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Three simple steps for Pan Trinbago to take to improve Panorama.

As we head into the 2013 pan season, the benefits and drawbacks of Panorama will certainly be debated. It has been nearly ten years since sweeping changes were made to the competition with the introduction of size categories and reduction in playing time, and it is no secret that the competition continues to be an expensive and unsustainable model in its current state. I do not wish to engage in a discussion about its merits as an artistic event but rather ways that it can be improved upon. As an active player who deals with these issues year after year, I present three simple actions that Pan Trinbago could take to make it better for everyone.

1. Compress the competition schedule from four-plus weeks to two.

Arrangers are arranging, players are learning, and bands are drilling music at a faster rate than ever before, mostly due to increased knowledge of music notation by arrangers and players. Many arrangers are using software like Finale or Sibelius to arrange the music at home on their own time; obsolescent are the days of the arranger coming to the yard and figuring music out on the players' time, as are the days of laborious rote learning. This has resulted in a surplus of time due to the length of the season. There is no reason to have semifinals two weeks before finals. In fact, many bands cancel practice for most of the week right after semis. The current schedule is very cumbersome, and I suggest that there should be only two weeks between preliminaries and finals, with semis the weekend inbetween. This would result in players of all ages spending fewer late nights in the yard and bands spending less money on running rehearsals. And, it would not only be less of a burden on local players who have school, work, children, etc. but also the (growing) number of players coming from abroad who have to take off weeks from their jobs, families, and lives just to play at each stage of the competition. It might even encourage increased panorama-related observer tourism.

2. Reduce the maximum size limit of the bands.

Most will agree that the visceral effect of a hundred-plus steel orchestra is incredible. But fact of the matter is, besides for the few perennial frontrunners these large band sizes are not sustainable. Despite the size categories, there is still extreme stratification within each category, with quality bands and arrangers slipping simply due to being on the lower end of the range. And the result is that more and more, many bands increasingly rely on "hustlers" to bolster the band size, often to the detriment of the band's overall sound (due to over-extended hustlers skating), not to mention finances.
I propose a reduction to the tune of: Large - 90; Medium - 65; Small - 40; Single - 30. This would save money in many aspects from uniforms to transport to checks, would level the playing field within each category, and would help stem the concern of "hustlerism" as bands could make up numbers on their own. As a bonus, it would even enable a few medium bands to move up to large and bolster that suffering category, which has shamefully not even had enough bands for a prelims round since 2006.

3. Bring preliminaries judging back to the panyards.

Bands and PT would save money if panyard prelims judging were to resume. PT could save the money otherwise needed to be spent on the venue, production, subsidized transport, and so on. And the bands could use the event as a fundraiser. It is a win-win situation and I do not understand why this practice has ended.

Panorama is a globally unique and fresh artistic endeavor, and steps need to be taken to ensure its future. I believe that these steps will continuously reveal themselves to be necessary the longer they are neglected. Let's see if anyone is listening.

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Re: The claims in Item 1., here's what one of the arrangers and WST member had to say on "Pan Forever On De Barbargreen":

" Thanks for the dialogue… to be specific in answering one of the questions about the percentage of players in my band in Trinidad who are capable of reading music. The answer is zero percent…but this is because I consider the core of the band “These four (4) kids”. If the band gets to about 40 players for the Panorama (wishful thinking..so sad). I am pretty much sure that 90% or more will learn by ’rote’...Learning by ‘rote’ is still the norm for more than 90% of the bands in Trinidad in my opinion...A Panorama song of 8 minutes will have quite a few pages of score sheets not withstanding intricate passages, notwithstanding the factor of “Panorama tempo”. This makes it very difficult to follow the score (though one can use it as a road map). You have to be a good reader not just a ‘speller’ as a teacher rightly put it. Granted that they play the song or passages slowly and over and over again and this gives ample time to become familiar with and retain that particular part.I will never condemn playing by ‘rote’ because as mentioned before it has its benefits. But I certainly in this day and time will encourage music literacy." Salah Wilson.


(Maybe, someone can present empirical evidence, proving that " obsolescent are the days of the arranger coming to the yard and figuring music out on the players' time, as are the days of laborious rote learning...", because, according this arranger, those "days" are not only far from being over, but also that, even for an arranger, the task of simultaneously reading and playing a Panorama piece, is near impossible. Any other arrangers out there care to challenge Salah Wilson's "90% musically-illiterate" statistical assumptions?)

With Respect,


Perhaps I should have rephrased the shortening of the season. If a band wants to start learning music from October, then fine. It is the length of time between competition stages that needs to be truncated. My point is that, I think the overlength of the season is due to the historical length of time it took to teach, learn, and arrange music, which due to a general widening of music literacy is widely going the way of the buffalo. I appreciate Mr. Wilson's input, but in my own experience in playing with several bands every year i am seeing more and more music sheets passed around in the yards, music being taken faster, and more spare time wasted. The current schedule is becoming antiquated.

"All my stageside members can read music. It is a requirement for the band. However I would never think that rote learning is a thing is the pass. Because it is a talent which is vital to make up the musicianship of a person. In Florida Memorial Dr. Batson coached us in learning by rote as much as learning by score. I think that even though we are trying to let pan evolve we must never forget where we came from and enhance our abilities instead of trying to fit into the mould of the what we think other musicians are built from." Shenelle Abraham, Panorama arranger and FMU Graduate. (This was her response to the "rote learning" debate.)

Does Dr. Batson-Borel know something that Noah does not. She is a PhD'd music professor, and the FMU Steelband Director? What makes Shenelle so aware of the importance of keeping our traditions?



So far two qualified arrangers have debunked the notion of rote learning being unimportant or outdated, and Dr. Batson-Borel's teaching methods, as I also knew from being her former student, place equal importance to rote learning and the ability to read music. Hope this helps clarify what the FACTS are, as opposed to opinion.


Arranger, Andy Narrell, on "rote" learning:

"in the usa, almost everybody is reading, and there is very little learning by rote. at calypsociation in paris, it's like trinidad - everything done by rote, even though some people can read. at birdsong, the players are learning to read, and we're starting to merge the two ways of learning the music. for this year's panorama tune, i'm teaching by rote, but there are charts available to all the players, who often look ahead, and know the notes before i get to them. as far as the comment above goes, i would agree that memorizing the music will always be important because a band that's reading while they play will not be able to play the music at the same level as a band that knows it by heart, but as far as learning the music goes, people who can't read are going to be left behind. written music is a very efficient way of getting the information to everybody, and players who read have a huge advantage in terms of learning new repertoire" Andy Narell

I would also like to clarify that I never suggested that bands should or will be playing onstage using sheet music (although I have seen one or two freelance players doing just that). I didn't even pass judgement on rote learning other than its time consumption. But, if there is a method for making something more efficient, and it is becoming more widespread, I don't see how that could be in any way negative. Don't worry, rote learning will always be there to some degree. But it is increasingly less so - and even those players learning by rote benefit by an arranger who walks into a pan yard with the music written out already, or section leaders who have quickly learned the part from a sheet. I see more and more players and arrangers using sheet music to disseminate, learn, and memorize the music, and as a result time is saved. This is a good thing!

And besides, that wasn't even the point of my suggestions. I am just looking at ways the process could be made more effiicient for the players, bands, and organizations running it. Not an attack on tradition, not an attempt to "sanitize" the thing, just a way to make it run more smoothly. The musicians are doing their part, and I hope that the powers that be follow suit.

"...obsolescent are the days of the arranger coming to the yard and figuring music out on the players' time, as are the days of laborious rote learning." Noah.

Maybe, I'm missing something, but "obsolescent" is defined as, "going out of use". It also suggests that reading ability gives one the freedom to practice less. I think that any serious musician, reader or not, would want to get in as much practice, if they are serious about winning. John Coltrane used to practice like a beast, and never felt that his music acumen provided for any days off. So, any band who takes time off, is not serious about winning, and their performances usually suffer for it. I know you mean well, but your suggestion will only result in the following:

  1. Marginalization of the "lower class", as poverty is a factor when it comes to education.
  2. Layoffs in the industry, as bands cut sizes.
  3. Creation of an unfair environment, where all contestants are not given equal opportunity to win. A competition's conditions should be equal for all participants, and because panyards will have different acoustics and environments (temperature, weather, etc.), it creates an unequal playing field. As with any other competition, all players should be on the same field on the same day, playing under the same conditions, with the same equipment.
  4. The Blueprint for Steel Pan Success", addressed the concerns that continue to pop up. I encourage you to take a look at it, and critique it. (Constructively of destructively.)

I agree that there must be a size limit, but the real issues continue to be wrapped in (1) our society's opinions and attitudes about the steelbands, (2) the lack of responsible governance and leadership, and (3) the failure of the Steelband Movement and her masses in developing their own pedagogy, that would lift their collective "intellect" towards their own liberation and assumption of power. Unfortunately, there are too many who are wrapped up in their own ego, and as such, make suggestions that have more to do about what they want, than what our brothers and sisters in the local industry needs. Many are caught up in "celebrity", for certainly had someone like Boogsie been the one to present the "Blueprint", ALL would be singing praises, and this discussion would have been redundant, as that document is the most comprehensive and progressive attempt at "success" to this day. (Please, if anyone has proof of any similar attempt(s), share it/them with the rest of us.) I, by no means feel I have all or any of the solutions, but one thing that I do know, is that as long as I continue to look at the issues objectively and not subjectively, I will continue to make suggestions, that when looked at, attempt to benefit others and not myself or my desires. I am "college-educated" and extremely progressive in my views, however, I do not believe that I should accept being a part of some elitist class within the steelband industry. To remove the very one (non-reading, 'uneducated", poor, "panman") who gave us the gift of the steelband and steel drum/pan, and replace him with the "Robocops" or "Six Million Dollar Men" - better, stronger, faster - of the steelband world, is not the honor we should be giving to them, for certainly they did not exclude anyone from participating in their rituals when they first created it. To them, it's about culture, not business, and if we're talking business, then we must accept that we are either workers or owners in an industry. And if we are workers, then we need unionism, just like any other worker. And like ant other owner, we must expect that those in our industry will always seek "cheap labour" in order to maximize their profits. As long as the local panman and panwoman remain politically and economically powerless, they can expect more of the same: Exclusion from the decision-making process, as the (so-called) "experts" and "know-it-alls" make decisions for them, and continued exploitation from the "leaders" that are supposed to "have their backs". Not one person is asking them what they want, or what is important to them, but I can assume better wages, more opportunities, and better benefits, mean more to them than many of these proposals I'm seeing. Anyway, I hope no offense is taken, as none is meant; I just wanted to bring some more "sense" to the discussion, and hopefully I did. Respect, colleague.



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