I traveled to Trinidad and Tobago in January 2016 for the semi-finals of Panorama. I played double seconds with Birdsong, a steel band that performed an arrangement by Andy Narell. I learned the music over six weeks from sheet music and then worked to memorize the music before flying out later in January.
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 practiced several hours each day – both in smaller and larger segments – just to get close to ready. When I was one week out, I’d say I was 95% memorized at tempo. I had to continue working to get 100% memorized or risk holding 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. Traditionally, in Trinidad, physical repetitions of aural models and imitation of physical gestures provide the musical transmission model. 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.
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.