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The perils of Panorama

By Terry Joseph
February 23, 2000

Pan fanatics often argue that calypsonian Blakie helped to perpetuate the negative stereotype when, in the chorus of "Steelband Clash", he vows: "Never me again to jump in a steelband in Port of Spain."

But the line is certainly a handy ultimatum for those of us who wish to nudge pan music towards a level of sophistication, measurable on the basis of integrity and aesthetic; rather than the emotive platitudes by which it is currently assessed.

Indeed, the chorus of Blakie's calypso came sharply to mind shortly before dawn on Monday last, as I drove home. "Never me again," I quietly resolved.

And although my decision came after a battle that spilled no blood, the victims in Blakie's song could not have suffered any greater pain than those of us who stayed the distance at last Sunday's panorama preliminaries.

From well before the advertised starting time of 11 a.m., thousands poured into the Queen's Park Savannah, intent on hearing ten-minute performances from each of the 34 steelbands listed on the programme. The exercise would begin one hour late and then take 16 hours to conclude, with some two-thirds of the show's duration consumed by absolute nothingness, as bands changed onstage.

During the afternoon and perhaps up to nightfall, the long periods between performances allowed pan fanatics a chance to socialise and at once provided wining opportunities for those of diminished allegiance, as liquor took hold and groups of percussionists struck up lively rhythms at each break.

But as the night wore on, the delays, some of which stretched to 30 minutes, became truly unbearable burdens. It was indeed remarkable that, with the same number of instruments and players fielded by other large bands, the Solo Pan Knights band was able to become performance ready just seven minutes after reaching the stage. It is therefore possible for others to do the same.

And while a concert featuring 34 orchestras with a ticket price of just $40 ranks for bargain of the century, the customer certainly does not deserve to be put through the wringer, just to seal the deal.

To be sitting, waiting, wondering, while band officials strut about the stage is not a formula for fun.

In fact, the executive and membership of Pan Trinbago must be made to know that we do not enjoy these marathon sessions, particularly those rendered longer and more boring by applied inefficiency, coupled with the tendency of successive pan administrations to pander to the whims of eccentric musicians.

Bands that have been using the same space on the same stage for years, must be familiar with the specifications of the performance space and should certainly know the dimensions of their own floats. What then could stop them from coming to the arena with a stage plan printout or scale drawing, so that the racks of instruments could be brought on and positioned in a flash?

And why are sub-standard bands allowed to reach the stage? After all, the contest doubles as a concert that is pan's most compelling annual attraction. Surely Pan Trinbago has a responsibility to ensure that it presents acts of a certain quality, or at least those that satisfy even the low end of a predetermined performance standard?

More importantly: Why do we need to have 34 bands in a single event? Again the emotion surfaces, dunking all practical considerations in the process.

The pannists have worked hard to learn the tune, they tell me. Some were even forced into the indignity of having to borrow money to come to practise and they look forward to their ten minutes of glory on the Panorama stage.

But practising nightly for five weeks is not, by itself, a good enough reason for charging admission prices. Like any other type of musical production, if the band does not have intrinsic talent, continuous practice from now until Armageddon, will not improve that condition.

In much the same way that seniors in the steelband movement never tire of preaching that no one regards their efforts or pays homage to the instrument, audiences that do come to hear it also deserve respect from the producers.

If Panorama is to continue next year, bands must accept that the current system simply cannot apply. They must be prepared to be judged at their panyards in the first round and only those that hurdle that level should be invited to the Savannah. Bands should also be made to present a copy of their planned stage set-up, so that trained movers can swiftly position the instruments. Either that, or "Never me again".

Pan may still wish to boast that it is the latest instrument in the musical kingdom. It must be careful to not become the first dinosaur.

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