In 1977, TASPO steelband pioneer Sterling Betancourt hosted several workshops on making steelpans in Switzerland. Probably due to Swiss carnival tradition, the number of steelbands has evolved to as many as one hundred and fifty by 2001. The average number of players in a band is ten to fifteen with a high proportion of females.
The acronym PANCH, combines Pan with Switzerland’s Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica. PANCH is a non-profit association, aiming to promote and support steelband culture particularly in Switzerland. It was founded in January 2000. By April 2001 PANCH had one hundred and twelve members, all Swiss pan enthusiasts. The official site is www.panch.ch and gives information about the association’s activities.
The First European Steelband Festival
PANCH’s first project was to establish a large (40 to 60 players) steelband in Switzerland to perform at the first European Steelband Festival in Paris, May 2000. At this festival bands could qualify for the World Steelband Festival (WSF) 2000 in Trinidad and Tobago. Within one month, over fifty interested pannists were registered from various bands throughout Switzerland. Regional rehearsals were held at least once weekly while the complete band rehearsed every other weekend.
Twelve bands from Europe (including the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Switzerland) competed for the right to enter the WSF. PANCH 2000 placed fourth with its calypso of choice Mind Yuh Business composed by Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe, arranged by Claudio Pini, taught and drilled with the help of Junior Edwards. The band placed first with the tune of choice Poet and Peasant by Franz von Suppé, transposed by Patrik Bernhard and Tamla Batra, taught by Patrik Bernhard and Mrs. Yaira Yonne. The latter was also the conductor for this piece. The overall ranking was fourth, enabling PANCH 2000 to qualify for the WSF. Thus, In addition to these two pieces, the band had to learn the test piece Dawn of the Millennium by Rudy Wells, which was taught by Patrik Bernhard and conducted by Mrs. Yaira Yonne.
With the rather unexpected qualification for the WSF, PANCH 2000 had to consider the feasibility of entering this competition. After debating professional and financial aspects for a few weeks, the decision was made to participate. The band received substantial assistance for accommodation and transport from WSF authorities. This, coupled with generous support from a group of interested cultural sponsors in Switzerland, definitely influenced our decision. Nevertheless, each member had to contribute a substantial sum of money. Overall costs for the project were in the vicinity of US$100,000.00.
Three tuners accompanied the band to the WSF. English based Grenadian, Dudley Dickson, Swiss based Finnish, Esa Tervala, and Swiss, Werner Egger shared the blending work. Esa Tervala was responsible for the overall tonal quality and soundstage presentation. We believe that our instruments were well tuned and balanced.
Mrs. Yaira Yonne grew up in (Germany) and received extensive education in classical music with the piano as her major instrumental subject. Apart from conducting, she performs with African drums, accompanies singers on piano and sings in a cappella ensemble that features a colourful mix of musical and madrigal styles.
Today she lives in Basel Switzerland, as a freelance conductor. Mrs. Yonne also works as an assistant professor for orchestral conducting. Since its players had been described to her as a group of amateur musicians many of whom had never worked with a classical conductor, she was very surprised about the openness of the PANCH members and their eagerness to assimilate classical music. Mrs. Yonne was profoundly touched by their musical and emotional depth of performance and considers the relationship to be a very special experience in her musical career.
World Steelband Festival 2000
Because this was the first visit to a tropical country for many members, the band was carefully instructed about medical problems (heat, diseases, food) and social behaviour. Five days before the beginning of the WSF the band flew to Port of Spain. PANCH 2000 was the first foreign steelband to arrive and was welcomed very warmly by representatives of the organizing committee and the minister of culture. It had an impressive ‘press echo’ from the very beginning. After some sightseeing, the band began to rehearse on the second day. PANCH 2000 used the panyard of STARLIFT steel orchestra whose members were very friendly and courteous. The band rehearsed daily from 9:30 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to midnight.
PANCH 2000 made an astonishing entrance into the birthplace of the steelpan by placing first in the preliminaries out of seventeen participating bands from Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, England, Finland, France and USA. In the semi-finals and final PANCH improved less than other bands and finished sixth in the final phase of the competition.
© 2001 Martin Grah und Pit Zünd