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Saturday, February 26, 2005



Dr. Lester CN Simon

I wish to thank Sam Roberts for all the steel pan music played on Sessions in Steel on Observer Radio. Like most lovers of pan music, I was enthralled by Phase II Pan Groove for their overwhelming display in Panorama 2005. Their rendition underscored a fundamental element of the steel pan that is worthy of discussion.

Some people do not like steel pan music even though they like many other types of music including jazz and classical music. I think one reason for this is because steel pans have an inherent peculiarity. Despite the fact that steel pans vary in pitch, they all have a similar sonority. This presents a problem in arranging for a steel orchestra. If proper attention is not paid to this fact, the entire steel band can sound like a bundle of noise. This turns off people. The arranger cannot simply adapt the basic approaches that are tried and proven for classical music or jazz big band orchestras. These ensembles have a variety of musical instruments with a variety of musical sonorities.

It is my opinion that one of the best sources for insight into, and inspiration for, arranging for the steel pan is the classical music string quartet. The reason for this is because, similar to the mono-sonority of the steel pans, the string quartet comprises all string instruments. Even though the violin, viola and cello vary in pitch, the sonority is not that different compared to a full orchestra with sections of strings, brass, woodwinds, etc.

The composer or arranger of the string quartet relies heavily on the interplay between the instruments. This is the key. It’s almost like listening to a room full of people with different conversations among different groups and yet, if you listen carefully and try not to concentrate on each spoken word, you can hear the harmony of all the different conversations. This is why I was bowled over by Phase II Pan Groove. Boogsie had the band in that perfect state of harmony in which the different sections were in separate but related conversations with each other, and with the various motivic developments and overall theme.

But there are similar lessons to be learnt from the jazz fusion music of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Groups like Weather Report, Return To Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra emancipated the bass instrument and allowed exciting, operatic interplay among all the instruments. This was similar to what classical composers did with the string quartet and what jazz musicians did in earlier, Swing music in which different instruments were improvising simultaneously. And lest we forget, the drums of Africa mastered this multiple level of conversation eons ago.

Pan arrangers and players must free up the double seconds and the other middle pans. Indeed they must free up all the sections, including the bass. Harmony does not necessarily require strumming all the time. A master like Boogsie can make the different sections interplay and bring out the rich harmony that interplaying allows.

The future of pan music requires more of this freeing up, more of this polyrhythmic, poly-melodic, inter-conversation between the sections. This will require new theoretical knowledge and practical skills such as counterpoint and the deft ability to really play pan rather than simply beat pan.

For those who do not have a natural affinity for pan, we must draw them in by exposing the wonderful science, art and history of pan. Panists must learn to read music and engage more critical discussions about, and analysis of pan music. We must understand that there are only two whole tone scales in Western music: C to C and C sharp to C sharp. The D whole tone scale is just a displacement of the C whole tone scale, etc. Hence a set of pans like the double second pan is tuned so that each pan has one of the two whole tone scales. There are only 3 diminished chords in Western music and hence each pan of a triple set of pans, like the triple guitar pan, carries a single diminished chord. Similarly, there are only four augmented chords. With one augmented chord in each pan, the set of quadraphonic pans was an inevitable development. Since all twelve notes of the chromatic scale can be aligned in a cycle of fifths or fourths, the circular shape of the pan entitles the single tenor pan to this tuning pattern perfectly.

Regarding local pan history, Samuel Simon (“Likkle Man”, the bass man) tells me that his band, North Star (from New Winthropes) was the first steel band recorded by Emory Cook. This seems logical to me because North Star was the resident band at the nearby Bucket of Blood at the Fullers, with whom Emory Cook stayed. But when you have town bands with names like Hells Gate and Brute Force, you have to change the name North Star to something like Big Shell. What else was changed? Likkle Man also said that Hells Gate was so popular, when steel band competition was held at Boys School, the general feeling was that Hells Gate would always win, even if they did not compete!

There is also a claim that North Star was the first steel band to play in church (St. George’s) since the Anglican minister, Reverend Yarbrey (sp.) was more liberal than most and Likkle Man had the singular good fortune of being on the church choir and
co-leader of the steel band. Then again, Likkle Man, the bass man, also claimed that he did not really drink the whole bass drum full of “brebich”! But back to the future.

As we look at the future of pan, the search for the Holy Grail in pan music, as in Caribbean life, will intensify. To hear oneself yes, but to listen to others at the same time so as to behold the consonant beauty of the inviolable, harmonic whole. This is the cardinal or fundamental gift the Boogsian approach of counterpoint and interplay in pan music gives us, especially the youths. How we can live together, separately and yet as one composite whole. As the song made famous in the movie Casablanca says, “The fundamental things apply; as times goes by.” Play it again Sam.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Touch Me If You Think


Dr. Lester CN Simon

It is a generally held view that one of the many and varied causes of aggression, crime and violence is low self-esteem. This is posited as one of the reasons for criminal behaviour among deprived young men in depressed social environments. So scores of counsellors, social workers and teachers have been on the march to assist these unfortunate, sad, young men to raise their levels of self-esteem. Maybe it is time to call in these workers and ask them to report on their findings.

One of the cornerstones of science is the imperative to find the truth and to be able to quote a referenced study or provide empirical evidence for your stated fact. This might mean that in the bright, dazzling light of truth, beautiful theories are knocked down by ugly facts. So who told you that low self-esteem was a causal element in aggression, crime and violence? Where are the data? Where are the studies?

In trying to understand some of the causes of aggression, crime and violence in Antigua and Barbuda, I turned to an article by Roy Baumeister in the April 2001 edition of Scientific American. Baumeister reported that he was unable to find any book or paper that offered a formal statement or empirical evidence to support the “well-known fact” that low self-esteem causes violence. He acknowledged that human behaviour is shaped by various factors. Yet there are some forms of aggression that require the perpetrator to have a high, not low self-esteem.

Baumeister registered the obvious fact that not all people who think highly of themselves are prone to violence. But when inflated, lofty opinion of oneself is questioned, disputed, threatened or undermined, it seems that the whole town had better run for cover.

Old school children should know that high rather that low self-esteem challenged by a threat is more likely to lead to aggression. The school bully takes away your homework, lunch money and your girlfriend (in increasing order of importance). He then beats you up because you are stupid enough to threaten to report him. The village bad boy accosts you with your tray of figs (bananas) that your grandmother has sent you out to sell. You tell him that the figs cost two-pence. He takes away all the figs and gives you two single pence. Then he smashes your tray because you are silly enough to bawl murder and threaten to tell your granny.

Some of us believe that white collar crime is perpetrated by smart people with high self-esteem and that petty, “naked skin” crimes are committed by deprived boys who cannot read or write and hence they must have low self-esteem. Maybe the difference between the two criminals is simply a matter of specific know-how and access. To be any sort of successful criminal, you must have high self-regard and a host of other attributes including good memory and excellent money management skills. To be a successful gang leader you require a practical, street version of a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) that some politicians would barter their souls for.

Based on evidence from studies he conducted, Baumeister concluded that the person with low self-esteem is not prone to aggressive responses. On the other hand, he warns that one should beware of people who regard themselves as superior to others, especially when their beliefs are inflated, weakly grounded in reality or heavily dependent on having others confirm them frequently (Yes, boss; you are the best boss; there is no one like you boss;).

Baumeister noted that conceited self-important individuals turn nasty towards those who puncture their bubbles of self-love. Professional work involving prostitutes, gangs and other groups in Antigua and Barbuda shows that all groups have ranks and files, different classes of members, leaders and rules and regulations. You can be ostracised or killed for “dissing” the highly-esteemed boss. And woe be unto you if it is a posthumous “dissing”.

So what should we be doing to our children to stem the aggression and violence? Simply put: Tell them the truth and do not be afraid to allow them to experience hurt. Baumeister noted with great irony that many parents and teachers are afraid to criticise kids because of the (alleged) serious psychological damage that criticism will inflict. He noted that in some sports, everyone, including the loser, gets a trophy. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! “T’all! T’all!” In my opinion, when you lose, you should bawl like a mongrel, throw yourself down in the gutter, run home and bawl again, fall asleep and wake up and bawl all night till fore-day morning, spend hours, days, weeks and months analysing and understanding why you lost and come back better and stronger for the next match.

In Baumeister’s view, there is nothing wrong with helping students and others to take pride in accomplishments and good deeds. But there are reasons to worry about encouraging people to think too highly of themselves when they have not earned it. Children must be allowed to understand losses and failures proportionate to their ages. Baumeister said that praise should be tied to performance (including improvement) rather than dispensed freely as if everyone had a right to it simply for being oneself.

We all need a favourable self-image. We all want to say like James Brown, “I feel good!” But we forget the next line, “I knew that I would.” You knew that you would because your feeling good, your good sense of self is not false or unwarranted. Maybe, just maybe, we need a national symposium involving all the tribes in this country to determine objectively, measure for measure, the degree of contribution and importance of our heroes. Maybe we need to broaden the national net to include more warriors so we can spread and balance the lineage of our highly esteemed leaders and fighters.

In so doing, we might reach a higher level of national development. When your team loses, there is no aggression based wrongly or even rightly on a erceived “dissing” of those held in lofty esteem. Truly great men and women do not need viragoes and vagabonds to be encouraged to sally and fight unfairly. You just take your bang-off, bawl like a ram goat, and use the time to study how to win fairly and squarely and come back piping hot next time with real fire and steel.

Sunday, February 13, 2005



Dr. Lester CN Simon

Have you ever wondered what really goes on in your body when you are in love? You become obsessed, possessed even. Thoughts, images and impulses occur over and over again and you feel out of control. You are seemingly compelled to undertake irrational acts repeatedly. You regularly call on the phone and you drive by just to see if the house is still there because you know your true love is inside thinking of no one but you. It does not enter your mind that your lover may be totally oblivious of you and your desires. Are you in love or are you a stark, raving mentally ill person?

In 1999, Donatella Marazziti of the University of Pisa in Italy discovered a similarity between people who say they were in love and people with a mental illness called obsessive-compulsion disorder, OCD. A substance called serotonin plays a key role in brain chemistry. It is known to modulate mood, emotion, sleep and appetite, and it has a calming effect. Marazziti found that the level of serotonin was below normal in the in-lovers and in those with the mental disorder, OCD. When love takes over, you have alterations in your mood, you become emotional and you cannot eat or sleep. Are you in love or have you wandered too far from the land of mental normality to a crowded island of madding lovers?

After measuring the substance serotonin, Marazziti went on to look at other substances in those who are in love. An article in the New Scientist of 8 May 2004, outlined the results of research by Marazziti and her team. They measured several substances in 12 men and 12 women who said they had fallen in love within the past six months. They compared the results in these in-lovers with those from 24 other volunteers who were either single or in a stable long-term relationship.

The New Scientist reported that one finding was that both men and women in love had considerable higher levels of a substance called cortisol. Cortisol is known as a stress hormone. The higher levels probably reflect the stressful nature of falling in love whether you are male or female.

Marazziti reported that the most intriguing finding was related to testosterone. Testosterone is widely known as a male sex hormone. Actually, testosterone is found in both males and females but the levels in males below the age of 50 years are much higher than the levels in females below age fifty.

Testosterone is positively linked to aggression and sex drive. Marazziti discovered that men in love had lower levels of testosterone than other men. However, women in love had higher levels of testosterone than women who were not struck by the love bug. She suggested that in regards to testosterone, men in love had become more like women, and women in love had become like men! She thought that this may be nature’s way of eliminating the difference between men and women when they are in the love zone.

Another scientist, Andreas Bartels of University College London pointed out that the changes in testosterone levels could be as a result of sexual activity between those in love. Marazziti discounted that argument as the explanation for the changes in testosterone levels. She noted that in her study those individuals in the control group (not in love) were having sex just as often as those in the in-love group.

Additionally, testosterone levels in men usually rise as sexual activity increases. Hence, reported the New Scientist, if the changes were just the result of sex, the testosterone levels would be expected to increase in men, rather than fall.

It seems that the lowering of testosterone in men-in-love and the raising of testosterone of women-in-love might be an attempt to converge the two levels. This may help lovers overcome their differences (or make them blind to each other’s faults).

Sadly, Marazziti found that the blissful state of romantic love did not last. She re-tested the same subjects one or two years later when they said they were no longer madly in love, although they were still together. The levels of testosterone had returned to normal.

So what should we do to remain in love? Sorry men, but it seems that you have to cut back on your testosterone, your so-called “maleness” and aggression (at least in this circumstance) and allow for less difference between you and your mate. Is there any proof of this? Since older folks are said to be wiser, we should probably study elderly couples who are still living together in loving, in-love, harmony.

In females and males over 50 years of age, the levels of testosterone are lower than in younger females and males. The testosterone gap is smaller. This suggests that for elderly couples in love, they would have to try less hard than younger couples to remain in love, based on the testosterone levels.

There is a contented, in-love, elderly couple somewhere. The man and woman are smiling because the natural testosterone gap has decreased and they are still in love. But within this tendency towards similarity, there are many reasons for the smiles.

The man does not want to actively lower his testosterone any more. He depends on his falling testosterone level for his sex drive. Most times he displays a very low testosterone level by being less aggressive and more agreeable. At other times, they both relish his relatively higher testosterone sexual drive.

He is smiling because he thinks she is unaware of his clever balancing of testosterone levels. She is also smiling because unbeknownst to him, she is well on top of his testosterone balancing ruse. And so they live in blissful, loving compromise, happily ever after.