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Pan in yuh pueff'n

By Terry Joseph
October 19, 2002

Next weekend's Pan Royale concerts at the QRC grounds will effectively bring down the curtain on a most extraordinary month for the national musical instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.

Spread over three nights, Pan Royale brings together some of the most famous names in the steel pantheon, including Robbie Greenidge, Len "Boogsie" Sharpe, Rudy "Two Left" Smith, Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars, Exodus, Redemption Sound Setters, Lydian Steel and TCL Group Skiffle Bunch.

For the concert trilogy, they will team with five-time national calypso monarch Black Stalin, Moyenne, homegrown jazz-great David "Happy" Williams, Grammy Award winning composer/percussionist Ralph MacDonald, The Lydian Singers, Jeunes Agape, Southernaires and Signalite Chorale; in what must be pan's most powerful non-competitive tribute ever.

And even as Pan Royale hits its midway mark on Saturday night in Trinidad, three of the instrument's revered custodians will be celebrated in New York during the Sunshine Awards dinner at the Penntop ballroom of Manhattan's Pennsylvania Hotel.

At the black-tie affair, veteran tuner Clifford Alexis, currently attached to the music department of Northern Illinois University (NIU) and Edgar "Junior" Pouchet, who introduced pan to Disneyworld and stayed with its Orlando, Florida, flagship for more than 35 consecutive years, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

At the same event, Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars receives the Lord Kitchener Award. Among winners to be announced at the dinner will be recipient of the recently introduced category Best Steelband Recording.

Back home, eight of the world's best orchestras will tonight compare notes at the Jean Pierre Complex, vying for the prestigious title of global champion. Local aspirants are coming up against a formidable challenge from England's Ebony Steelband, the European title-holder, who emerged as front-runner at the end of the semi-final round.

Indeed, the 12-day World Steelband Music Festival has done more than present pan music competitions for soloists, duets, quartets, ensembles and orchestras. In this, the second edition, it has attracted more compositions by foreign musiciansóworks prepared primarily for interpretation by steel orchestras.

For the Petrotrin Trinmar SBU Hatters, Dr Jeannine Remy, Associate Professor of Music at the University of Idaho, composed and conducted "The Attack and Aftermath of September 11th, 2001". To date the only known such work triggered by those catastrophic events, it extruded new sounds from the instrument.

Grenadian David "Peck" Edwards penned an intricate "Appreciation for Pan", the tune of choice for a 60-member band from his country, and Frenchman Blandy Bruno authored the calypso-influenced "Leve" which his country's representative orchestra, Calyps'Atlantic, performed in their bid to advance.

Yaira Yonne, conductor of the Swiss National Symphony who, at the inaugural festival created quite a stir working with Panch 2000, was this time around guiding Ebony through Gershwin's "An American in Paris" to top the current standings.

So too at home, academics showed a higher level of interest and not merely from the podium. It was an ensemble from the University of the West Indies (St Augustine campus) that topped its category and researchers from its engineering department who co-ordinated a pan symposium.

The festival spread its wings in other directions, too. Andy Ahiko, a native of South Carolina, wrote and arranged a piece titled "Macqueripe", to officially become ranked as third best pan soloist in the world. Boogsie Sharpe's "Ocean Rhapsody", commissioned by Skiffle Bunch, is already being considered his piece d' resistance.

At Cascadia Hotel, the two-day symposium brought together some of pan's finest scientific minds to review research on the instrument.

Speakers included NIU physics professor Thomas Rossing, Professor Lawrence Murr of Materials and Metallurgy, University of Texas at El Paso, and UWI senior lecturers in engineering Dr Clem Imbert and Brian Copeland. Engineer Frank Agarrat advised on placing mikes on pans for optimum reproduction.

We viewed and heard a stainless steel pan manufactured by George Whitmyre and Harvey Price, American patent holders for an unduly controversial mass production process. We also got a progress report from Pan in Schools co-ordinating council president Ian Belgrave and proposals for the way forward from National Steel Orchestra operations manager, Nestor Sullivan.

Issues involved in standardisation were discussed by Bureau of Standards' Ken Roach. Richard Aching, chief technical examiner at the Legal Affairs Ministry's intellectual property office, spoke on protecting steelpan innovations and inventions; and his technical information specialist, Richard Lue Shue, took on the topic: business opportunities and intellectual property ownership.

Meanwhile, top Trini pannists were busy on the world's finest performance stages. Over the past two weekends, a group led by David "Happy" Williams shared the spotlight with a parade of jazz icons during the New York Lincoln Center's Year of the Drum Celebration.

Othello Molineaux on tenor pan and Ron Reid on double seconds were part of the eight-member jazz ensemble led by Williams that appeared at the Center's Stanley H Kaplan Penthouse. Responding to the sound of pan harmonising at close quarter, legendary jazzman Max Roach said: "Steel drums are magical. I'm fascinated by these instruments."

Even as curtain calls were being taken in New York, pan virtuoso and NIU graduate Liam Teague played one of Asia's most celebrated recital facilities, Taiwan's Chang Kai-Shek National Theater and Concert Hall; in a month that opened with pan taking centre-stage at a percussion festival in Japan.

So, as the lights go down on Pan Royale next Sunday evening, after one very special month, a period during which former Pan Trinbago president Arnim Smith was appointed to The Senate, we're suddenly much better equipped to frontally address the question: "Where pan reach?"

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