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Panorama pain

By Terry Joseph
January 27, 2006

In 1963, the inaugural Best Road March Steelband Competition (Panorama) attracted two dozen bands, ten advancing directly from prelims to playoffs via a relatively painless process as distinct from this year, when we have a whopping 56 semi-finalists, 42 of which will perform sequentially in a single and predictably excruciating day.

Let us agree: No one will sit through a 15-hour show except tied to the chair, a trademark of torture, with intrinsic discomfiture exacerbated by the fact that three-fifths of the time must be spent enduring inordinately long band changes. And mark you, this projection is predicated upon a punctual start, set for 9 a.m. on Sunday February 12, a time that will find few Trinis at the Savannah which, in turn, may well inspire the first band to create justification for further delay.

The rationale for adding 14 small bands at this year's Savannah Party is steeped in a brand of "fairness" that favours only pannists, since each of three categories now has a separate adjudication panel and players in all can enjoy the coveted eight minutes of glory onstage but the new configuration significantly inflates production costs and is patently dismissive of the audience, almost saying to hell with those of us who wish to make informed comparisons.

If we want to play the blame game, Pan Trinbago is a soft target but since no Carnival component requiring Government spend or sanction can enjoy long-term planning, Panorama is forever forced to await approval of the annual State subvention, before even beginning to juggle ideas originally bundled into its submission to the Finance Ministry some seven months earlier. Curiously, no money is ever given for research and development.

Consequently, over the past 43 years, every modification of the Panorama template has been experiential, the result of forced adjustments rather than vision, placing the event at the mercy of unpleasant discoveries in the year previous, instead of allowing it to be designed for decades hence; which would per force include growth predictions.

By 1978, the number of bands registered in the North zone alone had doubled the 1963 national sum. Eventually, it topped out at 72, requiring a two-day weekend Savannah party, which had to be deferred because the North Stand was not completed in time, a development interpreted by many as contempt for the steelband movement, that perception strengthened by squabbles over prize money.

But prize money was simple arithmetic, compared to the complex equation of improving infrastructure and managing already unwieldy logistics. Pan Trinbago felt zonal preliminaries would help but retained the combined north and east, comprising what reverted to a one-day Savannah Party which, quite naturally, became too long a show. In 1985, there were 36 bands at that event.

Meanwhile, pan-round-the-neck bands had similarly increased, numbering 32 nationwide in 1990. Six years later, there were 45. That preliminary round, which was staged at the Arima Velodrome, finished just shy of 6 a.m. the following day, five hours before preliminaries for north and east conventional orchestras was scheduled to begin at the Savannah. The event was already out of hand.

Today, ten years hence, Panorama has become a fully grown dinosaur, although psychologically and physically confined to the same space it occupied from infancy, fielding four burgeoning categories. Its first round now has to take place in panyards, given sheer impossibility of every band coming down the Savannah "track"-as remains the dream of every pannist regardless.

The preliminaries now present fresh problems. Those who wish to make personal judgments find it impossible to hear every band even in the same zone, as transportation and lack of parking opportunities conspire to ensure even diehards select two or three orchestras from the lot and devise strategies to defeat inevitable difficulties.

So what was a simple two-tier event back in 1963 has mushroomed into some 150 performances (count 'em) for the judges over a 21-day period, in a scenario where more has clearly not brought us better and worse, has little hope of improving, given prevailing circumstances.

For the Savannah Party, the wise and experienced may go early to secure vantage points but will park personal effects there and go to the bar or down the track, so the big moment on stage for the little band really doesn't materialise. In essence, the show has merely been stretched into another marathon, with no identifiable gains in recognition for small bands.

The audience will, of course, simply have to endure greater anguish but who cares about us?

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