When Junior Sammy Group Skiffle takes to the stage on Saturday night for the National Panorama finals (large band), it will be a celebration of youth tempered with experience, molded together by a pan genius. According to band leader, Junia Regrello, the average age of the 100-odd players is 18.
Players range from 10-year-old Brittney Cato (tenor bass), her 12-year-old brother, Jordon (tenor) and 12-year-old Telisha Granger (tenor bass) to 70+-year-old Errol Ramah (double tenor). In between, among a host of very talented players, are the tenor virtuosos, Chloe Perrott, Anella Seecharan and 15-year-old Joshua Regrello, with the exuberant bundle of energy, Dimita Ariel Graham, on double second.
They all have this rare talent of playing the most complex passages as if it were the easiest thing in the world.The band also contains a few foreign players. Among these are the dainty Kimiko Yamawaki (double tenor) and Dr Jeff Jones (double tenor). Kimiko plays for the Japanese band, Pan Note Magic. Look them up on YouTube playing Pan In A Minor. You'd be amazed at what a seven-member band can do with the Jit Samaroo arrangement of this Kitchener masterpiece.
Dr Jones hails from Sweet Briar College in Virginia, USA, where he teaches music theory, music history and conducts the Chamber Orchestra. He's a tremendous workhorse in his pleasant, unassuming way, always willing to lend a helping hand wherever it is needed.
But all of this talent would come to nought if it were not harnessed into a coherent unit, and who better to do this than pan legend and ace arranger, Ray Holman. Holman was coerced out of Panorama retirement by band leader Regrello who enticed him with the information that most of the players were quite young and could read music. When players could read music, the arranger's job is easier, but still not easy.
For Panorama, Holman chose The Dream (lyrics by Fazad Joe Shageer, music by Holman and sung by the supremely talented Gerelle Forbes). It is easily one of the most melodious compositions I've heard for some time. I've been watching the band going through their paces over the last several weeks and the music is simply addictive.
Many of us would be aware of Holman's extraordinary arranging, composing and pan-playing skills, but it's only when you watch him work from close quarters can you begin to appreciate the genius that he is. (What a tragedy that we so seldom appreciate the giants in our midst!) He has been ably assisted by drill master, Darwren Greenidge, who first played pan for Texaco West Stars (remember them?) in 1979 at the tender age of eight.
I will leave it to the pan aficionados to decide on Panorama night, but, for me, Holman has taken a relatively simple tune and created a wonderful, masterful, symphonic arrangement of it. What I found fascinating was the way he weaved his magic arranging wand without ever losing touch with the central theme of the music. That's not always an easy thing to do for sometimes you hear an arrangement and wonder what it has to do with the original piece. But I guess you'll have to hear Skiffle play The Dream to understand what I mean.
On finals night, all the pan heavyweights (Phase II, Exodus, All Stars, Despers, Fonclaire, Renegades, Invaders, Silver Stars and Redemption) will be there, and with two weeks to fine-tune their renditions since the semifinals, competition will be keen and close. I only venture to say that if Skiffle plays anything like they played at practice on Tuesday night, they will be a tremendous force to be reckoned with.
Dr Noel Kalicharan