Instrument Storage at First Citizens Supernovas Steel Orchestra. Photo by Alan Barsoom
“Fun-filled. Memorable. Energetic. Life changing.” These are just a few of the words used by the students of the Rhythm Project All-Stars, based in Hampton Roads, Virginia, describing their experience on the beautiful twin islands of Trinidad & Tobago, where they took part in the world’s largest Steelband competition, the National Panorama Finals.
On February 14, 2020, the Rhythm Project All-Stars embarked on a trip to the birthplace of the steelpan. This fully funded trip allowed the students, many whom had never been out of the United States, to immerse themselves in a diverse way of life, culture, and cuisine. From the moment the All-Stars landed in Trinidad, students noticed the heat, the right-hand drive, and the winding roads. A typical day on this trip included taking the maxi (also known as the bus) to “pan yard” tours and educational presentations by famous steel pan tuner Juma Simmons and foremost steelpan historian Dr. Kim Johnson.
The All-Stars traveled to East Trinidad, where the First Citizens Supernovas Steel Orchestra, a 120-piece Steelband, rehearsed from 7:00 p.m.–2:00 a.m. All 21 students had the opportunity to rehearse with and work alongside members of the Supernovas and world-renowned arranger Amrit Samaroo.
Panorama Preparation—First rehearsal in Surrey Village. Photo by Amanda Wheeler
Trinidad & Tobago National Panorama is an annual steelband competition that occurs during Carnival time on the grand stage of the Queens Park Savannah. This highly competitive event showcases the musical excellence and execution of steel bands around the country within three categories: small, medium, and large. The Rhythm Project All-Stars had 11 members, including the three directors, selected to perform for the final competition on February 22, 2020.
The dynamic and exuberant performance by the Supernovas not only impacted the students getting to perform, but also moved the bodies and spirits of every spectator in the audience. Students, chaperones, and directors all experienced the unique bond that the preparation for this competition instilled, and a majority of the students were able to foster friendships with Trinidadians that they will cherish forever.
This was an unforgettable experience and a huge accomplishment for the Rhythm Project and Virginia Arts Festival, and it will be etched in the hearts and minds of our students and parents. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that encouraged hard work, creativity, motivation, humility, and discipline.
Rhythm Project is part of the Virginia Arts Festival. More information is available at vafest.org/education-community/rhythm-project/. The Rhythm Project staff is Daron Roberts, Rhythm Project Associate Director, Austin Ferguson, Rhythm Project Assistant Director, and Dave Longfellow, Rhythm Project Director.