Friday, 12 February 2016

Time for Panorama Review?

Panorama is the annual steelpan competition hosted in the birth-place of the instrument, Trinidad and Tobago. It features the world's leading steelbands. This commentary was written for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian and published on February 11, 2016. It is re-published here to correct the omission of statistics for Phase II Pan Groove - one of the competition's more successful bands.

Desperadoes’ undisputed Panorama win on February 6 marked the 11th time the band has won the contest which essentially declares for it the title of leading steelband in the world. This maintains “Despers” record as the most successful band in the history of organised pan competition.

The closest any bands have come to that are nine wins each for Renegades and Trinidad All Stars. Phase II Pan Groove with seven while Exodus and Harmonites follow with four wins apiece and Starlift with three.

Desperadoes Steel Orchestra in full flight
This means that in a total of 40 non-consecutive encounters, just six bands have dominated the competition. Other winners have been Silver Stars, North Stars and Cavaliers winning twice and Hatters and NuTones with one win apiece. North Stars were the very first winners in 1963 and Renegades were the only hat-trick winners spanning the period 1995-1997.

The much-ignored small and medium band categories have offered up their own share of outstanding bands. Pan Elders, for example, won on a hat-trick in 2016 and second-placed Buccooneers are now two-time winners, having taken the prize in 2013. Third placed Katzenjammers won in the two preceding years.

Arima Golden Symphony won in the Small Bands category this year, reaching a record of seven wins including five consecutive wins between 2009 and 2013. In second place was 57 year old Laventille Serenaders with their highest placement since they entered this category in 2008. In third place was Tornadoes, which emerged out of dominant Point Fortin band See-burg in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
The record of the last 20 years would therefore suggest the virtual hegemonic domination of less than a dozen bands spanning all three categories.

Though the primary focus tends to be on the large bands, pan connoisseurs point to the improving musicality and creativity of the small and medium bands and Panorama regulars are often wont to mention the keenness of the competition particularly in the small and medium band categories.

The second-place achievement of Lopinot-based Supernovas in the large band category this year is remarkable if only because they made the jump from small to large after placing second in the small bands category in 2015. Some would suggest that such a phenomenal achievement owes much to the fact that the smaller categories are generating a standard of play separated only by the number of players.

The other factor to consider is the role of an emerging, relatively new generation of pan arrangers. Duvone Stewart of Pan Elders/Renegades, Seion Gomez of Buccooneers and Amrit Samaroo of Supernovas/Melodians come to mind, alongside a host of others in bands that did not place in the top three and are waiting in the wings in the Junior Panorama competition.

I would keep a keen eye on Aviel Scanterbury of Bishops/Trinity College East, which placed second in the secondary schools’ category and Andrew Charles of Renegades Juniors. There are others, but these two are preparing for the big time and will be names we should remember.

It is also becoming clear that pan music is entering different levels of sophistication and that some areas of experimentation, though by no means new, are gaining greater acceptance on the Panorama stage. Andy Narell’s dogged insistence on slowing the pace and scoring melodic riffs that make use of jazz chords did not take Birdsong to the finals yet again, but there is every chance of such an approach being influential in the minds of the newer entrants.

It is being argued that in the event of such a transformation in the approach to arranging for Panorama, as has been the case over the past 10 years and more, judges and the criteria employed may need to be adjusted or redefined.
The current adjudication criteria are Arrangement, which carries a maximum of 40 out of 100 points; General Performance 40; Tone 10 and Rhythm 10.

There is nothing to suggest that crowd response, nifty costuming, attractive flagmen and women, well-timed fog machines or noisy pyrotechnics are factored into any of the four criteria – nor should they be. There would, however, need to be further elaboration of the expectations regarding arrangement and the amorphous notion of a “good” performance.

Do Dane Galston’s dance steps count for anything? Did Boogsie’s masked entry onto the stage make a difference in any way? Did Carlton “Zanda” Alexander’s stately and authoritative conducting style count?

The difference between the winning band, Desperadoes, and Supernovas was one point (285-284). And Supernovas was separated by joint third-place bands Phase II and Renegades also by one point.
Perhaps breaches of the eight-minute time limit ought to be looked at again, along with – in the absence of a real pan theatre – the time spent per band in setting up their instruments.

Over the years, Pan Trinbago has been able to accelerate the process much more smoothly. But there is clearly room for improvement.

On another note, the decision this year to prevent accredited photographers from mounting the stage generated considerable expressions of discontent. Pan Trinbago would do well to negotiate better conditions for some of its most solid allies in promoting one of Carnival’s most valuable shows, whatever the past transgressions of a few camera-bearers. Photographers covering the event this year had clear ideas on how the interests of the organisers and those who practice their craft behind the camera can come better than they did in 2016.

Lovers of pan also appear to have some ideas of their own worth listening to.

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