Angst, glee among pupils at Music Festival

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

St Joseph’s Convent choir place first in the Junior Choirs 19 Years and Under Final with their performance of the test piece Pretty Pollie Pillicote by Gordon Jacob at the T&T Music Festival at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s on February 29. – Photo by Faith Ayoung

THE Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival on the morning of February 29 at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s had scenes of great joy and deep disappointment for the pupil performers when several finals were held for the north Trinidad zone, ahead of the festival’s kick-off in south Trinidad on March 4 at Naparima Bowl.

In one class – girls vocal trios – only one trio turned up and had challenges with the piece.

Also, while four under-19 choirs performed, only one – St Joseph’s Convent (SJC), Port of Spain – was judged good enough to proceed to the national grand finale for its astounding performance. SJC singers also won the vocal solo ages 13-15 years category and braved the trio class.

Setting the stage for the drama to come with the choirs were the under-15 contemporary religious solos, which had thrills and spills.

Kedel Fariah offered Faith, Hope, Love. Starting soft and shy, he then loudly sang the refrain, “Oh, oh, oh!”, drawing confidence to boost his projection until he was positively rocking it on stage. Jayda Job – very small on stage, with a little voice – bravely sang, “Count your blessings.”

Nicolette Mc Leish had a really great gospel music vibe with He Wants It All. Her very sweet voice had a nice flow, including a bit of soprano, despite projection challenges. Kiowa Mike sang My Tribute with her voice capturing a stillness in the moment wonderfully.

Josiah Thompson was a small boy with a small voice on a big stage and when he looked out into the large auditorium had a bout of stage fright, singing Believe For.

“There is power in your name!” he soldiered on bravely to complete his piece, to the audience’s appreciation.

Sapphire Wong Chong-Achee opted for a guitar accompaniment instead of the pianist option used by all others.

She gave a good performance of How Great Thou Art, ending by blasting out at soprano level, “How great Thou art!”

Iennesha Bailey has a very beautiful voice with a fair projection, offering, You Raise Me Up.

Deneisha Dempster had a great stage presence, singing Via Dolorosa in English and Italian.

Irving Edwards had a great projection and some good vibrato to offer Loving Me, aided by his relaxed disposition and a wonderful piano introduction.

Adjudicator Nadine Gonzales adjudged Chong-Achee as the top performer. However, she did not reveal the low marks scored, not wishing to taint the day’s memories. She advised singers to carefully choose their songs to match their voice, style and age, not just emulate something nice they had heard on the radio.

Saying she too had once felt stage fright, she hailed Thompson for carrying on to finish his piece.

“Very well done to that young man,” she said, “And to all of you.”

In the under-19 single-sex choirs, St Augustine Girls’ High School (SAGHS) gave an adequate performance of the test piece Pretty Pollie Pillicote by Gordon Jacob.

St Joseph’s Convent, however, owned the stage. Their singers had more power in their voices, with their choir being well-sectioned to create effective contrast.

Gonzales said SAGHS had done very well, with a generally good tone in a well-balanced performance, but should be more rounded in the higher register.

She praised SJC’s beautiful tone and excellent phrasing, placing them first. The singers had very clear diction in a well-synchronised performance with musical and visual appeal, she said.

SJC choirmaster John Thomas told Newsday the piece was “extremely difficult.”

“We have to sing it in the correct tempi (speeds, paces) and get all those words in. We had to do some diction lessons. This arrangement was very intricate. It was very difficult so we applaud the other school that did it because we almost didn’t do it.”

Beaming broadly, pupil Nicola-Marie Nichols said it was her first time on stage and she felt very proud to be in the SJC choir.

SJC pupil Olivia Diaz thanked Thomas for giving pupils breathing exercises before performing.

“It went really well. We have been practising for a bunch of months and felt really confident.”

The under-19 mixed choirs fared less well.

The Bishop’s East/Trinity College East Schools choir and Providence/QRC Schools choir performed Turn Around by Alan Greene.

The Bishop’s/Trinity East performance won applause from SJC pupils watching.

Gonzales praised the choirs’ “very good effort”, noting a third choir listed had not attended. Generally, the choirs needed a better balance, she said.

Noting a lack of boys in the Bishop’s/Trinity East choir, she suggested the boys had been trying to sing louder to compensate.

“I got voices sticking out for both choirs. That is not good for a unified sound in both choirs.”

She said the choirs had produced “moments of sheer beauty” but ruled neither would advance.

“Choir is not easy,” she advised.

She said one be a great soloist standing on one’s head, but to sing in a choir required great sensitivity to colleagues.

“It is not easy. But please continue singing.”

She gave Bishop’s/Trinity East 73 points and Providence/QRC 71.

“We will not award a first and second place. Please don’t let this stop you.”

Newsday met the Bishop’s/Trinity East music teacher Tamara Dickson-Prince.

“A little disappointed. The students I know worked really, really hard. There were some challenges getting the boys and girls to practice together because we have different schools. But they worked really, really hard. I am very, very proud of them.

“For many of them, this was their first performance ever. We just have to keep moving forward.”

Reflecting on the choir’s make-up of 32 girls and just eight boys, she said, “Hopefully, we get more boys.”

The girls’ vocal trio had six entrants but only SJC Trio Team B turned up. Thanking them, Gonzales said, “We would have liked to hear some more expression, more dynamics and shaping of phrases, but first have to do some major pitching.