Sponsor Investor? That is the Question.
Written by Simeon L. Sandiford
Thursday, 21 July 2011 22:20


I was chatting with composer Gustav Mahler on the astral plane the other night about his motivation for the fourth symphony. In between movements we drifted to another musical subject – Pan. Mahler explained that he had been an astute student of Trinidad Carnival since the inception of the steelband competition in 1963. He confessed that he had become obsessed with ways of optimising the quality of Panorama music.

“Production of their annual Panorama composition costs the company in excess of TT$500 000.00” said Mahler referring to the Serenaders Steel Orchestra which has been sponsored by ET Corporation (formerly Ocoma) since the early seventies. Before I could come to grips with this staggering figure, Mahler explained that both tangible and intangible costs must be considered. The exercise spans about fifty days and involves their arranger creating an extended, ten-minute version of the original melody of a calypso to be performed at several different stages of the competition.

“Tangible expenditure covers arranger’s fees $20,000.00; procurement of new instruments and blending of existing ones for each performance $30,000.00; uniforms, flags, banners $30,000.00; food for 120 players and officials $120,000.00; public utilities and miscellaneous expenses $10,000.00. The intangibles $360,000.00, are based on a hypothetical wage of TT$10.00 an hour per player, six hours a day for the period”. Although members are not normally paid for their efforts, Mahler explained that this sum must be factored into the picture. A quick calculation reveals that the Serenaders would have committed some TT $15 million to the creation of Panorama music during their 30-year association with the sponsor. It takes no financial analyst to compute that had the money had been invested for a similar period, the principal would have at least doubled. What can we glean from this? Mahler continued….

“Firstly, let us define a sponsor as a corporation that assumes financial responsibility for a steelband. The band is allocated a budget each year to take care of its affairs. In exchange for this, it promotes the sponsor’s image and/ or product(s) and performs at designated functions from time to time. A very substantial portion of this budget is allocated to the band’s involvement in the annual Panorama competition. The sponsor is not usually concerned with day-to-day management of the band. For example, it does not generally audit the band’s accounts or conduct performance appraisals.”

Mahler reiterated that it is interesting to note that Pan Trinbago’s Strategic Plan for Pan defines the role of sponsors as follows:


‘Sponsors must play a proactive role in the continuing development of Pan by investing in the industry and the community. To be effective, their role must extend beyond handouts. Probably more important than cash is institutional strengthening of the industry and orchestras. Sponsors should provide marketing, managerial and financial staff on secondment to the Pan industry. The transfer of managerial know-how such as strategic planning, budgeting, financial controls and reporting needs to be implemented if the industry is to be export-ready in the near future. In addition to traditional sponsorship of an orchestra, sponsors have an important role to play in investing in the overall Pan industry by providing long term commitments to fund and manage international awareness and R&D programmes and improve music literacy. This type of investment would pay dividends to sponsors who could be allowed to have their names associated with new inventions, pieces of equipment or other developments.’

He continued: “On the other hand, let us define an investor as a corporation that commits long-term financing to a steelband with a view to earning a return on its investment. In such a case, the investor would lay down guidelines in order to protect that investment. In short, the investor would take steps to ensure that the best possible music is created during each Carnival season. Additionally, the investor would require, inter alia, that the band:


· documents and implements a strategic plan;
· produces audited annual accounts;
· records, scores and archives its Panorama compositions;
· develops and maintains an extensive repertoire; and
· remains (becomes) the community centre for educational and commercial activity.

An investor would define a code of conduct for players, which would be geared towards them showing utmost respect for the arranger. Phrases such as ‘no coasting…silence…everybody stay behind your pans…’ would be totally eliminated in the panyard. The investor would have at least one seat on the Board of Management of the band. No player would be allowed to ‘skylark’ during rehearsals. Resources would be invested in technology, management training and development of music literacy skills of players. The dependency paradigm would eventually be transformed to one of self-sufficiency. This would result in enhancement of the intrinsic quality of Panorama compositions.”

… And Mahler spoke to me of discipline, the essential prerequisite for achievement. He moaned that it is ironic that discipline, one of the watchwords of our nation, is treated with such casual flippancy in the steelband world. “Let us compare the creation of a Panorama composition with the preparation of a bridge team for a world championship. In this case we chose the Dallas Aces,” he said.


‘The Dallas Aces was a professional team organised and trained for the purpose of winning the Bermuda Bowl. The Aces had spent countless hours together studying and practicing the game of bridge until it had become a gruelling task in the art of discipline. Rules were established in the interest of not losing points through reckless actions in the bidding and play. If your system called for a specific bid, you bid it. If a suit combination called for the best percentage play, you took it. No heroes, no one-man armies, no home-run hitters: this was the credo of the Dallas Aces.’

Mahler reminded me that in stark contrast, consider that the Serenaders called a dress rehearsal for 4:00 pm on Carnival Saturday 2001, a mere four hours before the finals of the competition. He said he knew I had hoped to obtain and archive several takes of their current Panorama composition. However, members were not fully assembled until 6:30 pm and therefore could not ‘warm up’ properly for the recording. He reminded me that, in previous years, the band would have played uninterrupted for two hours yielding as many as eight takes at varying speeds. “If the Serenaders were accountable to an investor, then quite clearly, heads would roll”, said Mahler, “Oh, how the mighty have fallen!” Mahler smiled and his ka vanished into the timeless wilderness from whence it came, on the wings of his favourite firefly.

© 2001 Simeon L. Sandiford