A voice for Maxfield Ave - Forrest-Watson calls for revival of youth programme
Published: Sunday | June 28, 2009
FOR THE first-time visitor, a walk down William Road can be intimidating.
The eyes of suspicious residents seem to track one's every move along this narrow, rocky strip off Maxfield Avenue.
Pauline Forrest-Watson felt this way 12 years ago when her husband, Curtis, said he was moving her and their two sons to a house there.
"It was difficult, it wasn't something that I readily said 'yes' to," she told The Sunday Gleaner over the rancour of a card game next door.
'Watson House' was not only a home but a learning incubator for children and young adults in the Maxfield Avenue community. - Photo by Gareth Manning
Once the fear of living in this 'different' environment passed, the Watsons, who are both opera singers, bought the three-bedroom house and lived there for more than 10 years. It was not only home for them and their sons, Michael and Dike (pronounced Dee-key), but where they gave voice lessons to a highbrow clientele that included Glynne Manley, widow of former Prime Minister Michael Manley, and Ryland Campbell, president of the Capital and Credit financial services group.
At the back of the house, the Watsons held classes for children from the community, some of whom were preparing for Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).
"My husband got the respect of the people from early; they called him 'President'," Forrest-Watson, 53, recalled. "We decided it was only right to do something positive for the children."
That positive was two years of extra lessons for children mainly aged 11 and 12. As many as 20 of them showed up for classes based on the national syllabus. Forrest-Watson says some of their students credit the classes for helping them pass the GSAT.
When the Forrest-Watsons left William Road two years ago, the sessions ended.
Forrest-Watson is determined to see them resume with the assistance of Government and the private sector.
"We want to see a revival because it's not good to see the youth just sitting on the road. This can become an after-school project that's like a homework facility," she said.
Forrest-Watson envisions a centre with a diverse curriculum. A music department run by professionals, she said, would complement the teaching of traditional subjects.
a way out
The music business has been a way out of poverty for many persons who grew up in the Maxfield Avenue radius. Seminal roots-reggae group The Abyssinians and respected keyboardist Gladstone Anderson, have roots near William Road while flamboyant dancer, the late Bogle and his Black Roses Crew hail from Lincoln Road, just a hop and skip away.
As she drove out of William Road, Watson-Forrest is enthusiastically greeted by adults and children. Many of the older residents have endured years of rampant crime characteristic of Kingston's inner-city neighbourhoods.
Forrest-Watson is familiar with the challenges of urban life. She was born and raised in nearby Trench Town, the sixth of nine children for a father who worked at Seprod Limited and a mother who was a dressmaker and devout Seventh-day Adventist.
She attended Trench Town Comprehensive High School where she met Curtis Watson, then a music teacher and budding opera singer. They both studied at the Mico Teachers College, then the Moscow State Conservatoire where she majored in voice.
Currently, Forrest-Watson is a lecturer in voice at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston. For her, empowering the people of William Road would be just as satisfying as hitting the right notes on concert night.
"When I look back, I believe it's destiny that took us here. It was just as good for us as it was for the children," she said.
Pauline Forrest-Watson (Soprano)
Jamaican/Russian-trained acclaimed opera and concert singer, master of fine arts, and professor of solo singing, began her formal musical training in 1971 with Dr Curtis Watson.
Awarded scholarship from Mico Teachers College to the Jamaica School of Music.
Awarded a joint Soviet-Jamaican scholarship to the Moscow State Conservatoire.
Performed in Jamaica, Cuba, Russia, Austria, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
Head of the voice department at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
Festival gold medalist and national award winner.
Recipient of the Hall of Fame Award for contribution to the growth and development of music (2009).