Talk Up Radio Senior Reporter and Producer Kristeena Monteith reported on Panfest 2015: Pan Does...
"I was not a fan of steel pan. Sure, it sounded great in songs like Nicki Minaj’s “Pound the Alarm”, and, as a Caribbean person I appreciated it’s place in history. Pythagoras, a Greek mathematician (aka the triangle guy from 3rd form maths) calculated a very fancy, very complex musical cycle of “fourths and fifths” and apparently, the steel pan is the only musical instrument to follow this configuration exactly. It is one of the few musical instruments developed in the 20th century but I wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a steel pan fan. Also, despite the fact that Panoridim, the steel pan band whose show I was going to see was the first steel band founded in Jamaica, having been formed in the 70’s, I was not familiar with this band.
Pan Does 2015 changed all of that. Firstly, the orchestra, Panoridim and the team at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts deserve a round of applause for breaking the cycle of events running on “Jamaican time”. Pan Does began promptly at 4 pm as scheduled.
And what a show it was. The pieces were exquisitely arranged, performed with deft precision and infused with the youthful exuberance of the orchestra members. Their energy was infectious. Every single person in the audience was dancing in his or her seat by the second item. The lineup flowed quite fluidly from the biggest pop tunes of last year to the reggae tunes we all know and love. And then, from beautiful classical music pieces including one composed by a member of the band to the home of steel pan, exciting soca. Trust me, everything sounds good in steel pan but wait for that soca section because steel pan was made for soca and the band paid homage to the Trinidadian roots of steel pan and soca. Even if you’re not a soca junkie when that steel pan hits you, you will feel the vibe to palance.
I really can’t get over the orchestra members. They were brilliant and made the music come alive. I could tell that they were enjoying themselves and that they put much time and effort into their orchestra. They had costume changes, props and a number of surprise moments which found them moving on stage much to the delight of the audience.
I loved every single item on the lineup but steel pan Moonlight Sonata was my favourite. Played under soft blue light, it was breathtakingly beautiful. The medium of steel pan added texture and colour to it and made it sound as if it was my Caribbean lullaby instead of belonging to some Bavarian princess or a Tzarina in a Slavic monarchy. Beethoven would be proud.
“Kotch” was another crowd pleaser. It was performed with spectacular light play. Flashing from no lights to harsh red lights in some places and creating the perfect silhouette of the band it was visually and auditorily pleasing.There was something for everyone. Fans of alternative music, dancehall, modern reggae versus traditional reggae, what have you would all find something to love. It was all there, and all perfect.
I spoke briefly with a few members of the audience before and after the show and they were all pleased with the quality of the music. Some had known nothing about steel pan and came to see what the fuss was all about and some people had been following both steel pan and Panoridim for decades and were loyal supporters but all could agree that the show was amazing. One lady I spoke to, whose daughter Susan is a member of the orchestra, was especially fond of the band converting contemporary music into steel pan and thought it was an effective way to reach young people who have not been exposed to live music. I wholeheartedly agree.
We are the children of the digital age. Our music occupies virtually no space on our mobile phones and it comes to us through little speakers jammed into our ears but trust me, you have never really heard music until you’ve heard any form of life music. To be in the presence of musical instruments and musicians and to see, feel, and hear music being born is something too extraordinary to be summed up in words. Panoridim’s take on steel pan has made a fan of me so go to UWI and watch either their 4 or 7 pm show this Sunday April 24th and let them do the same for you. But if you can’t, remember the Caribbean has been truly blessed with music. Just stand on a beach or on a mountain and listen to the sand, the sea and the wind orchestra."
By Shantel Thomas
Known for its wide repertoire, the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra has never fallen short of its ten commandments of pan. From symphonies to mambos played by their magnificent seven sections, the orchestra continues to expand its reputation of being enthusiastic, energetic and entertaining. Though capable of making six songs or more collide during a performance, love for the music and what we do as a band often blocks any desire to take five. Our passion is fuelled by supporters chanting requests such as “Four Lara!”, through crowds as thick as those in Halfway Tree. Yet at the end of it all, it comes down to just the two of us: the player and the instrument.
What serves to separate and differentiate the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra (referred to as Panoridim) from other orchestras is the family behind the music. We all are one.
The steel pan, a percussion instrument, was invented on the twin island country of Trinidad and Tobago in the 1930’s. It had been developed by youths who, having been denied the opportunity to play their ancestral drums turned to empty oil drums to satisfy a musical yearning (Walrond, 2007). Ironically, an instrument forged out of resistance and rebellion is the same instrument played by both active and prospective members, out of total submission and compliance to our musical authorities.
The process of becoming a member of Panoridim is somewhat rigorous, thus ensuring that the best quality is maintained. Before becoming a member, one is required to do a ‘rhythm audition’. Once successful, the prospective members are classified as members of the band even though the unwritten culture of the orchestra states otherwise. Consider a young child being adopted into a family, in the same way, much evaluation, constructive criticisms and scrutiny is necessary to guarantee that each party is compatible for building a life-long relationship.
Initially we were branded with the title “NEW members”, a verbal reminder of our stance as it relates to the orchestra’s hierarchical structure. Growth towards being fully accepted and integrated into the family became evident with every performance, every hour of every rehearsal, and every strike our now much loved sticks made as music was created. Music is defined as “the art of arranging tones in an orderly sequence, so to produce a unified and continuous composition" (Webster II, 1984). Eventually, the bonds were strengthened between who were once viewed as new members and the existing members, as the flow of communication and interaction got easier. From here, the musical journey officially began for the academic year, paving the way as an excuse to act and function ‘crazy’, one of the typical characteristics of a Panoridim member.
Founded in 1977, the driving force of Panoridim has always been its members, proof of a phrase well known by all, “the band that lymes together stays together”. A lyme (as known by the orchestra) refers to the gathering of band members for the purpose of socializing, conversations, or recreation. This is an integral aspect of being in the band as it builds rapport and teaches us to be our brother’s keepers. It makes us more than just a band, rather a family. It is not flesh and blood, but the pans that makes us family.
To learn a song takes time and dedication, especially if the song was Dus in di Face, Pan in A-Minor, Band from Space or Steel Pan Alley. The majority of our time is spent in the panyard, our home away from home, emphasized by the fact that it is referred to as a yard and not a room. There is even a refrigerator and several other appliances located inside. How much more comfort could one ask for? This is as good as it gets. Additionally, following a long, hard day at school or work, it is always soothing to arrive at rehearsals. The sound of laughter echoing from the panyard may be heard from miles away as you make your way there, aided by pleasant greetings upon entering, as you leave the baggage of a stressful day at the gate.
Despite the fact that there are seven unique sections, which evidently gives rise to sub-families within the family, knowing how to support each band member, whether academically or socially, has always been another of Panoridim’s innate qualities. Members in the band ensure that you are academically stable. However, it is to be noted that they are not the only ones contributing to our mental well being. Studies have shown that music involvement influences academic achievement because it facilitates brain development. Brain scans taken during musical performances show that virtually the entire cerebral cortex is active when musicians are performing (Bobb-Alleyne-Dann, 2009). We have to plan ahead so that our hands and sticks are in the right place to play the next note. It is safe to say that being a part of Panoridim has more than likely significantly improved our teamwork and aural skills. From a personal point of view, it has also built my concentration skills, which as a student of The University of the West Indies, I had transferred to my learning and examinations throughout the semesters. Persistence was also another admirable quality obtained at UWI. When learning music and similarly various lecture topics, I didn’t always get it right, but through hard work and persistence I was able to accomplish what then seemed unobtainable.
It is no doubt that the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra is a band of high caliber, geared towards molding and creating well rounded and musically inclined individuals. I predict the orchestra will progress due to its culture of love for the music and each other.
One band, One sound.
By Orane Shaw
In the 1870s, drum playing was banned by the ruling British Government to suppress aspects of Carnival which were deemed offensive. The drums were replaced by bamboo tubes which, when stuck on the ground, formed a sound similar to that of hand drums. This lead to the formation of "tamboo bamboo bands".
Tamboo Bamboo bands incorporated non-traditional "instruments" such as graters, scrap metal and metal containers but by the 1930s, the bamboo became obsolete as the non-traditional instruments became the highlights of the ensembles. The bamboo was replaced by metal pans. The players of the pans soon discovered that changing the playing surface of the pans will change the pitch of the instrument. It was discovered that the raised surface of the pans gave a different sound to that of the flat surfaces and through experimentation and a lot of trial and error, these metal pans evolved into the steel pan instrument.
Many competent sources (including the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards) regard the steel pan as an idiophone. However, in North America and Europe, it was considered a Membranophone because of its percussive nature. The truth is that the steel pan is a bit of both. It is struck on the surface (membranes) like a membranophone but it has defined pitched like an idiophone. The amalgamation of the two classifications leads this instrument to be a "hybrid instrument" and is believed to be the first hybrid instrument invented by man.
The typical steel band is made up of different pans of varied pitches. Pans with high, mid and low ranges, along with supporting percussion instruments are used to create the full sound.
If the question, “What kinds of music do steel band play?” is asked all over the world, most of the responses would be “calypso” and “soca”. Many persons believe that because of its origins in Trinidad and Tobago, steel bands limit themselves to the native popular music, but this is not the case. Because of the variety of pans with different pitches, the steel pan has the ability to play most genres. International influences along with the popularity of the instrument have caused the production of music from all ends of the earth.
As a player of this amazing instrument, one often sees audiences marvel not only at the instrument, but also the full rich sound that is produced. Contrary to the belief of some, any type of genre can be played on the steel pan as long as it is arranged for it. Music can be arranged for any configuration of steel pans for a performance, whether it be a solo or an entire orchestra. In order to arrange for steel pan, the range of the types of pans to be utilized must be considered. Additionally, the melodic structure of a piece ought to be considered to avoid repetition and monotony, and so that the piece does not come across as a fully percussive piece.
The arranger of music for the steel pan can approach the music from several vantage points. Often times, the intention of the arranger is to replicate traditional instruments like piano, guitar, double bass, etc. and have it translated to pan by having the player play similar rudiments to that of the instruments mentioned. The arranger can also approach the pans by trying to replicate vocal textures such as soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
The physical limitations to an arrangement are the amount of pans, the range of pans, and the skill level of the players. The more variety of pans there are, the more possibilities for complexity of the arrangement. A good appreciation of music theory is possibly one of the biggest assets. This allows for the varied musical elements to be employed into the arrangement. This also allows for acceptable harmonies to be produced and translated to pan.
In order for the arranger to conceptualize an arrangement, inspiration must be drawn from some source, whether it is music, nature, experiences or just a play on a vibe or an expression. The arrangement of music for the steel pan(s) can span from the replication of music that already exists, to the composition of new material or a combination of both. A good arrangement takes into consideration and makes provision for other percussive elements. This is to ensure that there is a high level of cohesion between what is conceptualized, what is translated to the pans and the instruments that keeps the pulse of the piece going (the percussive elements).
Another approach to steel pan arrangements for bands is treating each pan section like an instrument in an orchestra or a band. This allows for seemingly varied textures and lessens the likelihood of a cluttered sound in the same range of notes. The thought really, is that higher pitched pans would represent “traditional” instruments that have a higher pitch for example the violin or the trumpet. Mid-
range pitched pans would have a fuller sound and could cover a bit of fills to not leave any lulls in the arrangement (if that is the intention of the arranger). Finally, the lower pitched pans like the sets of bass pans would represent lower pitched instruments like the bass guitar.
As the world changes, the music does likewise, and what was once considered noise, because of the lack of a solid melodic structure, is now accepted as music by some. This now allows for more possibilities for the arranger as now, the melodic pieces can become more complex and also, the percussive elements can now be employed by the pan. Arrangers can now use portions of the steel pan that does not have notes or use the non-playing side of the sticks on the notes to create desired effects.
The fact that this amazing instrument is one of the latest musical inventions, and that fact that music changes everyday, means that not everything has yet been discovered about the steel pan and its capabilities. For arrangers, the sky is the limit!