Panorama Steelband competition in Trinidad – Isn’t everyone a winner?


It’s name is ‘Panorama’ and it is the annual music competition of steelbands from Trinidad and Tobago.

The first official Trinidad Panorama took place in 1963 and it was the chairman of the Carnival Development Committee at the time, Ronald Jay Williams, who gave the festival its name which is taken from the word ‘pan’ which is the name Trinidadians call their national instrument- which has erroneously been dubbed the ‘steel drum’ outside the island where the instrument was invented/developed.

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First Panorama Flyer – Trinidad 1963

The Panorama competitors are large bands of a minimum 40 players and compete in Single Pan, Small Conventional, Medium Conventional and Large Conventional categories, however they are all called ‘steel bands’.

As someone who runs his own small steel band it does disappoint me when people refer to Solid Steel as my ‘steel pan band’ and I’m horrified when they refer to it as my ‘steel drum band’.

So just to set the record straight, I prefer it if it’s understood that Panorama is not just a competition, but a celebration of Trinidad’s national instrument, the ‘steel pan’ or ‘pan’ and those taking part are mostly playing pans of different tonal ranges alongside their rhythm sections made up of other percussionists.

The music they play is locally described as Panorama music, because although steel bands can play any genre of music from ‘popular’ to ‘classical’ (all of which Trinidadians call ‘steelband music’!)- for the Panorama contest they are required to play a certain style and the judges demand certain elements be included in the performance.

So what defines a Panorama musical piece?

Well, there is no better way to showcase this national folk instrument than have it play the national Trinidadian folk music style that long ago gained international recognition (thank you, Harry Belafonte)- the music genre we call ‘calypso’.

Each steel band plays a popular current calypso that is highly arranged into an 8 minute piece with original introductions and key variations- similar to a classical piece- but to an infectious uptempo calypso rhythm.

The calypsos are written by calypsonians who historically have written some songs that are more harmonically and melodically sophisticated with a broad range of ideas that would feed the imagination of any musical arranger tasked with writing a purely instrumental arrangement.

The greatest writer of Panorama-winning tunes was the calypsonian, Lord Kitchener. Even though he passed away in 2000 and only saw 36 Panorama contests in his lifetime, his tunes were the choice of 19 Panorama-winning performances and from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, he enjoyed a run of 11 straight wins. To put his fantastic achievement in even better context, no other composer has contributed more than 4 Panorama-winning calypsoes.

Nowadays, Panorama arrangements are as complex as ever, even though the songs that are their source tend to be much simpler than Kitchener’s!

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Panorama in Trinidad (2019)

The players of each band will have spent months learning to play their parts being drilled on almost a daily basis by the arranger and his section leaders.

Great dexterity and rhythmic timing are crucial to deliver the best possible performance and before the finals the instruments all receive meticulous attention from each band’s tuner.

But if the skills of the players and the tuners are important, the skills of the arranger are even more so.

He or she must write an arrangement that will thrill the crowd and impress the judges. The standards of playing are so high that it is commonly the arrangement that is favoured by the judges that wins the contest for any steel band!

Not many of the arrangers and far less of the players have any formal education in writing or reading music, so the arrangement is largely conveyed via verbal instruction and demonstration.

But the players all have excellent percussion skills physically and come together in what is a fantastic community effort to produce the musical performance demanded by the arrangement.

And ‘community’ is so important here. There are so many players and so many practice nights that socially band members become family whether or not they are actually related.

This community is a very diverse one too. In any Panorama steel band in Trinidad you will find that the players’ ages will range from 10 to 70. There will also be as many female pan players as there will be males and the racial mix will reflect the make-up of the island, with people of African, Indian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and European descent all involved.

Apart from the local players many fine players from the USA, Japan, Britain and other parts of Europe travel over to Trinidad to play with some of the bigger better-known bands like the Renegades, Desperadoes, Silver Stars and  Phase II.

Everyone combines on Panorama Finals night so that visually and aurally the performances are stunning with over a 1000 players in total taking part with an audience of 20,000 people cheering them on.

In an island population of only 1.2 million people, those are impressive figures indeed.

Scoring well on Panorama Finals night earns the bands prize money, with the winning band getting $1,000,000TT (which translates to in excess of £10,000).

But it really is the bragging rights that bands most value from a Panorama win. In any one year there are likely to be 3 or 4 equally strong contenders for each contest.

The Large Conventional Band category is the ‘heavyweight’ title at Panorama and 2 of the most popular steel bands, Renegades and Desperadoes currently have each won the title 11 times.

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Panorama in Trinidad (2019)

Panorama does have its critics, however.

It is a contest and just like a sporting contest it has rules and guidelines as to how performances are ranked. As such certain musical techniques are now commonly found in many contemporary Panorama arrangements, because they are known to win points.

For some arrangers the artistic shackles feel sufficiently inhibiting that they don’t really care about how the judges- who they feel are poorly qualified to adjudicate anyway- score them. So they don’t care about winning Panorama- or so they claim.

I suspect that a ‘surprise’ win for those detractors would be very welcome. And I also suspect that their hope for Panorama to ‘evolve’ into a music festival without any formal judging one day is but a pipedream.

Trinis love a contest. For most of them Panorama is ‘we ting’ meaning that it is something that they believe belongs to them culturally. They don’t want it changed in any way nor do they want it to migrate anywhere else. They don’t want Panorama or steel bands to be associated with anywhere else but Trinidad.

Many top-flight players and arrangers would like to see steel band music embrace other musical forms like jazz more willingly, but there is little appetite for this from Panorama aficionados.

Panorama is, after all, for those fans at least- the greatest folk music contest in the world!

By the time you read this the results will have come in from the Queens Park Savannah in Port Of Spain, Trinidad where on the eve of the pre-Lenten carnival the finals of a music competition were held.

This is an annual music contest the likes of which would be very unfamiliar to most of us in the UK. It is, I would argue, a folk music competition which may be unparalleled internationally.

Locals Brave Rain For School Steel Band Performance

The reputation of one school’s steel band is so high that locals turned out in full force last weekend to see the group perform, despite the wet weather.

Members of the Whitmore High School Steel Band gave the performance of their lives at Pinner Memorial Park on Sunday (July 29th), This Is Local London reported.

They opened the Concerts in the Park event at 14:30, which was being hosted by the Pinner Association.

Local residents were invited to bring a picnic and a chair to watch the show, and due to the adverse weather, many turned up with umbrellas and raincoats as well.

Despite the heavy rain, a spokesperson for the Pinner Association confirmed both performers and the audience had a lovely time.

They stated: “We knew that come rain or sunshine the band would still play on and nothing would dampen their enthusiasm.”

Following this performance, Fats Rollini Jazz and Blues Band will take to the stage this coming Sunday (August 5th) at 14:30. The Stardust Big Band will perform the following week (August 12th), and Grimsdyke Brass Band will wow crowds on Sunday August 19th.

Admission is free and anyone can come along to see the talented musicians perform.

Steel bands are becoming increasingly popular in schools, and one establishment in Wanstead celebrated its 100th birthday with a performance from its own steel band.

St Joseph’s Convent School hosted the show as part of a full day of celebrations, the Ilford Recorder reported, which also included drama workshops, magician performances and a picnic for all the pupils.

To find out more about steel drum lessons in London for your school, get in touch with us today.

steel drums classes

How Steel Drums Classes Can Benefit Growing Schools

When you head off to school, you have an opportunity to learn how to play a musical instrument. You will, unsurprisingly, want to play guitar and live out your dreams of becoming a rock star. However, it’s not necessarily impressive to learn an instrument that thousands of people can already play. Alternatively, you could expand your musical horizons and teach classes to play steel drums.

Just think about it for a moment: everyone likes to boast about the fact that they can play an instrument. When someone tells you that they play an instrument that doesn’t fall in line with the drums, guitar or piano cliché, you’ll instantly pique someone’s curiosity. For secondary schools, holding steel pan workshops will help students to dramatically stand out from others.

The Department for Education suggests that more than 400,000 students will be at secondary state schools by 2027. With such a significant increase (almost 15 per cent), you will find every school teaching their students the same instruments. If your school holds lessons on steel drums, you have a better chance of injecting a different musical culture into students.

According to Frontiers in Neuroscience, music lessons provide benefits to children such as “language-based reasoning, short-term memory, planning and inhibition”.

Dr Artur Jaschke, who conducted the research with Dr Henkjan Honing and Dr Erik Scherderm, told Neuroscience News: “Despite indications that music has beneficial effects on cognition, music is disappearing from general education curricula. This inspired us to initiate a long-term study on the possible effects of music education on cognitive skills that may underlie academic achievement.”

Despite a continued push for students to study the sciences, subjects close to the arts are equally as important for stimulating children’s abilities. Every school is looking for creative ways to plug the gap in extracurricular activities. Someday, you could beat the drums about the fact that you can play a musical instrument!


Steel Drums Herald Westminster Windrush Anniversary

There’s no more fitting sound to pay respect to the Windrush generation than a Caribbean steel band, and that’s what attendees of the thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey were treated to in celebration of 70 years since the arrival of Caribbean migrants on the Empire Windrush Ship.

It’s been a controversial time for the government in regards to those originally welcomed to the UK to help the country overcome an employment crisis after the Second World War, as it was recently revealed that records had been lost, and some of those people who had journeyed to the UK by request had been, or had had family, deported because of a lack of official paperwork.

Baroness Floella Benjamin, patron of the Windrush Foundation, was in attendance, and danced in the naves to the likes of songs such as Amazing Grace played on the steel pans, according to the BBC. Other guests included Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadie Khan, but the majority of attendees were the family’s of those who came to the UK as part of the Windrush generation.

Addressing the congregation, Reverend Canon Joel Edwards acknowledged the hardships that have been endured by this generation, institutional racism as just the start, but also celebrated the gift that this generation has made to Britain in terms of leaders in the worlds of politics, business, education, music and sport.

From this year on, each 22nd June will be marked officially as Windrush Day, with government grants in support of events celebrating the day and the contributions of the Windrush generation to life in Britain.

steel band

Steel Band Features In Girls’ School Celebrations

An all girls school in Wanstead has been celebrating its centenary with a host of activities and events, including a performance by a steel band for pupils and staff.

The Ilford Recorder reported that St Joseph’s Convent School chose to celebrate its 100th anniversary by putting on a day full of fun activities for its current pupils.

A big marquee was erected in the school’s grounds, where the girls currently studying there were invited to take part in creative and drama workshops, as well as to listen to the steel band performance and see a show by a magician.

The day also saw all the children enjoying a picnic together in the sunshine. A centenary disco and summer fair were also organised as part of the festivities.

Headteacher Miss Christine Glover told the news provider that the event was “a lovely way to celebrate such a big milestone in the school’s history”.

She added: “It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all our fantastic achievements so far, and a chance to look forward to the future.”

This kind of event offers a great opportunity to introduce children of all ages to different creative activities, whether musical, drama or otherwise.

Last month there were calls from some in the music industry to encourage schools to put a greater focus on music in the curriculum, with many fearing that failing to get children interested in learning a musical instrument at a young age is one of the factors affecting the number of teenagers who go on to study for a GCSE or A-Level in the subject.

If your school would like to offer steel drum lessons in London to your pupils, contact us today to find out how we could help.

primary school music

Pupils Enjoy Musical Month At Primary School

Although there’s a lot that has to be covered under the national curriculum, that doesn’t mean that primary schools can’t give pupils a chance for some extra, enriching experiences during their time at school.

This is exactly what St Francis Catholic Primary School in Bradford did in May, when it ran its month-long celebration of music.

The Telegraph and Argus reported on what was organised last month, noting that children at the school had the opportunity to not only try playing different instruments, but also to speak to musicians and find out more about their musical talents.

Among the events run by the primary school were Live for 5 video events, where different professional musicians had five minutes to explain their specialisms, as well as sessions where children could try different instruments, such as the trumpet.

Other highlights included concerts by a brass band and a string trio, giving pupils a chance to experience a range of musical styles.

They were also able to get involved themselves with a hymnathon and extra lunchtime music clubs throughout May.

Head at the school Andrea Haines said the month-long musical celebration had resulted in more children becoming interested in singing and music.

“I have seen the significant difference music and singing has made to the lives of children and adults,” she told the newspaper.

We think this is a great idea, and if you want to organise something similar at your school why not consider adding steel band workshops to the mix?

There have recently been calls from professional musicians for there to be a greater focus on music in schools, both primary and secondary, and this could be an excellent way to introduce more children to the varied instruments and musical styles out there.

steel band workshops

Calls For Schools To Focus On Music

A number of musicians and musical organisations have come together to urge schools not to give up on providing music education for youngsters.

The BBC spoke to a number of people within the industry at the recent The Great Escape Festival, where band Wolf Alice said that if they hadn’t had access to music lessons at school, as well as extra-curricular music sessions, they may not be where they are today.

Diane Widderson, from the Musicians’ Union, told the news provider that they are concerned that some schools appear to be dropping A-level and GCSE music from their curriculum because they don’t have enough students to run the courses, or because it is not a subject they’re judged on.

Getting children interested in music at an early age is part of fuelling their passion – and exposing youngsters to as many different kinds of music as possible is a great way to do this.

Offering steel band workshops at your school could open their eyes and ears to a whole new kind of music and get them to think about the possibilities when it comes to learning an instrument.

Earlier this month, the Guardian reported on a letter published in the Observer and written by all the former winners of the BBC’s Young Musician prize, in which they called for all primary-age children to be given the universal right to learn an instrument at no cost to them or their families.

“It is crucial to restore music’s place in children’s lives, not only with all the clear social and educational benefits, but showing them the joy of making and sharing music,” the letter stated.

Playing steel pans is a fun and sociable experience, so this could be a great way to share the joy of making music with students from all backgrounds and of all ages. Find out more! 

Solid Steel Band Wedding Music - with the bride

Steel Band To Greet Royal Wedding Guests

Steel Drum Wedding Music

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are going to hire a steel band playing steel drum wedding music, it is reported. The steel band will welcome guests at their festival and carnival-themed wedding after-party. The prince has specifically requested this kind of Caribbean music.

The Mirror revealed what the couple have planned for their guests. They will be invited to Frogmore House in Windsor Castle. There they will enjoy a fun-filled evening of celebration after the more formal element of the nuptials is over.

Harry has requested a Tiki bar for this part of the reception according to the report. Guests will then dine on South African wagyu beef, provided by Feast It, a company run by one of the prince’s friends.

This particular reception will be the more informal part of the day for the 200 guests. The guest list will be comprised of Harry and Meghan’s closest friends and family.

The Windsors have long held a particularly strong affection for the Caribbean islands. The late Princess Margaret’s frequent holidays on the island of Mustique once used to confirm that.

Wedding Reception Music

The steel band will play for their steel drum wedding music for the drinks reception as guests arrive. They will help to get the party started, but there is much speculation about which pop megastars will perform later. Currently, there are rumours that the Spice Girls, Coldplay and Ed Sheeran could be the ones gracing the stage.

With the wedding just days away, we’ll soon find out which of the rumours are true. What is known is that the Royal couple think that the correct choice of wedding music is very important.

Earlier this month, an official statement revealed that Meghan’s father will walk her down the aisle, while her mother will travel with her to Windsor Castle. Meanwhile, Prince William has been named as best man and Princess Diana’s sister Lady Jane Fellowes will give a reading at the ceremony.

Contact us today if you’d also like to hire a steel band for your wedding!

steel pan band

Steel Pan and Band History

Steel Pan Band?

There’s no better music that evokes sunshine than the intriguing and unique sound of a steel pan band.

Many clients contact Solid Steel to enquire if we are available to play for their events. They often ask ‘is your steel pan band available to play at my wedding?’

But have you ever stopped to think about just where the musical style of this so-called ‘steel pan band’ originated?

Steel pans also known as ‘steel drums’ or just ‘pans’, when collectively played with multiple musicians sound amazing. But this musical group is called ‘steel band’ and not ‘steel pan band’ because this musical instrument originated from Trinidad and Tobago and that’s what it is called there.

A folk instrument like the steel pan is clearly worthy of international respect. Using the terms that are used by the home country where the instrument was invented and developed seems to us to be the minimum requirement the people of Trinidad and Tobago should expect. The pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, after all!

Steel band history

Back in the 1800s, when Trinidad was a sugar plantation society, slaves were brought to the region by colonists from Central and West Africa. They worked on the plantations and brought their music with them. Drumming and singing were commonplace and were a big feature in all religious ceremonies and other celebrations, as well as a method of communication.

But eventually the colonists became concerned that the drumming was being used as a way of organising riots and uprisings. As a result, all drum parades were banned towards the end of the century. After this, bamboo sticks were used to beat out rhythms, with groups of musicians later known as tamboo bamboo bands. But then these too were banned in the 1930s because rival bands would often clash and fight in the streets.

The first steel drum was invented in Trinidad at about the time of the second world war. The tamboo bamboo bands had also voluntarily made the move to steel because metal was stronger and louder than bamboo, with the first versions of the steel drum being paint and biscuit tins!

After beating what were just junk metal containers, it was soon discovered that dents and bulges of various sizes in the tins could make sounds of different pitches. Musicians started to tune them up so that melodies could be played and the first bands of steel pans were then born! 

Steel pans made from steel drums

The modern pan is a chromatically pitched percussion instrument made from 55 gallon industrial drums that formerly contained chemicals.

The term ‘drum’ refers to the steel drum containers from which the pans are made. The steel drum is more correctly called a ‘steel pan’ orjust ‘pan’ as it falls into the idiophone family of instruments, and so is not a musical drum which is a membranophone.

The pan is struck using a pair of straight sticks tipped with rubber; the size and type of rubber tip varies according to the range of notes being played on any particular pan. Some steel band musicians use more than 2 pan sticks, sometimes 3 and even 4 to simultaneously play more notes for more complex harmonising.

Steel pans are built using sheet metal with a thickness between 0.8 and 1.5 mm (1⁄32 and 1⁄16 in). Historically, steel pans have been built from used 55-gallon oil barrels or drums. Nowadays, many instrument makers do not rely on used steel containers and get the resonance bodies manufactured according to their preferences and technical specifications.

Steel pan manufacture

In a first step, the sheet metal is stretched into a bowl shape (this is commonly known as ‘sinking’). This process is usually done with hammers, manually or with the help of air pressure. Secondly, the note pattern is then marked onto the surface, and the notes of different sizes are shaped and molded into the surface. After the tempering the notes have to be softened and tuned  for the initial tuning. The pan maker will then use the best possible tuning device to get the right pitch for each of the playing areas allied to the note that is wanted. Often they will use an electronic tuner called a strobe tuner to assist the tuning process.

The size of each note corresponds to the pitch—the larger the surface area, the lower the tone.

The size of the instrument varies from one pan to another. It may have almost all of the “skirt” (the cylindrical part of the oil drum) cut off and around 30 soprano-range notes. It may use the entire drum with only three bass notes per pan, in which case one person may play six such pans. The length of the skirt generally corresponds to the tessitura (high or low range) of the drum. The pans are usually either painted or chrome plated. Other processes such as nickel plating, powdercoating, or hardening can also be applied as a finish.

Steel band musicians

A pan player is sometimes called a ‘pannist’ or ‘panist’ in modern day Trinidadian society, but these recent terms are very much efforts to lend respectability to the instrument. They sound way too ‘scientific’ and far too similar to the term ‘pianist’. Outside of the world of classical music those who play piano prefer to be called ‘piano players’ sooner than ‘pianists’. To call oneself a ‘pianist’ sounds pretentious and deeply ‘uncool’, so by that measure most players who actually play pan for a living- like those in Solid Steel- would prefer to be called ‘pan players’.  Furthermore, older terms that were used in Trinidad like ‘panman and ‘panwoman’ do not belong in a gender-inclusive modern world!

Influential pan players in the early history of this instrument include Ellie Mannette, the “Father of the Modern Steel Drum” and an accomplished musician, and Winston ‘Spree’ Simon, the inventor and a skilled player of the “Ping Pong” pan. He’s the man widely credited with playing the first recognisable tune on a steel pan and you can read more about him on the TriniSoca website.

Steel band competitions

Pan players in Trinidad and Tobago generally do all their practicing and playing with their steel bands in preparation for performance in competitions, the largest and most famous one being ‘Panorama’ which takes place annually pre-Carnival. Most players generally memorize the musical parts that they practice in preparation for that performance with no reading of charts involved. Those pan players that have more musical knowledge are likely to have more senior positions within the band.

The most important figure in a steel band competing at a Panorama is that of the arranger. It is his musical ideas that need to be communicated to the band and the majoryiy of points awarded to  the band are based on judgemnts of the quality of the arrangement of a Panorama tune.

Amongst the pan players themselves, the top position in a Panorama steelband is that of the captain, but these large ensembles often also include section leaders who are accomplished pan players that monitor the tonal sections in the band.