Date:  09.09.03

 

Steelband Tempo
 Too Fast or Too Slow?
An introspective
and historical perspective


By Collins Jackman

 

In response to a comment made by a guest at this website about tempo, saying that the trend of today sanctions steelbands to play at a fast tempo, I think that playing a piece of music at a fast pace does an injustice to it.  I think the aim of all bands should be to perform their arrangements at a tempo that allows them to be heard with clarity and permits the players to be comfortable executing them with precision.  Determining the right tempo depends on the nature of arrangement and the level of musicianship of the players.

 

If, however, bands are able to perform at racing speed and still maintain clarity, then that is fine.  But the objective should always be to play so that the nuances of the music can be heard and understood.  Remember, panorama is a musical competition. The jolly nature of the competition should not obscure that fact.

 

Another point I would like to take this opportunity to mention in passing is that the social, political and economic struggle of the Steelpan movement must be more readily discussed and made known, not only to the outside world but to those who are intimately involved in the movement and especially to our progeny.  During the colonial period of Trinidad, pan music or the musical expression of those who were a part of it, was an articulation of their opposition to the political, social and economic oppression to which they were subjected.

 

The musical creativity and the tonal and other technical innovations that have led to present form of the steelband family of instruments, were their weapons to vindicate their self-respect as human beings and as a people, and challenged the realities of imperialist and racist means of the power structure in Trinidad.

 

These are the things that we must celebrate about the pan movement.  But we have been so immersed with dealing with the superficial aspects of pan, such as panorama and its part in the general carnival tradition, which involves having a good time, that this important dimension of the pan movement has been overlooked or hardly mentioned.  Having a good time is not a bad thing, but I think we need to know the purpose or the reason for having a good time.  The history of pan has to be told in such a way that it illuminates the social, political and economic circumstances under which it came about and evolved.  It should not be treated as an esoteric issue, or as only suitable for an academic situation.  We have to somehow make it a part of our present struggle because the past and the present are integral links to how our future will turn out.

 

And if we are seeking to have pan to be turned into an area of study for the school system or in any situation of learning, an in-depth analysis of the history of pan, in conjunction with the effects of societal forces and institutions on the development of the pan movement, must be pivotal in such a program.

 

At the end of it, pan is only the passive element; it is the people who have given and continue to give life to the instrument.  No comment.

 

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