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."