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An Exclusive with Steelband Arranger Jeannine Remy

Winning Arranger for 2010 Pan in the 21st Century

Women and the Steelpan Art Form

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Dr. Jeannine Remy

Trinidad and Tobago - Meet Dr. Jeannine Remy, musician, steelpan player and arranger, and educator based in Trinidad and Tobago.

Recently, Dr. Remy, as arranger, captured the sought-after 2010 Pan in the 21st Century title with Sforzata Steel Orchestra.  She arranged the winning rendition of Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows.” 

Remy is no stranger to steelband music competition, having participated several times in the Trinidad and Tobago national panorama competition.  However, this is the first time a woman has walked away with a title.

In this exclusive 2010 When Steel Talks (WST) interview, Remy talks about the competition and her approach to  this historical achievement.

  • WST - How was the song “Bust Your Windows” chosen?

    Remy - The hardest thing about this competition was finding a piece that fit the era and genre. For me, the music from 2000 on up does not have the orchestral quality that music from the 80s and 90s had, so I went around asking my students what songs they liked. I got all kinds of answers. But I remembered this tune because of the harmonic interest, bass line, minor key and orchestral possibilities. It was almost too pretty for the lyrics. But this was the first time I worked with a band that actually let me choose. I think this is important, the arranger knows what kind of “vibe” they get from a tune instantly. I also like arranging/composing music that is programmatic (tells a story).

  • WST  - What was your musical approach to arranging this piece?

    Sforzata on stage
    Sforzata Steel orchestra at Pan in the 21st  Century

    Remy - The first thing I did was read the judging criteria over and over again. Words like “creative” and “innovative” stuck out.  65 points for the arrangement puts a lot of pressure on the arranger. Another thing that was emphasized in the criteria was how the arranger handled the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic development. Statements like “Creativity will be rewarded” meant one had to do something different.  So I focused on varying the theme through style changes, re-harmonisation, motivic development, and percussive dissonance.

    I wanted the piece to depict the anger of the lyrics and mood changes that one experiences when on an emotional rollercoaster.  My approach to arranging this selection was to combine “aggressive prettiness” into the music by orchestrating and featuring the theme all over the band.  The term “Klangfarbenmelodie” really defines my musical approach. The steelband is an instrument and ensemble that fits under the category of “tuned percussion.”  When arranging steelpan music for festival, one tries to stay true to the percussion score; no one questions the use of glockenspiel or timpani.  It is time to take Pan into the 21st century, and show that this combination is suitable and acceptable.  The steel orchestra is a percussion ensemble and therefore the use of other percussion instruments adds to the creativity of the arrangement when used tastefully.  The original music selection of “Bust Your Windows” by Jazmine Sullivan had an orchestral quality. I decided to make the steelband sound more like a studio orchestra full of orchestral colour and surprises.

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  • WST - Were your priorities on winning, or were they on making a musical statement that showcased the possibilities for steel orchestras’ arrangements?

    Remy - This is the competition that immediately follows panorama. Everyone has gotten over winning and losing (licks) of panorama and they are ready to compete again. There is no large, medium, and small band category here; everyone gets thrown into the same pool. Honestly, I think the band was just hoping to make finals.  People who know me know that I am a bit of a rebel.  I was really trying to demonstrate where I thought the orchestration of pan could be in the 21st century.

  • WST - How were you chosen as the arranger for Sforzata this year?

    Remy - Merlin Gill, Sforzata’s founder, knew of my desire to enter the competitive arena and he insisted that the band allow me the opportunity.

  • WST - How long did you and the orchestra work on the piece?

    Remy - Well, I rushed the arrangement, because it was completed before the competition was pushed back.  In about a week’s time I had the whole thing scored on Sibelius.  These types of programmatic pieces just flow out of me.  Adjustments, and dynamics happened in the panyard.

  • WST - You’re the first female winning arranger of Pan in the 21st Century – how do you feel about that?

    Remy - I never thought in this lifetime I would break the ice, but I would like to say that I truly admire all of the arrangers and their hard work. Trinidad is seeing many new changes, including a female Prime Minister.  I am honored and humble at the same time. I have great respect for Michelle Huggins-Watts, Vanessa Headley, Avis Bruce, and all the female arrangers and directors who are just doing what they love to do.

  • WST - What changes would you like to see in the competition?

    Remy - I would have to think more about that.

  • WST - What was the most difficult part of this venture?

    Remy - I think most bands would agree this competition, having been pushed back, created some problems with keeping players coming to the panyard on a regular basis.

  • WST - What was the most rewarding part of the venture – besides winning?

    Remy - The band was comprised mostly of young people from Sforzata and my music students at UWI (University of the West Indies) who followed their teacher to the panyard.  For some, getting out of the classroom and into the grassroots arena was the most wonderful experience.  New friendships were made and the bonding was most rewarding.  The management committee was easy to work with and my team of student drillers (who were Marcus Ash, Khan Cordice [2009 Antigua & Barbuda panorama champion arranger] and Alexica Adams) gained a marketable experience.  I would particularly like to thank Marcus Ash who was an excellent drillmaster for this competition.

    WST - What’s next for Dr. Jeannine Remy?

    Remy - As far as arranging, I will have to wait and see.  That is my first love.  The next big thing is finishing a book that I am co-authoring with Ray Funk on the History of the Woodbrook Invaders Steelband, which will be launched in March of 2011.

    contact Dr. Jeannine Remy - 

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