Panorama Break for Ray Holman

By Caldeo Sookram
February 19, 2003
Trinidad Express

Ray Holman, the man who changed the history of the Panorama Steel-band competition did not arrange for any band this year.

When Holman composed “Pan on the Move” to compete for Panorama in 1972, a furore was raised by a number of calypsonians.

It was the first time that a steel-band arranger had composed a piece for pan to play in a Panorama competition. The season was long, since Carnival celebrations were postponed to May because of a threat of a polio epidemic.

“Some people claimed it was not a calypso because it had no lyrics,” said Holman. “We get Alvin Daniel to write lyrics for the tune and we tried to get Baron to sing it. Baron declined because he was threatened by the management of the tent where he performed,” Holman added.

“The steel-band fraternity supported me but some calypsonians opposed the move because they felt threatened,” said Holman.

The song was eventually sung by a female calypsonian, said Holman. It won for Starlift the North Zone Panaorama title that year. Again in 1973 Holman composed his own tune for Panorama. This time it was “Pan on the Run”. By then the “own tune” controversy had led to splits in the steel-band movement itself, with the famous Starlift spilt resulting in the formation of the Phase II and Third World steel bands.

“I write my music and sometimes make on-the-spot changes to the scores during rehearsals,” said Holman who started his career as a steel-band arranger with Invaders in 1960.

“I was 16 years old at the time. The first tune I arranged was Pat Boone’s ‘April Love’ for Invaders”, Holman recalled.

Three years later (in 1963) Holman’s arrangement of the son “I Feel Pretty” from the Hollywood musical West Side Story became a big hit. The only radio stations at the time (Radio Trinidad and Radio Guardian) played the tune regularly while jukeboxes around the national blared it daily.

As a student Holman played the tenor pan with a jazz ensemble at Queen’s Royal College. His neighbour Sydney Hill on Hunter Street, Woodbrook had a fine collection of music and the young Holman listened with keen interest whenever Hill played his records. “ That music helped me. I used to listen to the variety of music on radio too,” he said.

After making it to the big league of steel-band arrangers, Holman’s services were in demand. He worked with bands like Kintups, Pandemonium, Antillian All Stars, Exodus, Tokyo, Humming Bird Pan Groove, Phase II Pan Grove, Deltones, Invaders and Starlift and brought musical variety to the repertoire of theses bands.

In 1963 he came to Starlift and won Panorama titles for that band in 1969 with “The Bull” and again in 1971 with “Queen of the Band”.

A retired Spanish teacher at Fatima College, he spends six months in Seattle, USA teaching and playing pan music and the other six months he is at home.

“Every university in the United States with a steel-band programme knows the name Ray Holman”, said Eugene Novotney, professor of music at California State University.

“Ray is recognized as a steel-band music composer. In the US they want to play music written by panmen for pan. They’re not interested in Kitchener and others,” added Novotney, who is in Trinidad at present to play pan with Phase II for Panaorama.

“In the history of pan, Ray Holman comes on top as the first guy to write music,” said Jit Samaroo, a steel-band arranger with nine Panorama victories. “Ray is very melodious. He always produced great music for Panorama competitions,” added Samaroo.

At home Holman heads a small musical band comprising a tenor pan, double seconds, a cuatro, a bass and percussion instruments. They play calypso, jazz and Latin numbers.

Holman has not arranged any Panorama tune this year. “I think Panorama music from the mid-nineties onwards is inferior, with a few exceptions, of course. Yes, definitely! It’s like rehashing old arrangements. You ca hear the difference,” he said.

“Jit Samaroo’s ‘Iron band’ and ‘Music in we Blood” by Boogsie Sharpe are definitely two of the bet pieces for Panorama this year,” added Holman.

In a few months time Holman will be heading to Ohio, USA to score music for a play on the history and development of the steel band in the United States and Trinidad.

“It will be something like a love story,” he said.