By Oscar Wailoo
Playing an Al Foster arrangement of Kerwin Du Bois’ “Unforgettable,” Pan Fantasy last Friday successfully defended its title and became the first Five -Peat champion in the history of Ontario Steelpan Association’s Pan Alive Competition. Its total of 258 points was 10 more than second placed Afropan, who beat Salah’s Steelpan Academy by 4 points, with Silhouettes in fourth position.
Pan Fantasy was as brilliant as it was last year when it won for the fourth consecutive time. Under the hand of arranger Al Foster and Wendy Jones’ inspirational leadership, Pan Fantasy was under enormous pressure following Afropan’s flawless and clean delivery of Earl La Pierre Senior’s wonderful arrangement of Joyan James’ “Different Me”. In fact, no one could blame the usually strong contingent of Afropan’s partisans for feeling their band did enough to win; it was that good.
However, the position of first or second could have easily gone to four-time winner Salah’s Steelpan Academy which is no stranger to the winner’s podium or to Silhouettes. Both bands drew loud bravos from a crowd that “knew their pan”. Salah’s gained their approval with its usual quiet sophistication while Silhouettes blazed a musical trail with Mark Mosca’s arrangement of Len “Boogsie” Sharpe’s “Madd Music”.
While a night of steelband music is a treat for both steelband lovers and for those who attended the competition for the first time, the unevenness of quality across the ten bands was obvious. The ability of individual players account for much, but not all, of this unevenness.
The tonal quality of some instruments left a lot to be desired, and more arrangers should pay closer attention to harmonization, re-harmonization and motivic development in order to create more interesting eight- minute arrangements. There is nothing wrong with unison playing, but its effectiveness bears an inverse relationship to the frequency of its use in an arrangement. Hopefully, over time, some of these troubling performance elements will be taken into account by the clearly talented music arrangers and band leaders, making future competitions less predictable.
One of the realities of pan competitions is that, to its supporters, each steelband is a winner and they show this by their applause at the end of the presentations. The five judges have the unenviable task of determining the winner based, not on subjective audience response, but on the objective music criteria of Arrangement (40 points), Performance (40 points) Tone (10 points)) and Rhythm (10 points). Each participant’s final score is the total of the points awarded by 3 judges after the highest and lowest points are discarded.
Even so, in a music competition where each band gets to play any song it chooses, there can be no absolute certainty of the outcome; and it could be reasonably described as “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” The subjectivity of individual tastes still comes into play.
Still, the impartial listener who may not have been schooled in the finer points of music but who possesses a decent musical ear, would agree that the bands that ended up in the first four positions deserved to be there. That it was a mere 13 points separating first and fourth is a measure of how closely fought the contest was.
The audience embraced the new production format of the competition – a stage with a back-drop and a staging area that was cleared of the large crowds that surrounded the performing steel bands in the past.
Participating steelbands must be congratulated for their efficient movement on and off the stage, leading to the earliest completion of the event in many years. Next year, OSA will have to build on this year’s success, as well as make sure that they are ready to announce the results within 10 minutes of the last participant’s performance.
- Pan Fantasy 258
- Afropan 248
- Salah’s Steelpan Academy 244
- Silhouettes 243
- Golden Harps Int’l 238
JK Pan Vibrations 238
- Panatics Steelband Network 232
- New Dimension 226
- Pan Masters 225
- St. Jamestown Youth Centre 192