Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Last thoughts (sort of)

After the Finals performance I helped push racks to the staging area and load pans. My bags were packed and waiting in a friend’s van. I transferred them to a cab and made my way to the airport around 2am. Yeah, that’s really early, but it didn’t make any sense to travel all the way back south to San Fernando with Skiffle just to turn around and head back north to the airport to make my 5:30am international flight check-in.

I spent Sunday, February 10, traveling home. When I hit Miami International at noon I reactivated my mobile phone (without an international calling plan my phone had been off for almost six weeks) and received a text detailing the Panorama Finals results. I reached Virginia a little before 9pm and my house on the campus of Sweet Briar College shortly thereafter. The next morning, j’ouvert in Trinidad, I arrived to my office at the SBC music department to a thoughtful sign created by some of my students. The colors don’t quite come through in the photo, and this obscures the text a bit, but it reads, “Congratulations and Welcome Back, Dr. Jones. Sincerely, The Orchestra.”

As promised to friends and band mates in Skiffle, below I’ve included a photo from my first chamber orchestra rehearsal after returning from Trinidad (photo by chamber orchestra member, Siena Hasbrouck). I know, you don’t have player profiles to read of SBC students like they have of you, but with any luck we’ll be down soon for a summer program and you’ll meet some of them then.

If anyone sends a really great picture, video, link, or story, I may post it, and I’ll return to this site from time to time to moderate any comments and make sure the links are active, but in the main, this post completes the blog about my experiences in southern Trinidad during Panorama 2013.

It has been, I think, successful – 50 posts, 8,500+ words, 70 photos, 12 videos, 14 internet links, and thousands of site visitors from 19 countries (Antigua & Barbuda, Canada, China, France, Germany, Grenada, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Switzerland, Taiwan, Timore-Leste, Trinidad & Tobago, United Kingdom, and the United States of America) as of early morning, February, 13, 2013. Most importantly, it got people in Skiffle thinking about people and music at Sweet Briar and people at Sweet Briar thinking about people and music in southern Trinidad.

With any luck we’ve begun a process of mutually enriching intercultural exchange that will touch a lot of lives in the years to come. That’s my hope, anyway . . . 

Show time

After our last rehearsal, Junia Regrello, the captain and CEO of Skiffle, gave a rousing pep talk and thanked the foreign guest performers (four from Grenada, two from Saint Lucia, two from Canada, four from Japan and one from the U.S.). I was not mentioned. Several people spoke and said, "Hey, Skipper, you forgot about Jeff." He responded by saying that, although I lived overseas, my longterm affiliation with and commitment to the group qualified me as a member of the organization, not a foreign guest. The band applauded. I was deeply touched.

Goodbye rituals complete, we suited up and headed for the Savannah. In many respects, the pilgrimage was the same as Semi-Finals, but with way more people. The picture below shows the crowd gathering around Skiffle a couple of blocks before we even got to the entrance of the Savannah drag. Yeah. It was crazy.

The Savannah stage looked about the same, though the grand stand, north stand, and all areas not fenced off surrounding the on-deck circle were packed with bodies.

Previous posts contain Panorama Finals results and video links of the performance, so this is the end of the Panorama experience in Trinidad. However, I've got at least one more post to make . . . my return to Virginia and a photo of my chamber orchestra (a photo post often requested, and anxiously awaited upon, by members of Skiffle).

Last limes on the Savannah

Well, since I've already posted the scores and Finals videos, it may seem as though those things ended the experience. I guess they did, sort of, in terms of the musical and other professional goals for this trip to Trinidad. However, the real endings for me were the environmental and social ones. In order to get our heads in the game, we packed our instruments and set-up in a parking lot adjacent to the Savannah in Port of Spain.

The change of environment changed the flow of daily life significantly (the whole point of the move) and signaled a kind of ending for me. Goodbye, San Fernando.

In between the intense rehearsals we had a chance to sit around and enjoy the last limes (Trini for hanging out) of Panorama 2013. A rehearsal break lime looks like this:

Because the performance would be all business I said goodbye to my friends during our last rehearsal breaks, too.

Me with accountant-by-day-and-tenor-bass-pannist-by-night, Warren.

When I first met Joshua, he could barely reach up and over his pan to play. Six years later he's up to my nose. His dad, Junia (pictured with me in the post about Semi-Finals), is quite tall, so I will no doubt be looking up to Joshua quite soon.

Ayanna Reyes, my friend and double tenor section leader, sporting Urkel glasses (google it). I'm not making fun, the glasses don't employ prescription lenses. She is really going for nerd-cute here (and pulls it off nicely, I think).

Last, but not least, a post-Finals goodbye with my dear friend, Lesley Ann (with me still in my Finals uniform). Lesley, the next time a Nigerian man on the internet strikes up a long term chat and invites you on a romantic holiday to Egypt, just say no. Seriously, don't even think about it (the photos in front of the pyramids are cool, though).

During longer breaks we wondered around to visit with and listen to some of the other bands that had set up camp near the Savannah. Most local players are not allowed to do this. Other groups think they might be "spies." Foreigners get a pass, though.

My favorite band to visit was the legendary Desperadoes from Laventille. They have the coolest 12-basses ever, an instrument they call the "rocket bass."

Desperadoes sounded awesome, too, in the rehearsals leading up to Finals. I missed their Finals performance (I was moving pan racks and packing up after Skiffle's), but I can't believe they didn't finish higher. Here's a few seconds of video of them from a day or two before Finals:

While liming with Emily Lemmerman, a Skiffle tuner and double second player from the U.S., we ran into the senior tuner of Skiffle (also a tuner for Desperadoes and a number of other bands), Bertrand Kelman (featured in an earlier post). I really like this picture of Kelman and Emily, the old guard and the next generation of tuners, standing under a glittery set of tuning hammers that decorated Desperadoes pan racks (their tune of choice, "Hammer Time," was an homage to the genius of pan tuners).

Monday, February 11, 2013

Finals Videos

There are currently a couple of versions of Skiffle's Panorama Finals performance posted to YouTube.

The first - here - is very pixelated and includes some of the color commentary made during the t.v. broadcast before and after the performance. During the pre-performance talk-up, I can be seen in the lower-middle right of the screen from :03-1:45. We're not playing for most of my screen time, and because of the pixelation I'm just a whitish blur that kind of has my basic contour, but that's me. Hey, mom, I'm on t.v.

The second - here - is the better recording.  I don't get much screen time in this one, mostly quick shots that feature from my chin or neck on down in the background for a second before cut-aways. I do get a face shot in the background for a few seconds toward the end (sweeping from upper-right to upper-left from 7:36-7:43).

Though there are some areas that we can improve upon moving toward next season, I think the arrangement was amazing and we played it quite well. I'm proud of our performance.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Finals Results

We came in 5th with 270 points (4th place Exodus scored 271; full tally of all finalists may be seen here). We didn't win it all, but we improved and played well at show time. And the Junior Sammy/ Ray Holman/ Skiffle team will pick up momentum moving forward. On the whole it was a positive Panorama for us that signals a promising future.

Will I play next year? I'd like that, but we're doing an opera at Sweet Briar College next spring and I'm scheduled to conduct. It will depend on a lot of factors like the timing of Panorama season relative to opera season, which opera we choose, funding opportunities, what courses I teach next spring, etc. I will do my best to work it all out in a way that everyone wins. If I can, then it is likely I'll play again next year.

I've been invited to bring down some carefully chosen U.S. associates to complement our current instrumentation and social chemistry for next season. I'm already thinking of how certain people would fit in and it makes me smile. Skiffle is very excited about the possibility of developing a long term relationship with Sweet Briar - having students come down for summer programs, a contingent from Trinidad coming up for a joint concert from time to time - and playing in Panorama semi-consistently for a few years would be a good way to solidify the relationships necessary for something like that to be viable (nothing binds a community together like rites of passage, liminality, and communitas). So, we'll see . . .

As for this blog, the party's not over yet. I've got a few more pics, vids, and thoughts to share from my last days in Trinidad. However, I went straight from the Savannah to the airport and I'm still not home yet (I'm blogging from the airport in Charlotte, NC, though, so I'm close). I want to sleep and process a little and post my Finals (and final) stuff on Monday and Tuesday. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 9, 2013


I was in Laventille the other night at the workshop of legendary pan tuner Herman "Guppy" Brown. In this video Guppy is blending the double tenor I've been playing with Skiffle. Incidentally, I'll be bringing this set home with me on Sunday . . . My wife already said it was o.k.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Up on the roof

Tomorrow is the Panorama Finals and very early the next morning I fly home. I had hoped to do a little sight seeing - there are many historic landmarks and natural wonders in southern Trinidad - but because this year's Panorama is so competitive, I've focused intently on my responsibilities with Skiffle. My hope was that I could share some stunning photographs, excite some folks at Sweet Briar, and get us thinking about establishing a summer program here. Alas, my intentions have been waylaid. I offer instead some photos from the roof deck of the panyard. It's not the visual feast I had planned, but it will give you a sense of some of the very cool things that are close by.

Facing southeast you can see the valley unfolding from our position low on the San Fernando hill. There's lots to see and do in the villages that populate the valley.

West by southwest you can see the sun setting over the ocean. The ports and beaches are just about a mile or so away.

Looking northwest you can see the western edge of San Fernando Hill. I've been told by a friend (Dale Olsen, one of my ethnomusicology professors at Florida State - you can read a little bit about his work here) that on a clear day this hill can be seen from the Orinoco river delta in the amazon (Venezuela is just a few kilometers across the pond). Indigenous communities there once believed that this "mountain" that appeared and disappeared in the mist was the home of the gods. I live and work at its base. An interesting destination for a summer program, don't you think?

Skiffle in the news (again)

Because the point spread is narrow going into Finals, the competition will be fierce. People have delighted in debating who will come out on top. Skiffle was featured in another nationally run newspaper article (view the article here) in which the author addressed this topic. He framed our chances in terms of chemistry and the right mix of youth, experience, leadership, and work ethic. Several folks in Skiffle were identified as exemplary contributors. I was mentioned in this group:

"Dr Jones hails from Sweet Briar College in Virginia, USA, where he teaches music theory, music history and conducts the Chamber Orchestra. He’s a tremendous workhorse in his pleasant, unassuming way . . ."

"Tremendous work horse." "Pleasant." "Unassuming." It's creepy how well this guy gets me . . .

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Profile: Anella Seecharan

Anella is a 20-year old international relations major at the University of the West Indies. She has been playing tenor pan (pictured) with Skiffle for six years. Anella spent days trying to think of something to share with or ask about the ladies at Sweet Briar. She finally gave up and said, "I don't know, just tell them something about me." So here goes . . . When she's not playing pan, going to class, studying, or hanging out with her boyfriend, Anella likes to read. She primarily likes cultural histories and autobiographies, but she regularly cleanses her reading palate with lighter fare. She is currently reading Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

We're going second . . .

So the order of appearance for Finals night has been posted on PanTrinbago's website. We're going second. The line-up can be seen here. Given the mix and where we placed in Semis, it would have been better for us to be playing after at least one or two of the groups who finished ahead of us. This would have given the judges a point of comparison. We've made some serious strides over the last week and I think we'll be competitive. I worry a bit, though, that going early and before the top ensembles from Semis will encourage the judges to score us conservatively. It's not an optimal position for us.

Oh, well, it is what it is. It now falls to us to set a very high standard (we will) and hope for the best.

The Finals will be broadcast live via internet stream on carnivaltv.net starting at 6:30pm EST on Saturday, February 9th (though bands won't start playing until 7pm). You can see a nice commercial for the program here.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

You hit like a girl . . .

“You hit like a girl” is quite a compliment if the person saying it is comparing you to steel pan builder and tuner, Emily Lemmerman (building and tuning pans requires one to repeatedly hit a steel drum with specially shaped hammers). Emily is from the U.S. and earned an undergraduate degree in music from Ithaca College. When she finished her work there, she moved to West Virginia and apprenticed with the world-renowned pan tuner, Ellie Mannette, for over six years. She now owns her own company in Austin, Texas, but travels to Trinidad annually to play in Panorama.

To the best of my knowledge, no woman has ever tuned for a large steel orchestra in Trinidad. But, the leader of Skiffle, Junia Regrello, delights in being progressive, so he hired Emily to tune for Skiffle this year (he also hired the first foreign composer/arranger a few years back, U.S. pannist Andy Narrel). 

Watching Emily tune and then listening to the high quality result of her work has caused some buzz in the panyard and the word is spreading (you can read a short write-up on Emily in one of Trinidad’s national newspapers here). It's been especially gratifying to see the young women in Skiffle recognize and delight in Emily's accomplishments. Emily is opening up whole new worlds of possibility for them just by being who she is and doing what she does. It is socially subversive, in a good way.

Emily is not a Sweet Briar grad, but her trailblazing success and “can do” attitude remind me of many of my students. I love being in Skiffle, but I can’t wait to get back to Sweet Briar. There are women there who, like Emily, are going to change the world for the better. It is my privilege to help them on their way.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Profile: Tara Baptiste

Tara began playing pan when she was 10 and has been playing pan for 26 years. Her favorite pan is the  three-cello (pictured). She is the manager of Stardust Steel Orchestra in London. When she is not playing in Panorama or managing her band, she is a nurse. When I asked Tara if she had anything she wanted to share with the Sweet Briar community, she said:

"I play in Panorama for two reasons. First, though I've lived in London for a long time, I was born in Trinidad. Coming back and playing Panorama is a way to connect with the culture of my parents and celebrate my rich heritage. Second, Panorama is hard work. It takes a lot of time, effort, and raw talent to compete at this level. Coming together with 120 other players, working hard together to bring a piece to life, there's nothing like those feelings of camaraderie and artistic accomplishment."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cooking Tips w/ Ms. Yvonne, no. 3

Fried Chicken. Skin, de-bone, and thoroughly wash your chicken in a mixture of water and lime juice. Marinate it in green seasoning (the recipe for green seasoning can be found here, the first cooking tip from Ms. Yvonne on this blog). Let it sit for a few hours.

Next, batter your chicken in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and anything else you like for seasoning (Ms. Yvonne favors flaked red pepper). Fry in light oil. Serve with salad, pelau, and an ice cold glass of Mauby. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The day after

Getting back to San Fernando entailed the same process of packing, loading, and unloading, all done in the early hours of Monday morning following the announcement of Semi-Finals results in the Savannah. It's great to be home. Monday night we unpacked and restaged all of the racks in our own panyard. Then we had a meeting to discuss what went well (and didn't) in terms of logistics.

The music meeting won't happen until after we receive and digest the judges' commentary on Tuesday evening.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Panorama Semi-Finals

We bussed back up to Port of Spain around 2pm on Sunday and arrived at our home-away-from-home, a parking lot near the Savannah, a little before 4pm. We hung the pans on racks (you can't leave them out in the sun during the day - it wreaks havoc on the tuning) and started individually running through our warm-ups, favorite licks, and trouble spots.

There was time to get a few pictures with friends in our Semi-Finals uniforms, though. Annie, Emily, and Natalie, do you like these jerseys? I hope so. There's one in my suitcase for each of you . . .

Pictured above is me with my double tenor colleague, Kimiko. Below is me with G-pan double second player Maria Alexander.

We ran the tune a few times, touching a few spots, and then we hit the road, pushing and pulling our racks to the Savannah.

Once we reached the Savannah we regrouped, more or less, and ran the tune in-between moving the racks a few feet every couple of minutes. I've heard people say that this may be the coolest part of Panorama; you're up close and personal with the people, playing your music for thousands. That's a romantic notion. There are thousands of people in view, but probably only a few hundred are actually listening to your band. The others are listening to other bands (or just passing through, talking, buying concessions, etc.).

Though I was busy pushing my rack and playing my pan, I managed to snap a couple of pictures. The first is a panorama shot of the Panorama track (that joke never gets old). It really gives a sense of how many people are around the band. However, it's very dark. The second has better lighting, but it is a more intimate shot. Between the two you get a fair idea of music and social life on the track . . .

The grand spectacle, of course, comes when you reach the Savannah stage . . .

And from this point on I have no pictures to share until we're done playing. We had moments to stage our racks and over 100 players to situate. Then we played our hearts out for eight minutes. The event was not televised. However, audio recordings (no mixing or editing) can be found here.

The track on the other side of the stage is much more intimate, mostly players and Panorama support staff.

From here, some bands load up immediately and head straight for home. But most folks are just a few blocks from their panyards. Since traveling from the south is such an ordeal, we decided to wait until the scores were announced.

17 large bands made it through Preliminaries, but only the top 10 from Semi-Finals go on to the Finals . . . We tied for seventh with Renegades and Fonclaire, but the rankings were very close and we're only nine points from the 1st position (out of 300 possible). We have a plan. Look for us to advance on Finals night . . .

For tonight, though, it was time to celebrate and congratulate. Here's a photo of me with Skiffle captain and CEO Junia Regrello. Junia and I have been friends for years and we both worked hard for Skiffle on this; it was nice to share a moment. I am very grateful he invited me down to be a part of this.

Next, I headed for my partner in crime, Cedel Hinds.

Cedel and I are the background and frontline coordinators, respectively, responsible for distributing the music as well as ensuring pitch, rhythm, articulation, phrasing, and dynamics are accurate. And we covered for each other often. When I was free I taught anyone who needed music and so did Cedel. By Prelims we had both taught music to every section of the orchestra. Since most of the distribution required aural/oral rote transmission, this means we had to know every instrument part for the entire piece. It was quite an undertaking.

To be fair, the section leaders and strong members within each section did a lot of distribution work as well. Many hands, hearts, and minds distributed music and continually ensure it stays accurate, so I'm not suggesting Skiffle's success is due to our efforts alone, but Cedel and I invested a lot into getting the job done and it's nice to get the win to show for our efforts.

There was much celebrating and congratulating on the players' track and on the bus ride back to San Fernando. My favorite though is perhaps the victory dance of joy Jordan and I performed to the delight of onlookers.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Behind the scenes (Semi-Finals), pt. 2

So once everything was packed up (more or less), we went home. The next morning the trucks came - 14 big rigs with 48" trailers and a forklift - to load everything.  [Photo courtesy of Cedel Hinds.]

We hit the highway to travel from San Fernando (southwestern Trinidad) all the way to Port of Spain (in the north) - convoy style replete, with police escort. It was impressive.

Eventually we arrived at our destination and began unloading.

Our sponsor, Junior Sammy, is a conglomerate corporation that specializes in construction services. They have cranes, forklifts, and trucks, as well as personnel that are highly qualified to operate heavy equipment and do everything safely and efficiently. When you have to move a steel orchestra cross-country these assets really come in handy. There was no damage. None. Junior Sammy Operations Coordinator Marlon Bharath ran a tight ship. To top it all off, the family that owns Junior Sammy came out to ensure everything was done to the highest standard. These folks know their stuff and do things right. They are a real class act.

I digress. Next we assembled and organized the racks.

The rest of the band arrived via bus shortly thereafter. After we hung the pans we rehearsed until after 2am. Sorry, there are no pictures or videos of the rehearsal. I was busy playing. There was a little stretch, though, when the rhythm section was working out a part without the pans. You can't really hear the low-end drums well, but the high-end stuff is audible. Check out the bamboo man and the guy playing maracas on the far right. They are really tearing it up.

The groove was sweet and one of the youngest members of the band, Jordan, started dancing. The kid has moves. And he is adorable. Below I've posted a few seconds of Jordan dancing (recorded and posted with his Dad's permission).

After rehearsal we hopped on the busses and headed back to San Fernando. It's almost 6am now. I'm going to bed. I've got to play in Panorama Semi-Finals later today. Wish us luck.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Behind the scenes

After practice we packed about half of the band. I just arrived back to my room (it's after 3am here; the posting time given by Blogger is wonky). Tomorrow around 7am we'll pack the rest of our pans and load them, along with the pan racks, onto a truck bound for the capital, Port of Spain. When everything arrives we'll do a damage assessment (which pans are now out of tune, did the vibration from the trip break any rack welds, what did we leave in the panyard, etc.) and start putting everything together. The band will travel by bus in the late afternoon. Hopefully, by 7 or 8pm we will be having a full rehearsal on the Savannah track in Port of Spain (just a short distance from where Panorama is held). At or 1 or 2am rehearsal will end and the players will get on a bus heading back to San Fernando (arriving a little after 3am). A gear guard will keep a night vigil over our equipment. In the early afternoon on Sunday, we'll head back to Port of Spain. The large bands are "supposed" to start at 7pm. We will be the 13th large band of the evening. With any luck we will perform by 11pm. We'll see. Afterward we'll pack everything up and head back for San Fernando. The Semi-Final results should be announced before we leave the Savannah. Only the top 10 go on to the Panorama Finals on February 9th.

I'm told it can be a long, quite ride home if we don't make it . . . wish us luck. 

Tamboo Bamboo, follow-up

"So, Jeff, in your first post on tamboo bamboo you mentioned that these ensembles began incorporating found percussion instruments (biscuit tins, paint cans, etc.) because metal was more durable. What do you mean?"

Good question. When you pound bamboo on pavement and hit it a lot with a stick this tends to happen:

From the top

What do the top of the canopies of the pan racks look like when they're assembled for Panorama? Like this:

Skiffle has a covered deck on top of the pan theater. I took this photo from there.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tamboo Bamboo

A late 19th-century peace preservation ordinance in Trinidad banned drumming in an attempt to keep Afro-Trinidadians from congregating, creating and affirming bonds, and possibly organizing resistence to colonial authority. One response to this was tamboo bamboo - a musical practice in which Afro-Trinidadians incorporated many aspects of musical style from drumming (especially rhythm and texture) into the playing of bamboo stomping tubes (this followed the letter, if not the spirit of the law - very clever). By the early-mid 20th-century bamboo ensembles began incorporating metallic found percussion like biscuit tins, paint cans, and the like because these metal instruments were more durable and often louder. The steel pan ultimately evolved from this practice.

The other night, a tamboo bamboo group dropped by the panyard to visit. After rehearsal we were treated to an impromptu performance. I grabbed several minutes of video. Below is a brief excerpt. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Profile: Cedel Hinds

Cedel is a 23-year old music major at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad. He has studied music for much of his life and has been playing pan for seven years. He plays double tenor most of the time (pictured), but can play all of the instruments in the steel pan family. This year Cedel has been appointed the back line coordinator (basses, tenor basses, cellos, and guitars) for Skiffle. He is responsible for distributing music as well as ensuring that pitch, rhythm, articulation, and phrasing remain accurate throughout the Panorama season. Cedel is so keen and competent that he has become one of arranger Ray Holman's "go-to-guys" during rehearsal. If Ray hears a passage that needs attention he calls for Cedel who promptly fixes the problem. It's a lot of responsibility and a great honor for a 23-year old. Cedel handles everything -- the work, the prestige, the pressure -- with grace and technical aplomb. I wouldn't be surprised if he develops into a formidable arranger or bandleader himself someday. When I asked Cedel if he had anything he wanted to communicate to students at Sweet Briar, he said, "What are you waiting for? Come down now" (he is speaking to the tentative idea of Sweet Briar offering a short study abroad program in southern Trinidad learning about music and culture with Skiffle Steel Orchestra. Many of the young people in the group are curious and excited to meet and interact with students from Sweet Briar).

Monday, January 21, 2013

Cooking Tips w/ Ms. Yvonne, no. 2

Salt Fish and Provisions. This is a signature Trini dish, one of the local classics – Heavily salted cod with peppers and onions over a bed of what is locally known as “provisions” (mostly an assortment of tubers; like potatoes). The provisions pictured here are green fig (they look like little bananas), eddo, dasheen (the blue stuff), cassava, yam, and sweet potato.

Soak the cod in a mixture of lime juice and water to clean the fish, dilute the saltiness, and get rid of the “fresh fishy” taste and smell. Fry the fish in a little oil (Yvonne used olive oil, I think) and then shred it in the pan. Add your peppers and onions, and mix together (you may sauté the veggies separately if you like). Clean and skin your provisions. Boil them. Chop them. Put them on a plate and put your salt fish over the top.