Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Pan Finals and Carnival: Trini Style

We were excited to have our daughter Ella and her husband Ken and our grandson Liam come for five days over Carnival. Carnival in Trinidad is Over the Top! Many of the citizens devote days and dollars in preparation. If they are in a Steel Pan Orchestra they are rehearsing nightly sometimes until as late as two or three am. If they are in a group (called a band) in the parade, they are either making their costumes, working to pay for their costumes (some of the more elaborate costumes run as much as $2000 USD),or possibly working out to get in shape (the parade route goes from early am until late pm, and is in scorching heat). Or it they are 'playing Jouvert' as Ken and Ella did, they are trying to get a little extra sleep for the parade that starts about 4am and goes until about 9am, marching the streets of downtown Port of Spain in a band whose members are slathered in either cocoa, paint, mud or possibly chocolate; following a music truck blaring soca music at a volume that literally makes your chest pound, while drinking 'lubricants'. It's a scene. The cost includes security guards, thankfully. Ken and Ella enjoyed it, and Ken having grown up in the Caribbean, was really excited to sort of 'go back home'. We took care of Liam that am and then we picked them up after the parade and went to Maracas Beach to cool off and have Bake and Shark, a great fast food, made famous at Maracas.

The next day we went in mid afternoon to the Pretty Mas as it's called. This is the major parade in the Rio style with all the bikinis and beads and feathers and music trucks. This was interesting...! Lots of whining going on but not the kind we know...I'll leave it at that.

Sadie, ~13 x 20 acrylic 
They flew out that evening. I (Jean ) have been missing my grandkids so much that I've started doing paintings of them. Actually, I had taken a photo of some sweet little schoolgirls in La Fillette, a small village on the north coast of Trinidad. They were about eight years old and in uniforms with bright red bows in both their carefully braided or curled hair. It was a real challenge. First I started out with random color just trying to 'sculpt' the face with accurate values. But after reworking them at least four times, I've become more refined. It's interesting how such minor details really make or break a portrait in terms of capturing a person's likeness. The next portrait I did was from a photo of Liam
Liam, 16 x 20 acrylic
when he was one year old, a profile. And since them I did a full figure portrait of our son's daughter Sadie when she was one, from a photo. In the last two days I've been working on a self portrait.

Two days ago we visited the Asa Wright Nature Center, a great bird sanctuary in the northern mountains. My artist friend from Minnesota, Dodie Logue, was there so after we did a bird watching hike we met Dodie for lunch and then sat on the veranda where they keep many birdfeeders filled to attract the birds. We saw nine different varieties of hummingbirds including the Tufted Coquette, the most charming tiny bird (it's the second smallest bird in the world).

Last night we had dinner at the vegetarian Hindu restaurant
Lakshmi Narayan temle at Night, watercolor, 3 x 9"
which is about a mile away from us but which we've been able to see from our back deck everyday and night as we look out over the hills behind us. The food was Indian style, a buffet and was excellent. We've been learning more everyday, meeting more interesting people and starting to think more about home which we see has been nasty cold.

White necked Jacobin and Bird of Paradise, 3'x3' acrylic
Oh and our bands, Phase II took second place in the Pan Finals after the All Stars.  Fonclaire took always controversy swarms around the results.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pan Semi-Finals in Port of Spain

Jean and I attended the Pan Music Semi-Finals competition a week ago.  There were 14 Medium Bands of 80 players or less, and 15 Large Orchestras of 120 players or less.  The Large Orchestras have 210 pans of various sizes (tenor, double seconds, 7 bass, 9 bass, etc), cut from 55 gallon drums, and loaded on wheeled carts with covers.  In all, there were 5,000 pans played during the day.  

In attendance, there were 8,000 people in the North Stands and 3,000 people in the Grand Stand.  We were among the two thousand wandering the "drag" to hear the bands rehearse before playing on the Main Stage, and heard most of the Large Orchestras.    

The bass drums are heavy and require lots of help from community members, so Jean and I were "pan pushers" as we helped Phase 2 Pan Groove push a 7-drum-bass down the street for about half a mile.  At one point, we found ourselves positioned in line with the front row of lead pan melody players during one of their last rehearsals, and I got some great videos, which I plan to upload.  I also took some great pictures.

Pan music traces its genesis to violent encounters in the 50's between rival communities which evolved into organised steel band competitions in 1963, so bands could focus on the music.  There's a great documentary on this called "Pan Odyssey" by Kim Johnson; and Kim also gave a TED Talk on the subject.

Each orchestra has its own story.  This may sound unbelievable, but all the bands are from Trinidad and Tobago, except Andy Norelle writes and arranges for Birdsong and is from the USA; recruiting players from the US and Europe, to merge talents with the locals.  His arrangements are jazz oriented and have not been placing well enough to make it in the Finals.  

"Boogsie" Sharp is a flamboyant  arranger and composer for Phase 2, the defending champions in this fierce competition.  The "Desperado's" come from the toughest part of Port of Spain, a community called Laventile, where there is a lot of poverty and problems with drugs.  Our favorite band FonClaire took 5th out of 15 so being in the top ten they go onto the Finals this coming weekend and Birdsong took eleventh for about the third year in a row.  Not sure if they've ever gone on to the Finals.

The top 10 bands in each size advance to the Finals which will be held on Saturday, Feb 14, Valentine's Day.  Our daughter Ella, her hubby Ken and 20 month old son Liam will be visiting us for about a week, and we plan to attend the competition as well as other Carnival activities.

We'd like to post a  video but need to figure out how to make them smaller files first.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Steel Pan Primer & Tobago

There are so many accomplished musicians on this island as it was the birthplace of “steel pan” music and claims to be the birthplace of Calypso, but other West Indies Islands may also lay a similar claim.

The pan is a 55 gallon steel drum used for transporting oil or chemicals, and many years ago when this instrument was being developed, were readily available to local citizens (many of them poor) once discarded. They pounded out the steel tops to create notes, and surrounding themselves with many steel drums, developed songs/melodies by drumming on them.

Over time, the tradition expanded to orchestras of 120 players, all playing different sized drums with unique mallets, under the direction of a leader and a section captain. They rehearse one song of 8 minutes in length each night for several hours for about a month, making changes and developing parts in the neighbourhood pan yard. Local citizens assemble to listen, and are free to walk around the various players to hear the complex and complementary arrangements of each section. Rehearsals involve focusing on individual sections numerous times at various tempos, before playing the whole song.

There are stages of competition and the best bands will compete on the main stage in Queens Park Savannah in downtown Port of Spain, the capitol city of Trinidad at Panorama, held during Carnival.  Thousands of people attend each year for this event, along with other wild activities such as masquerades, parades, wining, etc.

Jean and I have visited the pan yards on four occasions to hear the bands rehearse for Panorama.  For me, the most amazing thing is the fact that there are so many bands and they are all amazing musicians. The players in the bass section are surrounded by 7 or 9 drums and twist and turn in sync to reach the notes around them. I especially enjoy listening to the tenor section, as they have parts that counter or complement the melody, bringing their own distinct harmonies and melodies.

Fortunately for us, the folks who we are renting from, also love this music and we travel together to hear it. On Sunday, there are the Semi-Finals and on Feb 14 and 15 are the Finals. We’ll be there, and especially following our favorite band FonClaire from the inner city of San Fernando.

We've been in Trinidad for a month now. We went to Tobago the last four days to check out that part of the country and it reinforces our sense that each island has it's own distinct character. Tobago is smaller, drier, mellower. The population is only about 50,000 people and it is about 30 miles by 5 miles in size. Scarborough, the largest city is on a port and they host cruise ships a couple times a week.
We were staying at a nice little studio apartment on the hill above Scarborough with a deck that overlooked the city to our south. The garden around the home welcomed birds including the marvelous Motmot, a bird about the size of a small hawk with dramatic coloring; black, green and gold with a bright turquoise v on the top of it's head and a racket shape at the end of it's black tail. They along with the Banaquit and some other birds can be somewhat tamed by feeding.

We also took a snorkel and hiking tour to Little Tobago off the northeast corner of the island. The water was the clearest water I've ever seen. I think we could easily see forty or fifty feet deep. It was a bit like diving with the sensation of depth below us. Saw lots of amazing corals, sponges and fish. Then the hike on Little Tobago took us to the peak where we looked down toward the sea and saw the flight of the rare Red-billed Tropicbird, a white sea bird with a long forked tail. We also saw some tropicbirds nesting within a few feet from us. Quite a treat actually.

While in Tobago we visited the LouiseKimme museum, set in her home. She was an artist originally from Germany who died a couple years ago. She was a great wood sculptor. Her home is open for tours and a small body of her work is on display there. We met her sister and Doneski a Cuban sculptor who works there and opens the museum on Saturdays. Much of her work is on display in Germany now.

A couple other highlights included the restaurant Shore Thing with excellent food, right on the shore, of course at Lambeau (not Field). Jean Claude Petit had a boutique chocolate shop next door where we gilded the lily by having his incredible chocolate just after dinner and coconut cream pie at Shore Thing. Mmmm, life is good! Another highlight was the Martin Superville Gallery where we spend a good hour or two talking with his lovely wife Maria about food and then Martin about art.

We ended the visit by dropping our bags early at the airport and walking a block to Kariwak Village a real oasis and yet so close to the airport. Great reputation for their restaurant and what appears to be a nice little garden resort. We had had a big breakfast so we went for some coffee and ran into Rory and Bunty's friends Keith and Pam, Brits who have a passion for Pan and come every year as well as travel to South Africa to help in the dissemination of Pan their. Keith is a retired hair dresser to “the stars” and a fun guy to talk with. Pam is a creative sort as well displayed in her white cropped haircut with hot pink dyed streak down the top center. We joined them for breakfast and enjoyed their company while sipping on some excellent Cocoa (chocolate tea), while the Blue grey Tanager and the Banaquit joined us over the sugar bowl. Through their connection we were able to enjoy the small pool with a waterfall in the garden before we took off for the airport. The flight is literally only 18 minutes long and it's a beautiful view of the north coast as the plane comes around the northwest corner of the island to fly into the airport.

More on the Pan Semi-Finals next blog. Find out if FonClaire made it into the Finals!

Recent Paintings:
Scarlet Ibis Nesting, acrylic, 36" x ~17"

A Parrots in a Poui Tree, acrylic, 36" x ~16"

Turquise Tanager, acrylic, ~8 x 10"
Irie, ,acrylic 36 x 36