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Meet Dr. Jeannine Remy - Arranger, Educator, Panist

Dr. Jeannine Remy was the 2005 - 2013 arranger of Hatters steel orchestra.  Ms. Remy has committed her life to the steel pan instrument and is only the second foreign steelband music arranger to ever participate in the prestigious competition known as Panorama...

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Personal Background

Dr. Jeannine Remy - “I have been playing the steeldrum since 1982 being introduced to the instrument through G. Al O'Connor (from Northern Illinois University) at Birchcreek Performing Arts Academy in Egg Harbor Wisconsin where he was teaching a two week percussion camp which featured world music. At the time I was an undergraduate in percussion and was attending the music camp mainly because of the marimba artistes that were on the faculty and also because it was conveniently near my home in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. I gained hands-on experience on the steel drum, fell in love with the steel drum (pan) and transferred to Northern Illinois University (NIU) where I completed my bachelors (1985) and masters (1987) degrees in percussion performance.

At NIU I had the best of two worlds (1) reading music charts arranged and adapted for steelpan and (2) learning music by rote from Trinidadian, Clifford Alexis, who had recently joined the faculty as their "in house" pan builder, tuner, composer and arranger. I ended up purchasing an entire set of steel drums from Mr. Alexis which I took with me to the University of Arizona to work on my doctorate and establish their steelband program (which is still in existence today). My professional career in teaching percussion has always involved the blend of traditional percussion with ethnic percussion, specifically the pan. I have taught at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Idaho State University and now the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad. My first trip to Trinidad was in 1989 which was part of my research for my dissertation. At that time there was only a handful of women who played pan in Invaders; today the number of women in the large bands are equal in number to the men (partly due to the gradual acceptance of pan by the culture). In 1989 I played tenor pan with Invaders (and I think I was the first foreign American woman to do that) and since then have found every grant and excuse to go to Trinidad for Carnival. I would often bring my students to Trinidad to perform and experience performing with Invaders. It was after their conductor Anthony Prospect died that I began a new role in Invaders: conducting and preparing them for music Festivals in 1998, 2000, 2004.

In 2000 I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to lecture and research at UWI. When Mr. Mervin Williams died, his position in ethnomusicology at UWI opened. I accepted the job and have been at UWI for the last two years loving every minute of it. I must say that I am now in my dream job of teaching, performing, and arranging for pan in Trinidad. Many people told me I was crazy for giving up my tenure at ISU and selling everything I owned to come to Trinidad, but for me, it was well worth it.”

Relationship with Petrotrin Hatters

Dr. Jeannine Remy
Dr. Jeannine Remy

Dr. Jeannine Remy - “Upon physically moving myself and my family to Trinidad, I started arranging for Hatters in San Fernando. This relationship was due to two factors (1) they performed my piece "September, 11th" in the World Steelpan Music Festival in 2002 and (2) their arranger Earl Brooks had resigned from the band. I actually met Hatters on the internet while doing research for my book; I am presently writing on Invaders. Invaders were supposed to perform "September, 11th" but had to back down due to internal problems. I had to find another band to perform my composition because I had received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. I e-mailed seetobago.com (a website run by Jeremy De Barry) to see if he knew of any bands that might be interested. Word has it that he (Jeremy De Barry) printed out my enquiry, ran to the panyard with the piece of paper, and that was of the end of it...Hatters gave it a try. Since then I have arranged music for Festival, Republic Day Pan Fiesta, Panorama, Pan in the 21st Century and some stageside music.”

Relationship with BWIA Invaders

Dr. Jeannine Remy - “For me, this band is and will always be family, first setting foot in their panyard in 1989 with people like "Birdie" Mannette, Doc Paris, Francis Wickham, James Inniss, and Trevor Cooper as staples. Someday I would like the opportunity to arrange for this band in a venue other than Festival, but I believe I have to prove myself as a non-Classical arranger first. Since 1998 I have been arranging (Classical music) and conducting them in music festival, other than their off-year in 2002, I hope to continue this bond while I am here. Currently, with the assistance of the pan elders association, I am writing a book on the history of the Invaders Steel Orchestra. ”

As An Arranger

Dr. Jeannine Remy - “My love for arranging music probably stems from my lifelong commitment as a musician, teacher, and an eclectic listener. Before arranging for steelband I used to do a little arranging (as a student) for the marimba ensemble at NIU. After purchasing a full set of pans from Clifford Alexis, I realized that I enjoyed the challenge of writing idiomatically for the instrument. In order to do performances (gigs) I realized early on that the repertoire had to please audiences of all ages and nationalities.

One of my goals in establishing steelband programs in the United States was to feature guest artists from Trinidad, introducing my students to current Trinidadian musical styles and authentic practices in traditional steelpan performance. Students would experience first-hand the talents of Trinidadian musicians and the community would welcome some cultural diversity.

Besides arranging for my University ensembles, I also did a little playing and arranging for the Showboat Steel Orchestra which performed in Disneyland. But the real challenge is being accepted as an arranger in Trinidad. My colleagues in the United States actually discouraged me from moving to Trinidad. They told me that Trinidad had enough arrangers and that I would never make it as an arranger. They said I had three strikes against me. (1) I was a foreigner, (2) that I would never grasp the Trini flavor, and (3) that I was a white female. But the fact is that I am not doing this to prove any point, to be famous, or the be a pioneer. I just wanted to take my arranging a step further...who cares about the rest of it.

I am currently "paying my dues" by listening, judging, teaching and experiencing Trinidadian culture in the land of pan. Being a music theory teacher all these years at the University level has helped me with all those "heady" modulations and technical rules for creating a piece of music for a competition, but when it comes down to it, all the theory in the world is not going to make me win a panorama. The factors that make a successful steelband are a combination of good management, quality instruments, tuner, ability of players, arranger, supporters and sponsors. Without all those key elements, one will find oneself struggling to get past semi-final competitions.

While I have been here I have worked with Invaders, Hatters, and Golden Hands (a youth steelband run by Mrs. Franka Headley with her talented 15 year old daughter Vanessa Headley). In fact, people could say that Hatters is run by two women because Franka steps in as drill master assisting me with teaching notes and rehearsing as needed. In return I arrange Golden Hands' classical music for festival. Golden Hands is the youth feeder group for Hatters.

It has in fact been my observation that many large bands now have youth "feeder groups" such as BPTT Renegades Junior Steel Orchestra, Exo-Cubs, Birdsong Youth, and Merry Tones Youth Steel Orchestra.”

Struggles of a female arranger

Dr. Jeannine Remy - “I remember competing in the South Panorama competition this past Carnival season where Hatters performed in Skinner Park. After the band played, I was interviewed by a radio announcer who was actually dumb-founded that the music he heard was arranged by a woman. He told me it sounded too aggressive for a woman. I actually took his comment as a compliment and explained to him that I was a percussionist and trained musician. In truth, my acceptance as an arranger and composer for steelpan has not been a problem.  

For years I fought the perception that girls shouldn't play percussion; I have always been a minority in my field. I can remember as a young girl packing a concert hall because they wanted to see if the girl could play the drum set. So being in a man's arranging world is no different from what I have battled my whole life.

Any arranger puts their reputation on line when they arrange for a band. I believe for any female arranger, the pressure is greater; one has to try ten times harder and earn the respect of the players, management, supporters, and sponsors. Now it should be easier for a woman arrangers to be accepted since there is an equal balance of men and woman panists in the panyard. In the future, a woman arranger should not be an unusual sight.”

Jeannine Remy
Jeannine Remy and Ellie Mannette

Pioneer Women involved in Pan

Dr. Jeannine Remy - “There are many women pioneers who were involved in helping the growth of the steelpan. They are from all walks of life and have held all kinds of positions from players, adjudicators, supporters, radio commentators, conductors, historians, arrangers, composers, school teachers, professionals...and the list goes on. In collaboration with Mrs. Merle Albino-de Coteau, we came up with this list of women who were important to the history and development of pan. Here is a list of a handful of these pioneers and their accomplishments presented here in alphabetical order.

  • Patricia Adams: birdsong, conductor St. Augustine Sr. Comprehensive, and is on the board for Pan in Schools Coordinating Council.

  • Dr. Dawn Batson: has conducted Pamberi and Renegades, was a music teacher at Trinity College, and joined Woodbrook Secondary with Trinity College to form Woodtrin. She was the chairman of the board of the NSO.

  • Dr. Pat Bishop: was conductor for Desperadoes and a musical consultant for Skiffle Bunch and Exodus. She can be heard as a radio commentator and is also the musical director of Lydian Steel.

  • Avis Bruce: arranger, member of NSO.

  • Norma Calender: early player.

  • Joslynne Carr-Sealey: Adjudicator, singer with All Stars, radio commentary.

  • Geraldine Connor: in 1984 she arranged "Lucy in the Savannah" (Blue Boy) for the Invaders.

  • Lorna Conyette: is a music teacher at San Fernando East Junior Secondary School in Pleasantville, keyboardist, and adjudicator.

  • Merle Albino-de Coteau: in 1969 she became the first female arranger for Panorama arranging for Chase Manhattan Bank Savoys. She is an adjudicator, music educator and recipient of many prestigious awards.

  • Franka Headley: founder of Golden Hands. Marjorie Headley-Mosely: player in the early Nightingales.

  • Hazel Henley: was a music teacher who played piano and started the Girl Pat Steelband.

  • Michelle Huggins-Watts: post-student of St. Francois Girls, present music teacher at Trinity College, and is currently an arranger for Valley Harps.

  • Daisy James-McLean: player in Casablanca, City Symphony, and Harlem Syncopators.

  • Natasha Joseph: Panazz, woman improvisor.

  • Louise McIntosh: educator of pan, used pan in music classes, founded the Pan Pipers School of Music.

  • Umilta McShine: she was the composer of the 1960-62 test pieces for Music Festival, an adjudicator, and piano player.

  • Dr. Anne M. Osborne: is the Co-ordinator of the Musical Arts in the Centre for Creative and Festival Arts at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad. She is often a judge for Music Festivals, Panorama and a radio commentator.

  • Jocelyn Pierre: An adjudicator. She became famous for arranging a tune called "In a Monastery's Garden" for the Invaders in 1959.

  • Sophia Subero: Festival solo winner, teacher of Exo-Cubs.

  • Rufina Thomas: early pan player

  • Eva John: early pan player

  • Nubia Williams: Pan in Schools Coordinating Council, and an adjudicator.

  • Marjorie Wooding: was an organ player and early arranger in San Fernando.

  • Girl Pat Steel Band, and Neal and Massy Datsun Trendsetters.

  • All Girl Steelbands: inmates of the Girls Industrial School, White Stars, Girl Pat Steel Band, and Neal and Massy Datsun Trendsetters.

  • Women in Pan has reached an international level too. Currently I know of two other American women living in Trinidad: (1) Kelly Ramlal who teaches at COSTAATT and performs with Renegades and (2) Adrienne de Boucher who plays with Invaders.”

Future of Pan

Dr. Jeannine Remy - Competitions are a fact of life in Trinidad; those who succeed win money and invest it into winning again. The panorama syndrome nearly killed the artform in the 70s when the focus was solely on preparing a band for a ten-minute panorama tune.

Since the turn of the century, I have noticed that playing pan is not just for the love of pan anymore but instead (for some) only for making a little extra money. Those bands who want to fill the required quota (and who can afford to rent players) are breaking loyalty traditions. The commitment is not the same as it used to be. Then again, there are lots of "crack shots" who are well worth it. These are our future professionals. But perhaps the real future of pan is in educating the youth.

In music festival, which is held every two years, primary and secondary age girls are beginning to out-number the boys. In fact, they are competing in numbers and actually dominating their classes. Keisha Codrington started winning as a very young girl. Krystal Boris, now at Bishops east, is also a soloist who is being to dominate the competitive seen. Not exclude Mia Gormandy, Shivana Ragoonanan (won Mastana Bahar show), Desiree Myers (won duet category in 1998), Shiron Cooper, Valiah Arthur, Vanessa Headley, Joanna Shortt and many many others.

Since the pan became a national instrument in 1992, efforts have been made to include music courses at university level. In 1992 the University of West Indies added music to their curriculum; today one can get a certificate or degree in pan. In 1995 Dr. Anne Osborne (music coordinator for UWI's Centre for Creative and Festival Arts), devised a graded exam program for steelpan which is currently used in Trinidad, Tobago, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Grenada and in Maryland, USA.

In 2001, the College of Science, Technology, and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT) also began an associate degree in music performance including the steelpan (one of the music teachers is Kelly Ramlal, a panist from the USA). The music portion of COSTAATT was the brain child of Dr. Dawn Batson who at that time wanted to see members of the National Steel Orchestra (NSO) walk away with an associate degree. She was the chairman of the board of the NSO.

The Ministry of Culture has Auburn Wiltshire and Clifford Alfred as Steelband Officers, and the Ministry of Education is currently shifting duties of Curriculum Officer (music) from Junior Howell to Patricia Elder.

The Ministry of Education started a new program about two years ago called Pan in the Classroom. This program was set up to ensure that pans were placed in strategic classrooms (pilot programs) throughout Trinidad and Tobago. Nubia Williams (another female pan pioneer and sister of a young gifted panist Attiba Williams) has been involved in Pan in the Classroom and is on the Pan in Schools Coordinating Council.

This past year, Pan in Schools Coordinating Council (made up of school teachers such as Pat Adams) held pan building and tuning workshops in the panyards, pan arranging course (taught by Nervin Saunders and myself), and instructional courses on drum kit ("Killer" Samaroo). They plan on having a steelpan technique course with Jit Samaroo this summer. The focus for Pan in Schools Coordinating Council was on workshops and running festivals but originally they prompted the development of the pan in the classroom unit.

There are also many other Private Pan Schools with the same goals of music literacy. One such innovative pan educator was Louise McIntosh and her school of Pan Minors. Numerous other pan schools exist including, Rojelle Granger, Esther Batson, Nervin "Teach" Saunders, Mrs. Merle Albino de Coteau, Maureen Clement Moe and Golden Hands. They have been educating the youth and promoting pan education. There are two pan schools who do not teach notation: Parry's Pan School, and Gary Straker's Pan School.

Pan Trinbago is an international organization (that stems back to the 1950s) for governing steelband activities. The association is mainly known for organizing competitive events but it has other international responsibilities as well. Pan Trinbago has tried to promote pan year around into a healthy competitive arena. New rules (such as an 8 minute panorama arrangement instead of 10 minutes, small band, medium band, large band categories) and new competitions (Republic Pan Fiesta, Pan in the 21st century) has kept panyards active year-round. Attempts have been made to give better chances to the smaller panyards by splitting the competition into different size categories and offering prize monies at each competitive placing. The only adjustment I would like to see happen is that ten bands from each category, instead of eight, be allowed to perform in finals.

It is my opinion that this organization is trying to please the general pan population but criticisms are generally directed at them with comments about lack of organization, uneducated personal and biased judging. Those types of negative comments generally come from those bands who are unsuccessful. It is also my opinion that finding qualified judges is a very difficult task and that perhaps a more international approach might make it better.

The future of pan is directly affected by Pan Trinbago and their vision. I believe it is still a matter of listening to the panmen and women and trying to make adjustments for the betterment of the instrument. The task of making everyone happy and having a vision is a complicated dream. As more of the youth enter the pan world with music literacy skills, they will improve the quality of music, notate their music, and raise the level of music teaching and learning. This has already made a notable difference. Almost any panyard can now boast that they have note readers in the sections who can assist the arranger if that particular arranger walks in the panyard with sheet music.

Since my first trip to Trinidad in 1989, I have noticed the growth of female pan players performing and competing in all of the pan venues in Trinidad and Tobago. I would have to say that their roles as players are currently almost equal to those of the men except in the arranging arena. At the inception of pan, most parents did not allow their children to be associated with a steelband because of its reputation as a "badjohn" instrument. When steelbands such as Invaders, Dixieland and Silver Stars started seeing more middle-class players, the acceptance started attracting more middle-class players, acceptance grew on the basis that it was now perceived as an instrument for people of all races and social classes.

Lastly, the future of pan is not about male and female ratios. It is about improving the future players' music education, standardizing instruments, improving the instruments, and teaching the youths all of the necessary skills to carry the instrument into future centuries.

Information for this article was collected from interviews with Mrs. Merle Albino-de Coteau, Dr. Anne M. Osborne, and Kelly Ramlal.

© and courtesy Dr. Jeannine Remy

March 4, 2005

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

photos from WST photo archives & Jeannine Remy’s facebook content

   Dalton interviews Jeannine Remy (1989)

Their Story, Their Voice, Their Life, Their Dreams - click for more stories

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