Steelband Panorama 2012


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Shenelle Abraham - Steelband Music Arranger for Panorama 2012

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

by When Steel Talks

In an exclusive interview with When Steel Talks, Shenelle Abraham, current arranger for Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra, talks about Panorama 2012, her first time out as an arranger for a large steel orchestra, and much more.  Shenelle is known for her already impressive set of accomplishments, including her work as a performing artist in her own right.


WST - Are you excited, nervous and confident?

Shenelle Abraham
Shenelle Abraham

Shenelle - “I am excited to be arranging for a large conventional band. I am confident in my musical ability, and I am eager to know how my music will be perceived by a large audience. I am also anxious to know how I stand up against other top class arrangers and honored to be competing in the same category as musical geniuses such as Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Leon “Smooth” Edwards and Pelham Goddard.”

WST - For those in our global audience who are unfamiliar with your musical accomplishments, how long have you been arranging and what is your background in Pan?

Shenelle - “I have been arranging for approximately 9 years. I have worked with St. Margaret’s Steel Orchestra for the majority of my musical career doing mostly stage side tunes. I arranged for Junior Panorama from 2008-2010 and achieved a first place title in 2008. Last year (2011) was the first time I entered the National Panorama with St. Margaret’s Super Stars in the Small Band category and was really elated that we contended with many of the more experienced bands, won the preliminaries and made it to the finals with all my players being under 18.

“I was taught by very great musicians such as Desmond Waithe, Michelle Huggins-Watts, Clive Telemaque and Dr. Dawn Batson-Borel. I was also guided in arranging by Clive and Leon “Smooth” Edwards. But I must say my mentors are Clive and Dr. Batson-Borel.

“Music was embedded in me from young. I started as a pianist, singer and a calypsonian, and then branched off into the steelpan. My love for the instrument allowed me to play any Pan that was put in front of me as I was willing to put in the hours to master the instrument. However my “baby” pans were the tenor and triple cello. I entered and won many solo, duet and quartet competitions such as Caribbean Music Festival, SanFest, Music Festival, Junior Music Steelpan Festival and World Festival. I was a finalist in the World Steelband Festival in 2002 and 2004 in the solo, duet and quartet categories. I was the captain of Exocubs Youth Steel Orchestra when we won the ensemble category in the World Festival in 2004 and I also played with Exodus for the World Festival in 2002 and 2004. I also played with Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra for panorama from 2000-2004 and was on the stage side for a few years.

“During my tenure at Florida Memorial University, I studied under Dr. Dawn Batson-Borel. I played in the Florida Memorial Steelband, the Jazz Band and the Ambassador Chorale. I even played the violin for a few semesters. I was selected as one of the four panists to accompany international superstar Ludacris at the MTV Video Music Awards in his performance for the award show.

“At Florida Memorial University, I got a B.A. in Music and B.S. in Mathematics and graduated with honors (summa cum laude) and had the highest G.P.A. in my graduating class.”

WST- How did the assignment as arranger of Skiffle Bunch come about? Did you expect it?

Shenelle - “St. Margaret’s Steel Orchestra has an annual Youth Steelpan Extravaganza in Trinidad All Stars Pan Theatre, and through the success of the show we expanded to include south for the past few years, which was held in the Skiffle Bunch Pan Theatre. Through that venture, the Skiffle Bunch and south community were able to hear my body of work and know my capability. But I must say it was not expected, as the hardest thing was to get the opportunity to arrange for a large conventional band and especially to be afforded this opportunity so young.”

WST - Skiffle Bunch historically has always been a progressive organization. Do they have any special expectations?

Shenelle - “The expectation is to build a relationship with the band, as they are in a transition period. They would like to invest in the youths hence - we are entering panorama with a young band and a young arranger.”

WST - Do you think the arranging opportunities for females will continue to open up?

Shenelle - “Yes, I think so especially with the success and influence of musical arrangers such as Michelle Huggins-Watts and Dr. [Jeannine] Remy. That is why it is important for me to do well, so that I will also be a catalyst in this revolution just as Ms. Watts and Dr. Remy are.”

WST - What do you expect to bring to the table for 2012 that is different?

Shenelle - “I would like to bring fresh young ideas and exhibit to the world the knowledge that was taught to me by my professors at Florida Memorial University especially by Dr. Batson-Borel and Mr. Melton Mustafa. I would like to also display my ability to fuse the various types of music I was exposed to but still keep the spirit of carnival and panorama alive. I am ready to display to the steelpan community my ideas and creative thoughts.”

WST - Skiffle Bunch’s tune of choice is “Play Your Self.”  Why was “Play Your Self” chosen?

Shenelle - “Firstly the chord progressions really caught my attention. Then the melody was not over-arranged thus giving the arranger the freedom to give his or her interpretation of the song. It allows for you to be as creative as you would like to be. Lastly there are a few nice punch lines that you can play with to pique the interest of the listener.” 

WST - What are the main elements you look for in a panorama tune?

Shenelle- “In a panorama tune I look for:

  • The infectiousness of the tune to the audience
  • The chord progression
  • A melody which is not over-arranged
  • Punch lines in which you can expand
  • How the song would affect my players which is most important.”

WST - What has changed about “Panorama” in the last few years?

Shenelle - “We see that recently there has been a lot of fusion of different types of music which is different to the traditional arrangements.”

WST - If you had the power to change something in the panorama scene what would that be?

Shenelle - “I would love if the players would go back to playing for the love of the music, the instrument and panorama rather than focusing on financial benefits. But with that in mind, this does not mean that bands should exploit players and not give them their worth.”

WST - What are your three all-time favorite panorama arrangements?

Shenelle - “My favorite arrangements are (not in any particular order):

  1. Music in We Blood (Clive Bradley)
  2. Musical Vengeance (Len “Boogsie” Sharpe)
  3. Woman on the Bass (Leon “Smooth” Edwards)”

Click for more on Shenelle Abraham

Click for WST’s Trinidad and Tobago Panorama 2012 complete coverage

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