Arranger combines love, pan for Music Festival

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando, Blue Steel orchestra perform in the Junior Pan Ensemble under 19 category at the TT Music Festival at the Naparima Bowl. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

MUSIC arranger Jonathon Achaiba did not place first in his school under-19 steel ensemble’s offering on March 8 at the south-central leg of the 2024 TT Music Festival.

But he achieved something perhaps greater – having his pupils convey all the moods of romantic love, through pan, in a heartfelt tribute to his wife, who was present at Naparima Bowl, San Fernando. He directed nine players from St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando.

Golden Hands Junior Ensemble won the class, playing The Impossible Dream by Mitch Leigh, to earn 92 marks out of 100 from adjudicator Nubia Williams.

Naparima Girls’ High School steel ensemble placed second with 85 marks, playing Mozart’sEine Kleine Nachtmusik. SJC Blue Steel orchestra placed third, earning 82 points, and Diamonds played the Four Seasons by Vivaldi, to earn 80 marks and place fourth.

Whatever the results, it was a dream come true for the convent’s musical director Jonathon Achaiba, who crafted a tune that was close to his heart as a contender against Vivaldi, Mozart and the theme song from the famous Man from La Mancha musical.

In the SJC offering, Sophalina, the first minute begins with a stridency, almost a masculinity, is sounded out by slow, heavy, loud notes. Then faster, lighter notes hint at the feminine.

The masculine notes return, only to be met by a fluttering of the feminine notes. This repeats in a constant interplay.

The last minute portrays passion, almost turbulence and tempestuousness, yet anchored in a familiarity, a knowingness.

It then calms down almost to a walking pace, but then with an added hint of underlying excitement.

Achaiba later explained it all to Newsday.

“I composed it and arranged it as well.

“It was initially a piece meant for solo, but then the girls said something and we decided to put it towards the orchestra.

“It was actually written for my wife Sophia, so the name of the song is Sophalina. She’s right behind you.

“So it is the first own composition I have ever done in the classical genre.”

He said the piece was meant to show a mixture of emotions.

“It starts off dramatic, with an excitement. And then in the middle of the song it kind of tones it down, settles you…And then it builds back up to that climactic, dramatic finish.”

Achaiba said the song was basically a story telling the different emotions you would go through in a romance.

“In the beginning was like meeting her and it was dramatic, it was exciting. And then we get married, so you would have the next silly, stable part of the song, and the romantic part…To the end still has the fire.”

Achaiba explained the musical mechanics.

“At one point we would have had the bass section playing a counter-melody to the front line.

“Then we had two melodies on top of each other, the second line and the front line doing that simultaneously. So…every part did have their own thing going on, at the same time.”

He said he had been teaching at the convent for about 13 years.

“We took a little break for covid, (but) the band is finally back, stronger than ever.”

SJC Blue Steel was very successful last week, he related.

“On Wednesday we had competed and we actually have the highest score in the entire South festival. We scored 96, with our Waltz Number Two. So we go into the finals next week Thursday to represent.”

This will be in the under-19 mixed instrumental ensemble class

“So we still hold that record, very proudly, and will be going on Thursday to represent in that category.

“I am just extremely proud of what my girls have accomplished, because they only had a couple of weeks to get ready. I was very ill and we were not able to train for the first half of the year. So it had been just a couple of weeks’ time to reach the level that they did, and still hold the record for the highest mark in South.

“So I am just really, really happy to be their music director.”