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Exodus on top of the world

By Terry Joseph
October 21, 2002

Members of Exodus Steel Orchestra More than six months of rehearsals paid off shortly before 1 a.m. yesterday, when Exodus Steel Orchestra was declared winner of the prestigious orchestra category of the World Steelband Music Festival (WSMF II).

Members of the Tunapuna-based band played a "victory lap" of the test-piece (The Mighty Terror's "Pan Talent") and continued to dance around their pans until the floodlights dimmed at the Jean Pierre Complex.

"It has been a long and arduous climb that started almost seven months ago and the reward really was a vindication of the players' dedication along that gruelling path," Exodus manager Ainsworth Mohammed said yesterday afternoon, speaking between sips as celebrations continued at the band's Eastern Main Road panyard.

A full house was on hand to witness the competition, including President Arthur NR Robinson (who left early to attend to "matters of State"), Culture Minister Penelope Beckles, Community Development Minister Joan Yuille-Williams, Minister in the Ministry of Sport, Eddie Hart, and opposition senator Arnim Smith. Exodus performed Tchaikowsky's "Romeo and Juliet Overture" and the mandatory test-piece, totting up 564 points, three ahead of defending champion TCL Group Skiffle Bunch, whose arranger/conductor Ben Jackson added a closing cadenza to "Ocean Rhapsody" in their bid to retain the title won two years earlier.

The ad lib was performed by Len "Boogsie" Sharpe, who also composed and arranged the piece, an enhancement that raised questions among music aficionados about the band's sincerity to music scores supplied to judges Joslynne Sealey, Merle Albino de Coteau and chief judge Dr Larry Snider.

However, it may have cost Skiffle Bunch the very three points that put them behind Exodus, as those bands tied, each with 284 points in the other half of the contest, which scored the orchestras' tune of choice.

In his remarks, Dr Snider, Professor of Music and Director of Percussion Studies at the University of Akron in Ohio, did touch upon the need for arrangers to be "true to a classical score", suggesting one way to achieve that condition was through music education.

He spoke of the increased degree of difficulty in songs selected for latter-day festivals. None of that spoke to Exodus, though, who fielded 60 players under the baton of Jesus Acosta for "Romeo and Juliet" and won a tremendous ovation from the 3,000 pan fans in the house on Saturday night.

"Interestingly, Pat Bishop had suggested we play ‘Romeo & Juliet' at the festival in 2000, but band members felt we did not have enough time, so on this occasion we began to work on the piece shortly after Carnival to ensure we had it right," Mohammed said.

"We knew it was a tremendous work and felt that once we put in the effort, it would be unbeatable. Regarding the test-piece, we found our performance at the semi-final really did not come up to scratch and went back to our panyard during the week and did the necessary corrective homework to ensure that nothing was left to chance," he said.

In third place was England's BWIA Ebony, who equalled the Exodus score on the test-piece but trailed on their tune of choice, Gershwin's "An American in Paris", which was again guided by Yaira Yonne, conductor of the Swiss National Symphony.

In the sum, it had been one of pan's finest moments, a description agreed upon by David "Happy" Williams and Orville Wright, Trinidad-born musicians now resident abroad, who flew home for the festival.

In Williams' case, it was killing two birds with the same stone, as he is also due to perform this weekend at the Pan Royale concert trilogy.

But it had also been a night that gave fresh wind to the perennial argument about facilities for pan. Across the street from the open-air Jean Pierre

Complex, a wedding at the Lion's Civic Centre supplied a constant stream of booming stereo during the first half of the festival final.

In the house, ringing cell-phones and conversation regularly rivaled soft passages of orchestral performances. It was a point raised by Pan Trinbago president Patrick Arnold even before the contest began.

In his address, Arnold said it was shameful that such excellence had to be performed in a "sub-standard environment" and hoped "with the impending economic boom, the State would channel some of the windfall toward the construction of a venue dedicated to the peculiar acoustics of pan".


1. Exodus Trinidad 564
2. TCL Group Skiffle Bunch Trinidad 561
3. BWIA Ebony London 558
4. TT Defence Force Trinidad 534
5. Gary Straker's Pan School Trinidad 525
6. Courts New Dimension Grenada 524
7. Petrotrin Trinmar SBU Hatters Trinidad 521
8. Solo Pan Knights Trinidad 513

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