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Valley Harps Musical Arranger

Michelle Huggins-Watts
    By Robbie Joseph


Playing the piano at age 5 was noted as Michelle’s entry into the world of music. By 1979 at the age of 13 she was playing in the St Francois Girls College steelband. She also played in her first panorama with T&TEC Power Stars under the guidance of McDonald Redhead as well as travelled to Canada with the St Francois Girls steel band in that year. 1980 saw her perform at the Schools’ Panorama in the St Francois all girls steel band and by 1981 she stopped her piano lessons having achieved Grade 7.  In 1987 and 1989, Michelle had her first experience of musical arrangement when she arranged for and conducted the St. Francois Girls Steel Orchestra in the Junior Festival where they placed 5th and 4th  respectively, playing “Maracas Bay” in ’87 and “Variations of the theme Slave” in’89.


Michelle toured London and New York with Casablanca and was impressed with the combination of symphony and pan. She became a member of Phase II Pan Groove in 1988 and has played continuously until 2003. At Phase II she held different positions in the band achieving the captaincy in 1998. When asked about her musical preferences she replied, ‘I just love Boogsie’s music, his music is so rhythmic and he allows all the pan instruments to talk to each other through counter melodies, Awesome!’ Michelle has also arranged for the T&EC Power Stars Steel Orchestra, working with the stage side as well as the Panorama band in 1994 and 1995 and stated that her time with them was a valuable experience. She is musically aware and mature in her music and appreciates musical pieces that highlight the ‘conversations’ between the pans.   


Michelle Huggins Watt and Valley Harps at Semi Finals


Michelle was an adjudicator at the Schools Steelband Music Festival in 1995 and during the period 1998-99 she was an adjudicator for the traditional bands, ‘Pan round de neck’ Panorama competition.  She was also an adjudicator at the National Song Festival competition in 1999.  In 2000, motherhood took its toll and Michelle took her leave of absence from Phase 11 to perform her maternal duties but returned in 2001 as their drillmaster. She continued her musical journey with Valley Harps Steel Orchestra as their musical arranger in the 2002 Steelband Festival. This liaison continued in 2003 with Valley Harps seeing its first National Semi Final round in 28 years.  In 2004 and 2005, with the advent of categories of bands, Valley Harps saw its first ever National Finals placing 3rd and 5th respectively, in the medium category of the National Panorama.  She also saw the La Creole traditional steelband to 4th place with her musical arrangements.


Michelle Huggins Watt and Valley Harps at Finals

Michelle sees Boogsie as her mentor!  She has worked with a lot of young people in Valley Harps and sees acceptance of music literacy as a driving force. She admires and respects the honesty and openness of young players coupled with their enthusiasm and motivation. These qualities she said would benefit adult bands.  She offers extra tutoring in music to the younger members of Valley Harps and encourages them to arrange music to be played on the road for Carnival. Michelle has a first class honours in music and is able to analyze music through her formal training and knowledge of theory. She is also currently pursuing a Master Of Philosophy degree in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies.  She is a very modest person who judges her work by the responses of others.  She is so full of music to share with the rest of the world and her general persona oozes the natural ability to gain one’s respect. She is a music teacher at the Trinity College in Moka, Maraval and also teaches Language and Literature as well as being the Dean of Discipline.  Her dream is to win a Panorama competition.    

Valley Harps came first in the National Panorama Competition - 2011.  Click for details

© and courtesy Robbie Joseph - www.PanPodium.com
all pictures by Robbie Joseph

Robbie Joseph is the editor of  Pan Podium magazine and PRO for the British Associations of Steelbands.


Send your articles and/or pictures for consideration to whensteeltalks@hotmail.com

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