By ORVILLE WRIGHT
Panorama 2012 is now concluded, and as in the past, there is lingering dissatisfaction from a number of stakeholders. Pan Trinbago does an excellent job of publishing the guidelines for the competition. One of the key elements of the competition is that the judges—regardless of qualifications and competences—are empowered to decide who wins. At the end of the day when the scores are compiled, their decision has to be accepted. That’s the rule.
Usually, I come to the land of the greatest show on earth and the country that gave birth to the only acoustical instrument invented in the 20th century the Friday before Calypso Fiesta. I usually spend the next week hopping from pan yard to pan yard, sipping on the creative juices flowing from the arrangers. In so doing, I would spend time chatting with arrangers and talking about their music. Invariably, all are usually upbeat about their chances in the finals. Along with the optimism comes a full complement of complaints about the judges; some arrangers show me their score sheets to back up their opinion. This year was no different, and there was one comment that had me questioning my own musical knowledge, to which I will get later.
I missed the Panorama semi-finals. I was caught up with the New England Patriots getting their butt kicked in the Super Bowl, having lived in Boston/New Engalnd ever since I left Trinidad to study in the US and did not tune in to an Internet stream from one of the radio stations until the game ended. After screaming at the TV for the last four minutes of the game, the only thing that could have calmed me down was listening to some pan. The first band I heard was Despers, and I was impressed with Andre White’s treatment of the melody of the tune. There was something about the rhythmic displacement of the melody that was unusual and captivated me, and while I could not get a good vertical sense of the harmonic richness of the arrangement because of the audio system I was listening on, I nevertheless imagined what the live performance sounded like.
When the performance was finished, the commentators enthusiastically talked about parts of the arrangement that sounded like Bradley; how good it was for Despers to give this young fella a shot; how they heard a little bit of Robert Greenidge in the arrangement; and how they were looking forward to the finals with the young fella going up against giants in the arranging business like “Smooth” and “Boogsie.” Not a single word was said about the arrangement from a technical/musical perspective. The probable tens of thousands of people listening on the Internet would have been either enjoying the commentary or steupsing like crazy.
One radio announcer said recently that Trinidad & Tobago has the most radio stations per capita which probably explains the proliferation of on-air commentators with a paltry knowledge of music who pretend to know what is going on in an arrangement. To the individual in Sweden or Japan who has no idea who Robert Greenidge is, s/he is at a loss with regard to the Robert Greenidge reference.
Getting back to the comment I saw on a band’s preliminary score sheet, this adjudicator wrote, “The interpretation of the music was excellent; a well-rehearsed and competent performance. You did not have much dynamics or even call and response etc.”
I will not disclose the band or the judge who wrote this comment, but I believe comments like this cause arrangers to lose respect for the djudicators. Granted, this is only one adjudicator’s comment on one band, but for me, it epitomizes a serious problem with the credibility of all adjudicators, rendering the veracity of the outcomes suspect.
It is difficult not to separate my experience as an arranger, an adjudicator, a musician and educator from such a comment. While the first part of the comment generates positive critiquing of the performance, the second part has major problems.
As an arranger if I were to get a comment like this, I am going to be wondering: what amount of dynamics is appropriate for an arrangement? What does the adjudicator mean with such a broad statement? In my role as an arranger, I am going to assess my level of musicality and weigh it against the level of musicality of the adjudicator. If I deduce that this adjudicator cannot arrange at my level I am going to have very little faith in the score I was given and ultimately, the results of the competition. As an adjudicator, I would have listened to this performance and objectively or subjectively assessed the use of dynamics throughout the entire arrangement and mark the band (in part) based on that assessment. That ought to be the approach an adjudicator uses. One adjudicator’s score could make a difference between first and second place. As an educator—knowing my role as an adjudicator which is to constructively critique or assist the arranger with his craft—I would have said, ‘I liked your arrangement but I thought at 4:16 into the arrangement, you should have tried using a crescendo on the lead pans and see if you like the effect.’ It is up to the arranger to accept or reject my suggestion. What I ought not to do (in the role of an adjudicator) is insinuate that the arranger must use dynamics and call and response.
The statement about call and response is one that really bothered me and had me questioning my musical knowledge. Call and response is a verbal/vocal tradition that came with the Africans when they were brought to the mainland (US) in 1619. When enslaved on the plantations in the south, this African tradition evolved through slave songs, spirituals and gospel music where it is now very prominent. . A very good example of call and response occurs in Yolanda Adams’ rendition of My Everything on her Live In Washington CD. A good way into the song she sings “thank you Lord” and the background singers repeat or respond by singing “thank you Lord.” There are tons of other examples, but to the untrained, unmusical ear, this is a very good example of call and response.
Now it is very possible that call and response can be utilized in a strictly instrumental context or performance—something akin to a Panorama performance—and this could be in a jazz arrangement (big band) context. As an example, an arranger could have the trumpet section play a riff, and the trombones and saxes could respond to the riff emulating call and response either two, four, or eight bars later. I had to ask myself as an arranger if it were possible for such a nuance to happen in a Panorama arrangement. I listened to a number of Panorama arrangements to see if there was a possibility that call and response could be utilized, and I really could not feel call and response in a Panorama arrangement.
The reason I use the word feel in this instance is because all the arrangers who prepared and participated in Panorama, arranged music from their heart. They did not take any of the terminology they’re supposed to be judged on like melodic and motivic development and re-harmonization and stick it into an arrangement. There is a process. When Beethoven wrote the 5th Symphony, I do not believe he methodically sat down and said that he was going to take this four note motif, start the composition with it, move it down a step, move it back to its original starting point and couple it up a perfect fourth from its original starting position and change the interval, and then develop the entire piece using that motif. I could go on with that analysis but it’s boring. You may even be saying, ‘what the heck is he talking about?’ But it goes like this: da-da-da-dahhhhhh; (pause) da-da-da-dahhhhhh; (pause) da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, etc. That’s it, you got it. As musicians, we are trained to do that type of analysis, so for me it is just not an issue of throwing in call and response or elements of call and response in an arrangement without thinking of the musical ramifications. There is a lot more to putting an arrangement together, and every arranger out there has to be respected for what they do—especially those without any formal musical training.
The adjudicator who wrote this comment is not an arranger, and the perception is that the adjudicator was trying to dictate to the arranger that he should or could utilize call and response in a Panorama arrangement. This is reprehensible. It should be the other way around. The adjudicator should listen to the arrangement and try to objectively embrace the picture the arranger is trying to paint. As it stands now, few, if any of the adjudicators have any arranging skills, and in my opinion, that limits their ability to objectively or subjectively embrace what the arranger is trying to say—musically.
On the day of the Junior Panorama, I sat in the grand stand listening to all the bands, and observed that the majority of adjudicators were current arrangers for bands participating in the real Panorama. Before the results were announced, I introduced myself to the conductor of Success Stars Pan Sounds and told her, among other things, how impressed I was with the poly-rhythmic intro the band played. I did not say anything to her about my thought that the band could win, but I just had this feeling that the performance was a winning one. My assessment turned out to be the same as the adjudicators. I did not hear any rumblings about the results of Junior Panorama, and I believe this can be attributed to the fact that the adjudicators (for the Junior Panorama) are arrangers.
All Stars won. Phase II came second. Silver Stars was third. This is done, finished, it cannot be changed, and since all the bands entered the competition knowing the rules, they have to accept and respect the outcome. Next year, if nothing changes, we’ll all be hearing the same lamentations. Let’s get plans on the way for 2013.
Some time ago, I published the criteria an adjudicator should have in order to be seated on a Panorama panel. I am publishing it again so that the general public can really understand the significance and prestige of being seated to judge Panorama—the greatest steelband competition on earth. Respectfully, many of the individuals who serve on panels are my colleagues. Regrettably, based on interviews I’ve done with arrangers, a solid majority of them see the current pool of adjudicators as having no credibility. Hence, there will always be questions about the veracity of the results.
QUALIFICATIONS FOR A PANORAMA/STEELBAND
The following are qualifications an individual should have in order to be seated as a Panorama/Steelband competition – except for World Steelband Competition:
Must have excellent hearing/listening/aural skills with the ability to articulate with clarity what is musically being heard;
Must have a demonstrated aural ability to objectively analyze and constructively critique musical performances—not limited to steelband performance;
Must have the ability to aurally and analytically compare an arrangement of a calypso done for Panorama to the original/vocal version, and/or other compositions not germane to the calypso idiom;
Must have excellent communicative (writing/narrative) skills, in addition to an ability to appropriately notate rhythmic passages/phrases/motifs heard in arrangements;
Must have a thorough understanding of the steelpan family of instruments; an ability to play would be an asset;
Must have some arranging skills;
Must have some ability to improvise on an instrument;
Must have attained the minimum of Grade VIII theory and practical from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and/or Trinity College of Music; or, a music degree from an accredited institution of higher education, and/or, the equivalent of a minimum of 10 years experience as a musician;
Must have experience judging or critiquing musical performance;
Must exhibit an openness to creativity and risk-taking in music;
I want to say, unequivocally, that this piece is not intended to marginalize All Stars’ winning performance. As an arranger myself, and one who has a tremendous amount of respect for the work all the arrangers put in to get their bands to the big stage, I am very concerned about the perception that judges (respectfully) are trying to force arrangers to do what they want. This statement is based on score sheets I have seen.
I had an informal conversation with an executive of Pan Trinbago during the week leading up to the finals and we discussed among other issues, the fact that at present there is no one (any executive) who can review score sheets to see what the judges are saying. Inevitably, there is no accountability on the part of the judges, and as long as this continues, the saying that Panorama is killing the music will be a part of the steelpan lexicon. I know certain executives at Pan Trinbago are trying their best to fix what I see as a perennial problem, but they are moving with deliberate speed. That is not good for the premier steelband competition in the world. Is it possible that the 51st year of Panorama will see some drastic changes? Only time will tell.