where the players only had one rehearsal together before the day. They could not have learnt all the material in this rehearsal, so used sheets which made it possible to put this concert together in a very limited amount of time. I do not believe that playing from sheets limits your musical interpretation of the music it is simply another tool which enables people to play.
oh gorm sidd write in sections nah please I thought i was long winded, buh you beat all cock fight, i only got to a piece of your novel and this I  have to say about your objections to the baccanal in the yard, in my practice nobody gets a break to do all them thing, sometimes it does get outa hand and the sessions are very long so breaks are necessary in panorama or festival practices, in real serious sessions most of the players use the breaks to catch up, the panorama practice are usually an open event, some bands like all stars have the famous sign "no non players beyond this point"(or something like that) it is carnival time in TnT and wherever else similar events are taking place that has been part of it, the baccanal will continue and in some ways it also help boost the frenzy I remember violence erupting during practice sessions all over the world yet the members keep their focus, the old days Captains and arrangers would buss heads of those not with it,it may have gotten out of hand in these times, with the changing of cultures however I found out that if people command respect, it will work even in these days, in the absense of the "hammer" and bottle etc, I got Humming birds to pay attention for one whole hour in 92 just used a lil psycology on them, of course I was no official and the big boys were late that night, when they got there it was easy pickings and we got favourable results next day in the north zone finals after that they started quarelimg with the players and it did not help at all. I don't smoke anything and I hardly drink but that is part of the flavour players should not however engage in it and it is up to the seriousness of the band to encourage  


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