Trinidad and Tobago

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Pan for the world

By Terry Joseph
July 02, 2004

Feature speakers at Wednesday's launch of the third World Steelband Music Festival (WSMF III) turned the morning at Crowne Plaza into a virtual history lesson, recalling the event's evolution and, given its record, urged participation by private enterprise and government.

Culture Minister Senator Joan Yuille-Williams left her task to Minister of State in her Ministry, Edward (Eddie) Hart, who traced the tale of the local festival from memory, naming song-titles, bands and years in which winning performances were heard. Extending hope that corporate participation would soon materialise, Hart promised government support, saying: "This government named pan the national musical instrument and did so with conviction and pride.

"We even delivered on promises made to pan by other governments. In fact, we are determined to complete the Pan Trinbago headquarters that another regime started and left midstream, so we are not the kind of government to stand aside on this important occasion," Hart said, without quantifying State involvement.

Chairman of the National Carnival Commission (NCC), Kenny de Silva, who was recognised by Pan Trinbago president Patrick Arnold as one of the pivotal people involved in reviving the local festival in 1980, had earlier trumpeted a similar call.

Saying he too was happy to see the festival off the ground, fingered the hospitality industry as an example of lack of corporate support for cultural activities. "We at the NCC have also experienced this unwillingness. Hotels, for instance, which do exceptional business at Carnival time, do not even put their names to a trophy, although additional revenue is generated by an event staged by the people of Trinidad and Tobago. It is not unreasonable to ask that they put something back," de Silva said.

Arnold, in his turn at the podium, said: "I would have preferred to headline this address by announcing a title sponsor, some agency or corporation that considers this event and the involvement of players of the national musical instrument important enough to underwrite the project but regrettably, this is not yet forthcoming.

"Perhaps those in a position to offer that kind of support do not feel the sense of history or tradition involved and may still view the festival through darkened lenses, but we are here to launch the 2004 edition of an event that first took place 52 years ago, in what is derisively referred to as "colonial times", although the movers and shakers of that era seemed more convinced about pan and felt it should be involved in the Biennial Music Festival.

"What is constant, however, is that from that time until now, we still do not have a place dedicated to the required acoustics for pan performance.

Steel Orchestras were just a category in the 1952 music festival, the pan preliminaries of which took place at the Cocorite Youth Centre, with 20 orchestras registered, along with several soloists, who participated in what was called the ping-pong competition.

"Among the interesting and clearly prophetic statements by adjudicator Dr Sydney Northcote was his comment: 'We have witnessed man's ingenuity in trying to get beauty out of something that is absolutely a waste product and that I do deeply respect'," Arnold said.

He noted that the first festival held under the aegis of Pan Trinbago was staged in 1972, under the presidency of (now Senator) Roy Augustus and the tourist board of the day donated $13,000 to the event, a point revisited by Tourism Minister Howard Chin Lee. Arnold also remarked upon the revival of the event by (the late) Arnim Smith in 1980, with hefty help from the Kirpalani Group of Companies, who donated $116,000.

"Since that time, the local festival has continued, albeit with similar biennial anxieties over funding, as occurred in its earlier days but it expanded and gave rise to the inaugural World Steelband Music Festival in the year 2000, a clear indication of the degree to which pan had extended its global reach," Arnold said.

"In other countries, we would have had to fight off potential sponsors for so proud a development but in Trinidad and Tobago, the land of the steelband, quite the opposite is the case. We have a responsibility to ensure this event happens and by that I do not mean Pan Trinbago alone but the national community, including in a major way, Government and private enterprise.

"The World Steelband Music Festival is not a mere playoff to determine bragging rights but an issue involving the flag and coat of arms of Trinidad and Tobago and one we must take as seriously as if our patrimony was under assault because that is where we are in the continuing evolution of the national musical instrument, Arnold said.

More than TT$1 million is at stake in the October 27 -30 orchestra playoffs in England, which offer a US$40,000 first prize and US$2,000 in appearance fees for each band reaching the semi-final stage. WSMF III penultimate rounds will comprise entrants from seven zones: Europe, North America, Trinidad and Tobago, the wider Caribbean, China, Japan and the host country, each of whom are wholly responsible for staging its qualifying process.

Matters of music are pretty much in hand. Kitchener's calypsoes "Pan in A Minor" is the test-piece for the orchestra category, while "Symphony in G" and "The Carnival is Over" were selected for single-pan bands and ensembles (respectively).

This time around, finals for orchestras have been separated from playoffs for soloists, duets, quartets, ensembles and single-pan bands. While the orchestras will perform their ultimate round in London, pannists in all other categories will fly to Trinidad to have their world ranking determined at Queen's Hall on August 19 and 20 during the wider local festival; which will also decide on the four orchestras that go to London.

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