Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music
Cinderella’s Dance represents my response to the 2014 panorama in Antigua & Barbuda.
Once upon a time there lived an unhappy, motherless girl with her stepmother and two stepsisters. The stepmother did not like her one little bit because she was prettier than her own two daughters. In fact, the poor girl was prettier than anyone else in the whole, wide world. She should have had a web site, www.noneprettier.com.
She was forced by her spiteful stepmother to do all the housework. Her only respite came at the end of the day. Even in her stepsisters’ hand-me-downs she had a calming effect on all around her, except her stepparents. As she ate and shared her scraps of food, the cat did not eat the mice and the mice did not eat the pumpkin. Together, they sat in the pumpkin patch near the fire, looking at the shapes of the dying embers of the coal. She gazed at these fallen cinders so much, they called her Cinderella.
One carnival day, two beautiful costumes arrived at the house for the stepsisters to go to the steel band panorama at Carnival City. Cinderella was very sad she could not go. But suddenly that evening a moko jumbie appeared and turned her raggy clothes into a beautiful carnival costume, the pumpkin into a coach and seven mice into six horses and a coachman. Before she went off to panorama, the moko jumbie warned her that she must leave carnival city at midnight, when the spell would end. And the cat said, “meow”.
As the steel bands played at panorama, Cinderella danced. She danced, she danced, she danced, until she and the steel band became one. The upper parts of her body danced to the front line steel pans, the single and double tenors and the double second pans. Her lower chest and abdomen danced with the mid-ranged pans, the guitar, cello and quadrophonic pans. All the basses from the four bass to the nine bass pans went to her lower back and behind, and the engine room was strung along her hands and feet. She danced.
All the while, her two stepsisters were gyrating rudely to the steel band, dancing out of time, out of rhyme and out of everyone’s mind. Cinderella danced so well she forgot the warning until she heard the first stroke of midnight. Quickly, trying not to miss the next beat of the clock and the next beat of the music, she ran from Carnival City, lost her glass slippers and vanished into the night.
The next day, the winning steel band, for which she had danced the best, went in search of her, using the glass slippers to find her. When they reached Cinderella’s house, her stepmother tried in vain to get the slippers to fit her daughters. But Cinderella was the perfect fit instead. As the steel band played again, Cinderella danced again. Legend has it that for every panorama since then, the band to win must make Cinderella dance the best.
The music for panorama must satisfy the criteria. The arrangement carries 40 per cent of the points. The judges and the audience must follow the intro, the outro, the development of melody, the development of motif and the re-harmonization. If you are not a very well trained and tested musician or an ardent follower of steel band, you should go to the pan yard to see how these elements of the criteria are developed, shared out, interchanged and exchanged from pans to pans.
You have to listen keenly to hear these musical elements, changes and interplay. Otherwise, it is all noise. Listening keenly simply means going to the pan yard often and just being there without trying too hard to listen. A quiet, passive, receptive mind is all you need. Witnessing the development of an orchestral performance is an invaluable tool that can assist you in all facets of life. It will really make your life dance, like Cinderella. The bounteous treasures in the steel band are yet to be fully unearthed for personal and community gains.
The general performance also carries 40 per cent of the points. This comprises interpretation, dynamics, creativity and balance. The remaining 20 per cent points are divided equally between tonal quality and rhythm.
As steel band arrangement becomes more sophisticated, the overall sound of the band becomes paramount. Cinderella must dance throughout the entire piece in such a way that the entire musical story unfolds from intro to outro, with all the nuances and surprises in between. There must be an overall harmony throughout the steel band so that crucial parts to be heard above others, at certain times, are indeed heard. Without this, remarks from a passionate pan lover, about her own steel band and mine, will include, “After the flat tune, the band played “ pure stupidniss”; “pure stupidniss”. Either the remark was correct or the inner beauty of the music was lost. It’s all about the design and architecture of sound, on the panorama stage, on the night and not just in the pan yard.
Frontline pans can become background pans and vice versa. Also, the mid-range pans can soar to the front or fall to the back. Cinderella’s dance will teach you when to listen and when to talk and how different parts can work together or work separately and still be part of one glorious, dancing whole.
Some arrangers here and in Trinidad and Tobago are calling for more sophistication in the arrangement of music for steel bands as they try to stay within the panorama criteria and yet get away from the historic, formulaic simplicity of most of the arrangements. However, regardless of the sophistication of the music, the physical setup on stage, the overall balance and the overall storytelling on the panorama stage are fundamental requirements for winning, lest all the hard work in the pan yard reap little.
During the next panorama performances, and indeed for any steel band performance, listen well. This means your mind must be open and at rest. Listen well and see if you can see Cinderella dancing from rags to riches. It will be easy to determine the winning steel band. The winner will be like the prince who puts the glass slippers on Cinderella’s feet and make her dance the panorama criteria so well, so logically and so clearly that she and the steel band will be married and will live happily after. And the cat that knows music will say, “Meow”.