Dance into Carnival

 We could never say we’ve truly experienced Trinidad unless we participated in the world’s second largest carnival, so we delayed the start of our 2013 voyaging until Carnival was past. While the official Carnival event is only the two days before Ash Wednesday, the parties, fetes, practices, and semi-final judging precede those two days by more than a month. The entire country nearly shuts down for these weeks, and you just have to accept this aspect of Trinidadian lifestyle. After all, in a country with 28 +/- official holidays, what do you expect?

Our first event, the Pan Yard practices, take place at night. To compete in the Pan Semi-finals, a steel pan orchestra must pass the judges’ approval at these practice sessions. Pan orchestras compete in three classes, small, medium, and large, with the large bands ranging in size from 150 to 250 musicians, and their music is incredible.

The National Academy for the Performing Arts
The National Academy for the Performing Arts

 The ultra-modern Performing Arts Center was originally constructed to house Carnival Events, but the facility has been plagued by political manipulation, and it has never seen use as a Carnival stage.

Permanent Vendor Stands
Permanent Vendor Stands

Across from the Performing Arts Center are dozens of permanent vendor’s stands where food, drinks, clothing, and all the usual event goodies can be purchased. Food on the street is surprisingly good, and almost all of our Carnival meals came from stands like these. 

There are dozens of different events to choose between, and you could spend a small fortune and drive yourself into the ground if you attended all of them. We selected six different events to experience a little of everything, and you cannot begin to imagine what a time we had. 

Our second big event was the National Semi-Finals for the Medium and Large sized Pan bands held at Queen’s Park Savannah, the largest park in Port of Spain. The steel orchestras line up on the streets leading into the park to practice their routines and to entertain the huge crowds. As soon as a band has finished its on-stage performance , all the waiting bands move up one place as the time for their judging approaches. We chose to watch the bands from the streets as we could pick and choose our bands.

Katzenjammers Pan Orchestra
Katzenjammers Pan Orchestra

Our first orchestra, the Katzenjammers, is from Tobago, and this band is just incredible. Notice that the bands (groups of musicians) are called orchestras, and no word could be more fitting. The musicians play as one, and the music they produce is unlike anything you have ever heard or associate with steel pan bands in the USA or any other country. The musicians are consummate professionals, and they practice for hundreds of hours before they ever reach the stage at Queen’s Park Savannah. Their efforts culminate in this extraordinary event, and their music is soul moving.

Tuning the Pans takes many focused hours
Tuning the Pans takes many focused hours

 You can see many sizes of pans in these photos; a pan’s size and tuning determine its pitch range. Sounds range from the tiniest piccolo to the largest and most powerful tuned bass drum. Unless you hear them in person, there is no way to describe the music. These are not the pans you know.

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