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‘Winning is everything’

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Junior Panorama is rolling around again and The Lady is once again part of her school’s steel orchestra. Having come fourth in last year’s competition, the St Francois Girls’ College is earnest to reclaim the title of best secondary school band. This year the orchestra is playing a song called Outta De Box, and with the arranger’s dynamic interpretation I think they have a good chance at the win.

Mr Aleong, the arranger, has poured into the song Latin, jazz and other influences, even a whimsical back-in-times chorus that brought a nostalgic smile to my face. (I won’t give it away; you’ll have to go to the Savannah to hear it.)

When her band lost last year—I say “lost” because fourth place was as good as losing to her—The Lady was beyond upset. Despite my reassurances that fourth place wasn’t the end of the world, and that someone has to lose just as someone has to win, she wasn’t convinced. Railing at the injustice of losing to schools she considered neophytes, The Lady was determined to teach these upstarts a lesson the following year.

Tomorrow is now today and St Francois has set up temporarily in the Invaders’ pan yard in Woodbrook. Every day God sends finds them practising the song over and over, spending hours refining every riff, pause, crescendo and diminuendo. They are doing it during school hours this year, sacrificing three hours of classes on weekdays. I’m not sure how I feel about it.

As the mother of a creative I’m sure this experience is formative and important. She has to learn that art is work, and that the most ephemeral moment of art takes hours, weeks, years of practice to be realised.

However, as the mother of a Fourth Former, I’m not so thrilled that she has to miss so many hours of class to participate in an extra-curricular activity for which she gets no credit. Whether Francois wins Junior Panorama or not, CSEC will come and she will be required to sit exams. I don’t know how useful her hours of steelband practice will be then. 

Even now, she is forgoing work on essential CSEC projects because she stays late often and comes home exhausted. I’ve heard many parents and educators vaunt the value of extra-curricular activities; they teach young people discipline and time management, I’m told. But from what I see with The Lady, the only thing she learns from playing pan is a hunger to win.

That is not true, of course; it’s the voice of a frustrated mum who wants her child to have everything: the palm of victory in academics as well as in her beloved pan. 

In truth I do see the value of her hours of practice. Apart from learning the arrangement, she is learning teamwork because of the system by which they learn the music. In the pan yard there is no blackboard; pannists learn their music from section leaders note by note and rest by rest. Each player and each section must be attuned to the others’ parts in order to make the whole arrangement harmonious and not cacophonous.

And although I don’t consider myself especially competitive, I do appreciate the value of competition. It does drive one to do better, to work harder and to give more. That is a good lesson to learn once it is accompanied by the lessons of fairness, empathy and compassion. Victory is sweet but not at the expense of one’s humanity.

That’s why I embraced the opportunity last year to show her the value of losing. 

But it’s 2015 and she and her bandmates are eager to put that lesson behind them. They want once more to learn the lesson of winning: that good work, hard work and passionate work can bring rewards. I know that the Panorama gods can be capricious, and nothing is guaranteed, but the work St Francois has put into their piece gives them a good shot at the title again this year. I hope their work pays off.

On another note I want to express how broken-hearted I am at the death of my media colleague Marcia Henville. She was an amazing woman, brave and loud and colourful and kind. I’m overwhelmed with sadness to think that she died the kind of death that nobody deserves. 

Rest in peace, Marcia. However tragic your death, know that your life meant a lot to many.


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