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.

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