Politicians and pundits here in Trinidad and Tobago until recently questioned the need for a music academy and more specifically, the need for the “foreign” instructors. Last Sunday’s UTT-APA Student Ensemble Concert, Standing Room Only, would have adequately answered that cynicism and relayed with proof, that there is merit in producing musically literate students to take the reins of the new music economy in a diversified T&T.
Ten ensembles, made up of mainly third year students of the Academy for the Performing Arts at the UTT Campus in Port of Spain, performed a selection from their full repertoire to an appreciative audience. Covering a range of genres and instruments, the music of Europe, the Americas and Trinidad and Tobago was showcased by a growing corps of musically literate students of varying performance standards.
Ensemble playing highlights individual weaknesses to the keen listener as rhythm or tuning imperfections make the whole slightly less euphonious. “You know it when you hear it.” These deficiencies did not take away from the larger experience though, as it became apparent that what was being witnessed was the idea that the orphanage and military band were not the only outlets for music education in T&T, and the repertoire of the world was now at the fingertips of a swathe of young people with potentially expanded opportunities.
Smaller ensembles of clarinets, saxophones and strings were used in presenting the compositions of Tchaikovsky, Scott Joplin and Mendelssohn. The respective academy instructors—Yevgeny Dokshansky and Johnathan Storer—have worked to augment local standards of playing with the desired discipline and skill of the international scene. There was evidence that their work was not yet complete, but with this cohort of students who will graduate in a few years, we can be confident that the musical legacy of the era of George “Lovey” Baillie and Lionel Belasco will be reinforced with knowledge those pioneers did not have.
The ensembles of tabla and guitar were separately directed by local instructors Prashant Patasar and Theron Shaw/Dean Williams and added our New World aesthetic that captured Trinidad influences and adaptation of traditional music by Indian and Venezuelan immigrants. The idea of fusion was captured to wide ovation by the replication of tabla rhythms on a modern trap set. The body percussion music of William J Shinstine’s “Bossa Nova Without Instruments” literally and figuratively provided counterpoint for the straightforward idea of what is music. It’s a rhythm thing, and a precursor to an “engine room” concept we know well.
After a short break and change of theatre in the APA wing of the campus, the modern dynamics of the jazz big band, the steel pan ensemble and the jazz quintet were on show. Singer Jeuelle Archer lifted a cool big band presence with a cover of the Broadway and jazz hit, “Feelin’ Good.” Dr Roger Henry, academy head and chorale director showed the range of the human voice with covers of American Negro spirituals and Sparrow’s “Jean and Dinah” to perfection by the Chamber Chorale.
An endearing image was the presence of noted local professional musicians from a number of genres as academy students. It was noted that members of the Police and Fire Service bands were also students, reiterating the maxim that it is never too late to learn. And one can add that it’s also never too late to improve. Student Marcus Prince led one of the four steel pan ensembles, Pan Fusion, with his own composition “He’s Still Here” and thus completed the path of education beyond literacy to competence.
We were notified that there will be an upcoming major “Anthology of Sparrow” concert, and with that Errol Ince led a combined ensemble of pan, brass, strings and chorale into a kind of mammoth orchestra. Krisson Joseph vocalized an energetic rendition of two Sparrow classics, “Marajhin” and “Both ah Dem” to tumultuous applause and encore.
The notion of the incongruity of Caribbean musicians playing Medelssohn and only limiting the repertoire to Sparrow and Ray Holman was banished this evening. These students stand as proof that a viable academy can and will foster a growth in the appreciation of all kinds of music to our nation’s greater benefit.
- An edited version of this review appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspapers published as, “UTT music students captivate audience“
©2014, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.