‘Excellence in Steel’ for real at Panorama

As always, Panorama was one of the most popular events of the West Indian American Carnival and Parade, with more than a thousand lovers of the sweet, sweet sound of steel pan flocking to the Brooklyn Museum grounds last Saturday night to hear ten steel orchestras give it their all in the 2012 competition “Excellence in Steel.” Thousands more throughout the tri-state area tuned in to listen to it live over the radio, while additional millions throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere were able to view it live over the internet.

Along with the top-notch steel pan performances, there were tributes to several recently departed enthusiasts in the field. The first was cultural icon, Courtney Charles (Charleau), a fervent connoisseur of all things Trinidadian, especially when it came to steel bands and calypso. His encyclopedic memory and ability to dispense information about these topics earned him the title of Cultural Ambassador among his friends.

Also honored were avid steel pan players Dominique Clarke, who passed on at age 35, and Leticia Dean, who was only 17. Both will be missed by their friends and fellow musicians.

In the competition, each steel orchestra consisted of anywhere from about 60 to a maximum of 100 players. They each performed for up to ten minutes; if they went over, they got a half point deduction. The seven judges marked each orchestra on its arrangement for forty points, general performance forty points, quality of sound ten points, and rhythm ten points, for a possible total of one hundred points from each judge. The highest and lowest scores for each orchestra were thrown out, leaving only the five middle scores, making for a possible perfect score of five hundred points.

Adlib Steel Orchestra, the 2011 winner, was ecstatic to hold onto first place with a score of 469 points, led to victory by Andre White with his rousing arrangement of “Baddist.” Crossfire Steel Orchestra, which was costumed in eye-catching black and gold outfits and displayed a great sense of fun its performance of “Action,” moved up into second place with 464 points.

The next three orchestras were each separated by only four points: D’Radoes once more captured third place with a score of 446 for its interpretation of “Bacchanalist”; Pan Sonatas’ performance of “Gie Dem Tempo” kept it in fourth place with 442 points; and Despers USA was again close on its heels with 438 points for its rendition of “Prophet of Pan.”

With a score of 432, Harmony Music Makers placed sixth with its performance of “Vibes,” while Sesame Flyers International just nosed out USA East Side Symphony for seventh place, garnering 414 to USA East Side’s 413 points. Harmony performed “Mr. Fete,” while USA East Side, in its debut appearance at Panorama, gave its interpretation of “Vibes.”

Pantonic Steel Orchestra claimed ninth place, scoring 389 points for its rendition of “Play Yuhself.” Even though Metro Steel Orchestra gave a spirited performance, it failed to capture more than 362 points, leaving it in tenth place.

During the time it took the orchestras to move their instruments onto and then off the stage between each performance, D’Heated Bench Warmers and DJ One Plus One kept the rhythm going and the mood lively. The enthusiastic crowd remained well into the wee small hours of the morning, soaking up every note of the beautiful music created on this wonderful instrument, a great gift to the world from Trinidad.

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