Thursday night, June 8, was the launch of Rise: a production of APAFEST, a music and dance showcase of student output from the Academy for the Performing Arts at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT-APA) with inputs from the M-Tech and Animation departments. This is the first part of the three-pronged performing arts festival at the university where more than 100 students and exchange students from the US, UK and Columbia presented an epic evening of the works of Boogsie, Beethoven and Belasco, Patesar, pan and percussion.
“Practice makes perfect” is an adage that can be suitably applied to the output of the musicians from the APA music studios. Having been around from the inception six years ago, Thursday night’s performances showed a marked improvement in quality. One is easily swayed in the belief that the catalyst for this transformation in technique in string and horn ensemble playing, and renewed enthusiasm among the corps of musicians was a result of the recent appointment of conductor Kwamé Ryan as Director of the Academy for the Performing Arts. There is certainly a move towards quality and away from the “cascade of high mediocrity” that plagued those early years.
Initiating a new academy was always going to be a daunting task in a tertiary environment where there were competing institutions and a hostile policy-maker environment guided by the high ignorance of politicians hell bent on undoing any initiative made by the Manning government of 2007-2010.
Whether it was former AG Anand Ramlogan pontificating that “We consider this to be a most shameful and disgraceful wastage of public funds…There was absolutely no need in a country that boasts of an indigenous culture…to purchase 10 grand pianos,” (p. 384) or the former Tertiary Education minister Sen. Fazal Karim begrudging the formation of the academy, “The [UWI] Department of Creative and Festival Arts which was developed more than 10 years ago is bursting at its seams with attractive programmes in dance, drama, theatre arts, fine arts, pan, music and film and they cannot find place for their students. Yet the past government provided NAPA at $1 billion,” (p. 627) the cynicism was bare. This was more than just about saving money. Art is often sacrificed on the altar of perceived political practicality.
In the past six years, and more specifically, the last 10 months since the academy has returned — “in a vengeance” according to Ryan — to the APA campus in Port of Spain, the students have finally settled to a work ethic that is producing a kind of merit that was too long in coming. APA’s orchestral ensemble consisting of strings, horns, steelpans melded beautifully as both student and teacher performed side by side without the incongruity of amateurs and neophytes trying a thing. Singer Mya Scott fronting the APA Big Band did a cover of Irving Berlin’s “Face the Music” that showcased her voice as one to watch as she handled the jazz phrasing and tonal colours like a pro. The Youth Music Exchange Percussion Ensemble made the marimba and djembe “musical” beyond rhythm. The joy of all was electric.
In hard times, music can become an escape. In these times in T&T, music well played by young students is a signal for a future ground in excellence, in spite of the folly of short-sighted politicians of the past.
- A version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian on page A29 published as, “Apafest-Rise: Hope for the future of music”
© 2017, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.