Top Pic: Engine Room- the driving force of a steel band. Consists of iron, congas, drum set, bells, and scratcher.
Below: evening rehearsal. Rehearsals are at night. Ours go until 11pm. Other bands sometimes go into the morning.
Part of my time here in Trinidad is also spent taking in masterclasses and learning more about the history of the instrument and the music. Andy Narell was are guest lecturer today. I will post some videos of older steel bands once I get a more reliable connection. In the mean time, back to practice then to the market.
6 hours later, I’ve made piece with my double seconds, having practiced a ton in small sectionS and worked on memorization. Also, played through some run-throughs of the piece. Rehearsal went well, but we’re tired. The maxi taxi is taking us to the apartments.
It takes quite a bit of time daily to internalize music through memorization. I’m currently practicing three hours a day and I’m very conscious to play slowly in small sections and then advance the tempo and/or add sections.
As you can see, there are different distances between notes that would typically be next to each other on a piano. Correct physical repetitions become necessary; however, I will be playing on Birdsong’s instruments next week, which will require me to adjust. Some notes may be in slightly different positions than on my pans.
One major difference in learning the music for Panorama is that memorization is required for performance. This is distinctly different than a classical music situation in the U.S. (though similar to many situations in the music industry as a whole).
Memorization has distinct positive aspects and drawbacks. It allows for musicians to truly internalize the music, getting them “off the page” and allowing them to move while playing, interact, and be more expressive overall. Memorizing the music takes quite a bit of time and repetition to do correctly. I have been practicing several hours each day – both in smaller and larger segments – just to get close at this point. One week out, I’d say I’m 95% memorized at tempo. I have to continue working to get 100% memorized or I hold back the whole steel band. Some challenges encountered while memorizing music include the possibility of learning something incorrectly (and then internalizing it wrong) and the possibility that the musician’s music reading skills might not get as much attention.
Additionally, memorization ideally re-focuses the performer away from their part as dominant and allows them to listen to the ensemble and understanding the contribution to the whole ensemble and their role in it at any given time.
Traditionally, in Trinidad, physical repetitions of aural models and imitation of physical gestures provide the musical transmission model. As a foreigner going to Trinidad, I have been using notation to expedite the process since my musical background is heavily reliant on music reading.
Lucy Green’s work on informal music education addresses the benefits of informal music education (transmission by rote being one aspect). The examination of musical learning in other cultures can help inform music education models and strategies used in the U.S.
I will be traveling to Trinidad and Tobago for the semi-finals of Panorama. I am playing double seconds with Birdsong, a steel band performing an arrangement by Andy Narell. I have been learning the music for the past six weeks from sheet music and am now working to memorize the music before flying out later in January.
Other are in Trinidad right now learning the music through rote methods (by ear, imitating physical movement, or a combination of methods). I’m excited about the opportunity to work with musicians from all over the world during my visit.
I’ll be updating my blog regularly . . . I know it’s about time I got back to it. I’m asking my world music survey course to follow this blog as they are studying Caribbean music (with a focus on steelpan) in my course.