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Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

Victor Prescod - Performer, Educator and Adjudicator - In the Spotlight

Project Coordinator of the Pan in the Classroom Project Unit

Global - Bright, articulate, immensely talented, intellectual, down-to-earth and forthright are all words that can be aptly applied in the description of this young man. He is a music educator and a much sought-after music lecturer and adjudicator of steelpan and other music-related competitions. He has been involved with the steel pan instrument for over twenty-six years and hails originally from southern Trinidad.

As Victor travels throughout the Caribbean, he is heartened by the youth involvement with the steelpan instrument in all the islands. The future looks bright, according to Prescod, because the people are not only passionate about pan but also about music in general, and are musically literate in a number of areas. “With the advent of the Caribbean Examinations Council exams in music - at the end of high school. We have a number of persons who use the steelpan as their principal instrument for examinations. And the examination is not only about performing, but it’s also about arranging, composing, listening and appraising - so it develops the ear - it develops their composing and arranging skills...so we have in Trinidad and Tobago - probably about fifty to sixty percent of the students who enter the examination - use the steelpan as their principal instrument...” says Prescod.

On judging, Victor believes that one of the things that needs to be looked at is the criteria for judging. “Many times persons fault the adjudicators for results, but the adjudicators can only work within the established criteria. And - competition is a strange thing when it comes to music. Because, there are some who say competition stifles creativity - and in a sense, it may. Once you enter a competition there are criteria. And if you are hopeful of being successful in the competition, then you need to address the criteria. What I have found is very often - the arrangers of music for pan, may not fully understand the criteria under which they are being judged. So that - arrangers are creative, so they get into a lot of the creativity which does not necessarily address the criteria...”

Meet Victor Prescod, project coordinator of the “Pan in the Classroom Project Unit” in the Ministry of Education of Trinidad and Tobago. This unit is part of the curriculum development division. Its main focus is having the steelpan used as the primary instrument to teach music in schools. In an informative and personable exclusive interview, When Steel Talks captures Victor Prescod’s insight on music education, adjudication and adjudicators.
click for full interview and video

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Great interview. Thank you for sharing with us Mr. Prescod.
Congratulations to Mr. Victor Prescod, I really like what he's doing and he sounds very intelligent...obviously he has done his homework. I watched the video interview and it seems we agree on the importance of learning music theory and learning how to read and write music...however, my only concern is using the steelpan as the primarly instrument because you can't play chords on the pan unless these new students can play with four sticks. I would teach with the piano/keyboard as the primary instrument and then introduce the pan....either way, it doesn't take away from the excellent work he is doing.
Something else I found interesting is the fact that Victor discussed certain limitations of the judges in that they are expected to judge an eight minute orchestration at high tempo, upon hearing it once. He also explained why it's possible to make mistakes with the inner voices, attributing melodies to one pan when in fact it's played by another. This is because they often play within the same range and when played at speed, it becomes hard to distinguish one from another.

I tend to believe that some judges, after hearing an arrangement over and over in the privacy of their homes, realize that a particular arrangement they judged, actually deserved a higher (or lower) point tally than what it got. After all, they are only human.

This interview reveals much of what we expected was happening when judges analyze an arrangement.
Sidd, doesn't this bring us back to some of the issues raised in the interview? What are the qualifications to being a judge and who determines this?
An excellent point! However, the use of the piano/keyboard in the classroom setting poses problems with regard to studen/instrument ratio. While I was Curriculum Officer (Music), I had advocated the establishment of Keyboard Labs in schools (Yamaha has an excellent program), but this idea didn't gain traction.

The use of the steelpan, although no giving the indiviual student the opportunity to play complete triads, does give the opportunity to perform in an Ensemble and hear, experience and analyze same.

The Pan In The Classroom Unit provides a 16-piece Ensemble to schools (4 'C' Tenors; 2 Double Tenors; 2 Double Seconds; 2 Double Guitars; 2 Triple Cellos; 2 Tenor Basses; and 2 Six Basses). You will realise that there will still be a problem with the student/instrument ratio, but not as pronounced as with one piano/keyboard in a classroom. Other classroom instruments are also encouraged, including Orff instruments and non-melodic percussion.

This is very much a 'work-in-progress', so that as we build awareness and recognition of the value of Music Education (particularly beginning at the Elementary level), we expect to have greater support for the allocation of the financial resources necessary to provide greater effectiveness.

The comments are welcomed as we strive for improvement.

GospelPan said:
Congratulations to Mr. Victor Prescod, I really like what he's doing and he sounds very intelligent...obviously he has done his homework. I watched the video interview and it seems we agree on the importance of learning music theory and learning how to read and write music...however, my only concern is using the steelpan as the primarly instrument because you can't play chords on the pan unless these new students can play with four sticks. I would teach with the piano/keyboard as the primary instrument and then introduce the pan....either way, it doesn't take away from the excellent work he is doing.
Quite true, Sidd. Which only underscores my call for training. It's not an issue that has found favour with many (and I'll make some enemies for saying this), including some Adjudicators...

Sidd said:
There is a problem among judges as well, regarding the development of melody. Some judges can't distinguish between when melodies are being developed within the back pans and including the bass. The quads is a strong melody developer which brings out the most notes with clarity. Unfortunately, not all bands use quads. Development of melody is a very difficult criteria for a Panorama band. The use of the melody or parts of the melody withing the arrangements might be easier achieved by Panorama bands. Harmonic melody lines are a better form of melody development within the Panorama band. This is where the big bands come out strong. The term development of melody is a most difficult thing to judge by many well qualified people. Bands do try to develop the melody but some judges do not easily recognize it. Harmonic melody lines within the arrangements, which reminds one of the actual song or parts of the song,should be the better criteria, than merely saying "melody development" in my opinion. This is not to be confused with the actual melodybeing replayed within the arrangement. It means the arrangement contains reminders of the actual melody in some way. It can be played by any range of pans.
It is a great honor to hear from you Mr. Prescod.

Wow, I didn't consider what finances were available for the, “Pan in the Classroom Project Unit”, but now I have a better understanding. I have much respect for your professional approach to this, it is a great responsibility...preparing youths for a future that will be very different from the present times.

There is still one thing I'd humbly like to suggest, though you may laugh me off the board.

After some years of teaching members of a church steel orchestra, I decided to make a change in how I refer to some of the pans; this came after having a discussion with Clive Bradley about changing the name of the Tenor Pan to Soprano Pan. Clive said he raised the idea to Pan Trinbago, but was not able to convince them of the need to change the name. I also had an experience where the band played in Pennsylvania and after we finished, a certain jazz musician approached me and asked, "what instrument is that?", I told him a Tenor Pan, he then asked what the range was and I responded immediately...he then said, "so it's a lead pan!" and I said yes and gave him some history of the instrument and said that traditionally it's called a Tenor Pan, but in reality its a Soprano Pan or Lead Pan.

After these experiences, I decided to call the Pans by their true range names "if" the name of a pan is a range; so I call the Tenor Pan a Soprano Pan (or sometimes I call it the Lead Pan), The Double Tenor I call Double Alto and I reflect this thinking on scores as well.

Since you are in the position of educating younger minds, my humble suggestion is to alert your students to this because it's important and it can save them from embarrassment in the future...who knows, some of them may one day run Pan Trinbago and incorporate this much needed change.

Finally, I noticed you use 'C' leads in the classroom, I think that's the right move but did it cause some concerns since most bands use 'D' leads with their orchestras?



Victor N. Prescod said:
An excellent point! However, the use of the piano/keyboard in the classroom setting poses problems with regard to studen/instrument ratio. While I was Curriculum Officer (Music), I had advocated the establishment of Keyboard Labs in schools (Yamaha has an excellent program), but this idea didn't gain traction.

The use of the steelpan, although no giving the indiviual student the opportunity to play complete triads, does give the opportunity to perform in an Ensemble and hear, experience and analyze same.

The Pan In The Classroom Unit provides a 16-piece Ensemble to schools (4 'C' Tenors; 2 Double Tenors; 2 Double Seconds; 2 Double Guitars; 2 Triple Cellos; 2 Tenor Basses; and 2 Six Basses). You will realise that there will still be a problem with the student/instrument ratio, but not as pronounced as with one piano/keyboard in a classroom. Other classroom instruments are also encouraged, including Orff instruments and non-melodic percussion.

This is very much a 'work-in-progress', so that as we build awareness and recognition of the value of Music Education (particularly beginning at the Elementary level), we expect to have greater support for the allocation of the financial resources necessary to provide greater effectiveness.

The comments are welcomed as we strive for improvement.

GospelPan said:
Congratulations to Mr. Victor Prescod, I really like what he's doing and he sounds very intelligent...obviously he has done his homework. I watched the video interview and it seems we agree on the importance of learning music theory and learning how to read and write music...however, my only concern is using the steelpan as the primarly instrument because you can't play chords on the pan unless these new students can play with four sticks. I would teach with the piano/keyboard as the primary instrument and then introduce the pan....either way, it doesn't take away from the excellent work he is doing.
Sidd, you have raised some good points here, but I'm not sure if all of them will work.

Sometimes an arranger will make sweeping changes to an arrangement just before the finals, which gives very little time to incorporate those changes into a score, print it out and have judges review them before the final. It's also an enormous time consuming task, scoring a Panorama arrangement; there cannot be any mistakes at all otherwise a judge can blame the players for a wrong note when the error is in the score. Even if it could be done, it will mean starting the score just before the semifinals and having it ready, error free for the finals....which in my humble opinion is unlikely for one band let alone several and then there is the cost factor. I also think that if this was possible it would be important for the judges to use the score at Panorama rather than leave it home and rely on their memories.


Sidd said:
The problem can be solved by making the criteria in relation to "melody development" more explicit. The judges should know what is meant by melody development. It does not necessarily mean a whole new melody is developed from the original melody. Although there can be a bit of that aspect as well, but it should mostly mean, that the melody can be varied within the arrangements of all the pans, periodically reminding the judges or audience of the melody of the song itself. Even when a whole new melody is developed from the arrangement, the original melody or harmonies of the melody can be easily arrived at. (real re-harmonization.) Both judges and arrangers should be explained in simple language. In addition to this, this is where music score can best be utilized. The arrangements should be scrored as much as possible. Not necessarily the actual song itself, but the arrangements of the song. By the semifinals all judges should have those music scores available for study. At finals they leave the scores at home and now listen to those same scores basically, which may contain some new subtle developments put in the last week which arrangers love to do. The final results should not be given immediately after the final band has played. It should be given out the next day, somewhere in the afternoon period, where the judges and everyone else would have gotten some sleep and their thinking set straight again. This will have a more balanced effect on everyone concerned and would give Panorama a higher standard allround. Imagine carnival Sunday evening the winners of Panorama are then announced. It would be fresh for j'ouvert morning as well. It could even be announced at Dimanche Gras. This will bring back some of the Panorama spirit in J'ouvert. The winners will be freshly enjoying. The judges would have spent more time with the arrangements and more time with the decisions.
Hello Victor,

What is the greatest challenge you face as a panorama judge?



Victor N. Prescod said:
Quite true, Sidd. Which only underscores my call for training. It's not an issue that has found favour with many (and I'll make some enemies for saying this), including some Adjudicators...

Sidd said:
There is a problem among judges as well, regarding the development of melody. Some judges can't distinguish between when melodies are being developed within the back pans and including the bass. The quads is a strong melody developer which brings out the most notes with clarity. Unfortunately, not all bands use quads. Development of melody is a very difficult criteria for a Panorama band. The use of the melody or parts of the melody withing the arrangements might be easier achieved by Panorama bands. Harmonic melody lines are a better form of melody development within the Panorama band. This is where the big bands come out strong. The term development of melody is a most difficult thing to judge by many well qualified people. Bands do try to develop the melody but some judges do not easily recognize it. Harmonic melody lines within the arrangements, which reminds one of the actual song or parts of the song,should be the better criteria, than merely saying "melody development" in my opinion. This is not to be confused with the actual melodybeing replayed within the arrangement. It means the arrangement contains reminders of the actual melody in some way. It can be played by any range of pans.
If we are all in agreement that the judges need training why is this not being done?
Bugs,
The concept of judges receiving training is a great one, but who is going to organize this?

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