Uh-oh, school’s started again. Who knew Oberlin could produce this much snow?? As the new semester begins, part of us still dwells on the last days we shared together in Trinidad and the incredible Panorama semi-finals.
Wednesday was our last beach day, sadly (we love the beach. especially Sarah). We went to Las Cuevas, “The Caves,” a line of caverns along the beachfront. Many of our bandmates frolicked in the waves or took a nap in the comfort of their towels, knowing this would be the last relaxing day of the trip. On Thursday, many of us visited the Port of Spain-based steelband Tokyo to meet up with a pan tuner named Emily Lemmerman. Tokyo formed during WWII and so, like many of the earliest steelbands, gave itself a war-related title (other examples include “Invaders” and “Casablanca”). Emily demonstrated the process of tuning a pan, which involves all types of hammers and electronic instruments. She has to be extremely methodical, but also creative when problems arise. It’s a really complicated process that can easily go wrong–she mentioned band directors that have attempted to fix minor tuning problems, only to accidentally irreparably damage their pans.
The week was off to a great start, but the weekend was even more splendid. We started it off right on Friday (at midnight) with a celebration for our very own Maya Zeemont’s birthday! We quickly scurried back from practice to start some birthday activities in the courtyard of the West Indies dorms. Unbeknownst to Maya, Khristian and Marvin–two dashing gentlemen from Birdsong (Marvin the manager and Khristian a longtime member)–had dropped in to celebrate the hallmark 21st birthday for Zeemont. After weeks of excursions and hikes in which OSteel members largely traveled out into Trinidad in small groups, this night allowed OSteel to celebrate all together. We danced around to the soca (modern pop calypso) icons of our generation, not yet comprehending the craziness that the next couple of days had in store. Saturday: extremely intense practicing. Sunday: PANORAMA SEMI FINALS!! WHAT??
[Picture: Birdsong waiting to go onstage in Panorama!! Those are the racks our pans were set up in!]
Can you believe it?! Monica’s brainchild, the trip of a lifetime, a trip that didn’t seem possible, with the odds against us–how could we have possibly made it happen just as we’d hoped? A dream of playing in Panorama which had existed in OSteel for decades… it was happening!
On Sunday, we needed to be at the Birdsong panyard at 1:00pm to take our transport to Panorama. On our early scavenge for food, forgetting even in the 4th week that food stands aren’t open on Sundays, Jess, Noah J, Joseph, Sarah, and Amanda were scooped up by loving bandmates Dara & Khristian and swiftly taken to the Savannah (the giant field and track on which Panorama was taking place). Monica and Audrey were already there, having left early to check out the “medium bands,” which compete earlier in the Panorama schedule (Birdsong is a “large band”). We hung out on the festival grounds, waiting for the rest of the band to join us, listening to other groups do some last-minute rehearsing, and chowing down on “bake and sharks” (shark sandwiches). We were really excited to see the performance of Katzenjammers, the band Leon Foster Thomas arranged for, and the group we visited in Tobago.
With the moment of our performance approaching, it was time for us to roll the mobile racks holding our pans across the track and wait next to the stage. Racks are heavy and move fast! Tension was high! Joseph’s ankles were scraped by an out-of-control rack of six basses! Through an hour of pushing and stopping, rehearsing for the crowd, and pushing again, we finally made it to the stage.
Unfortunately, we had some difficulty setting up on stage (the judges docked points for the delay, which led us to miss the 10th-place qualifying spot by just 5 points). One of the huge double seconds racks was on the wrong side of the stage, which meant a complete reconfiguration of ALL the heavy racks. After about fifteen minutes of laborious rerouting, everything was set to go. There were lights! Cameras! A jazz band blaring in the stands! People whining! People sitting! People laughing! The pressure was on!!! This was it, this was the moment… and ten minutes never went by so fast or in such a blur! Everything sounded so great as the immersion of sound filled the semi-finals stage.
[Monica, Sarah, Audrey, Amanda, and Emma–the crew on the topmost rack during the performance]
After the hugging, the clapping, and all the celebration that befits the culmination of a month’s worth of sweat and tears, it was just barely 7:00pm. So, the night was not over! What did we do? We joined the Panorama festivities again, this time as audience members, free to wander and listen as we wished.
Marvin, Birdsong’s manager, got us into the festival’s fête (in Trinidad, people call often call parties “fêtes”). Along with soca music blaring from every stage and at every turn, there was even an animatronic bull, which our very own Amanda Leopold took a turn riding. We walked around the Savannah again and again, in turn listening to bands warm up and watching them play on stage. We saw performance after performance that blew our minds–it was barely comprehensible that we’d played in the same event as these incredible bands. One of our favorite groups was the famous “Phase II Pan Groove,” which has won Panorama many times in recent years. Their arranger, Boogsie Sharpe, is legendary. We freaked out when we saw him, and Maya snapped a not-so-subtle, close-up flash picture.
By 11:00, we were exhausted. The entire Birdsong crew (over a hundred players) loaded into buses and traveled back to Tunapuna. OSteel went to the Birdsong panyard for a few minutes to say goodbye to the friends we’d made before heading back to our dorms. It was a bittersweet goodbye, made even more poignant by the news that we’d placed 11th (out of 15 bands) in the competition, just barely missing the spot that would allow us to continue on to finals. Still, Birdsong placed higher than it has in years! Although we didn’t make it to the next round, everyone was still really proud of the work we’d done. OSteel wouldn’t have been able to play in finals anyway–we had to hurry back for the start of classes!
Only a few hours remained between us and our 4:30am departure for the airport, so we hurriedly packed and took power naps. As we departed, we reflected on our crazy evening–nothing could have been better about our final night in a truly incomparable country.
By the wickedly talented,