Beginning with the 2019-2020 season, Sō Percussion is inaugurating a new International Residency program with a trip to Trinidad and Tobago. We travel to countries with rich percussion traditions in order to learn more about their work, participate in music-making, and expand global awareness of the accomplishments and unique cultural contributions of those artists. We also conduct educational programs about our own work, culminating in side-by-side collaborative performances. In some cases, our residency will produce newly commissioned work for Sō from one of the artists.
The pilot program in Trinidad started with an Amid the Noise residency at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, one of the largest groups we have ever had. Amid the Noise is a piece for flexible instrumentation, so whoever shows up finds a way into the music. We had percussion, steel drums, brass, four guitars, flutes, and an oboe. In the afternoon, we conducted a percussion masterclass with percussion students from the University. The great steel drum virtuoso and pedagogue Mia Gormandy-Benjamin hosted us during our two day residency. At the performance, we presented Kendall Williams’ work for four double seconds entitled “Melodic Concept iii.”
The bulk of our time after UTT was spent sitting in with the Skiffle Steel Orchestra as they prepared for Panorama, the annual steel drum extravaganza before Carnival in Port of Spain. We were graciously hosted by Mayor Junia Regrello, the longtime leader of Skiffle and mayor of San Fernando. We would like to thank and acknowledge the time that players like Khaalis de Las and Carlon Lyons spent teaching us the piece, as well as the incredible creativity of the arrangers Kendall Williams, Marc Brooks, and Odie Franklin. All of the Skiffle band accepted us warmly, making us feel welcome in their beautiful country.
So’s Jason Treuting recollects:
“The panyard was an organism that felt new to me. For the first few visits, we mostly hung outside the yard learning the tune on lead pan with Kendall’s cousin Khaalis. Khaalis spent hours teaching us by rote. I had looked at the first half of the score leading up to the visit but hadn’t looked at the second half. It actually made for a good way to learn because I had a head start the first couple of days and could follow what he was showing us. The first night we got through the first half of the tune, with a few changes. The second night at the yard we looked at the 2nd half of the tune, or at least what was there. That night was harder because i hadn’t spent time with all of that music yet. So that night, my brain was exploding in a different way and by the time we got through the end, I couldn’t remember any of the beginning. Gradually, through many repetitions and rehearsals which sometimes went until 3am, we all got it.
Panorama itself was wild. Eleven bands competed and gathered at the savannah. Starting two hours before the show, we started playing the piece slowly and as the band moved towards the stage, down the strip, we played the piece faster and faster until crowds gathered to hear us. The warm-ups on the strip were almost as much of a performance as the final run-through on stage. The competition itself was in front of a large audience and a ton of judges and journalists. The performance included confetti firing off and a choreographed dance between the main driller, Bravo, and some female dancers that was fun and quite a spectacle. The last time I remember having an experience like this was in Bali. In a similar way, competition is important in that tradition, which isn’t something that I am drawn to in the US, but feels somehow different in another culture.”
Our hope is to grow the International Residency into a long-term cornerstone of Sō Percussion’s annual programing, with prospective future locations possibly including Bali and Ghana.