South-Central ahead as Music Festival championship starts

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Jinaliah Beckles performs the test piece On The Good Ship Lollipop in the girls’ vocal solos 11-12 years category at the start of the TT Music Festival championships at Naparima Bowl on Monday. – Courtesy TT Music Festival

PUPILS from south-central Trinidad emerged ahead of their colleagues from Tobago and north Trinidad as the national championships of the 2024 TT Music Festival kicked off at Naparima Bowl, San Fernando, on Monday.

It was a day of solos, mainly vocal but also some instrumental. Six vocal classes were showcased. South-central won four, north one and Tobago one.

The audience was sparse but should grow on Tuesday when school choirs and musical ensembles will compete.

Despite their young age, three girls representing each region in the girls’ vocal solos 11-12 years set an extremely high standard.

They sang the test piece, On The Good Ship Lollipop, the signature song of child actress Shirley Temple on the silver screen in 1934.

Sienna Tang was first on stage, the youngest competitor in this class, representing north Trinidad.

With a very sweet voice and endearing hand gestures, Tang smoothly captured the idea of childhood innocence and playful adventure.

“On The Good Ship Lollipop, It’s a sweet trip to a candy shop.

“Where bonbons play, On the sunny beach of Peppermint Bay,” she sang.

Cool and calm, she gave an excellent all-round performance, with perhaps more sweet vulnerability than the precocious Temple.

Next on, south-central champ Ziara Ali from The Trebles singing group had a voice of maturity and sophistication that belied her slight build. With excellent projection and diction, holding her notes at length and offering expansive arm movements, she ended on an impressive high note, holding at length, singing the final, “Loll-i-pop!”

After two superb presentations, what else new could anyone possibly bring to this class, onlookers surely mused at this point?

Yet from Tobago, Jinaliah Beckles, quite amazingly, brought something new.

Ziara Ali performs the test piece On The Good Ship Lollipop to win the girls’ vocal solos 11-12 years category at the start of the TT Music Festival championships at Naparima Bowl on Monday. – Courtesy TT Music Festival

With great posture, she oozed a whole lot of natural talent. Her voice had a depth, full sound and a nicely rounded tone. Notes flowed smoothly from one to another, akin to a legato style.

Adjudicators Nadine Gonzales and Dr Richard Tang Yuk awarded the top spot to Ali, who was presented with the Joan Yuille Williams Trophy by the former culture minister herself.

Newsday spoke to Beckles, a Buccoo Primary School pupil who had come to Trinidad with her father. She said, “It felt good. I enjoyed it.”

Nodding towards her father, she said, “I come from a singing family, so it is kind of in my blood.”

Beckles’ father said it was her first time at the festival.

“Hearing her sing today and seeing how much she could do, I am really, really, really proud of her.”

With Beckles set to write the SEA Exam within two weeks, Newsday asked about her schedule. Her father replied, “I think you should not really pressure the child all the time. They need to relax as well. That opens their mind for a lot of different stuff.

“I think this would help her a lot. She is relaxed and she is comfortable, so when she is ready for school, she will improve on what she has to do.”

An exciting three-way battle between females from the three regions also ensued in the 16-19 musical theatre class, vying for the Dr Samson Boodoosingh Memorial Trophy.

Jxaihon (“Zion”) Taylor gave an impassioned delivery of the song Burn by Lin-Manuel Miranda as sung by the wife character in the 2015 Broadway musical Hamilton, based on the life of US founding father Alexander Hamilton (c 1755-1804). Taylor delivered all the anger of a slighted woman to strongly represent south-central Trinidad.

Tobago’s Klavier Simpson took exactly the opposite tack to give a very light-hearted, upbeat and flirty performance of I Feel Pretty, composed by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein for the 1957 musical West Side Story. Simpson was the complete package – great projection, great stage presence in mastering her space and using hand gestures, confident poise, plus a pretty dress.

Sienna Tang performs the test piece On The Good Ship Lollipop in the girls’ vocal solos 11-12 years category at the start of the TT Music Festival championships at Naparima Bowl on Monday. – Courtesy TT Music Festival

From north Trinidad, Sierra Smith sang Poor Unfortunate Souls from the 1989 animated musical movie The Little Mermaid. She accompanied her song with a sophisticated play of emotions, often cheeky and mocking. “True?” she asks in song at one point, only to reply in an adopted deep voice, “Yes!” This class was won by Simpson.

A very close contest ensued for the 7-10 boys’ vocal solo class between Tobago’s Philario de Couteau and south-central champion Kiyoshi Lawrence-Marshall. They bid for the Lindy-ann Bodden Ritch Trophy, singing the humorous ditty Fishing by Shena Fraser.

De Couteau had a good voice and offered some gestures to give a quite decent performance.

Lawrence-Marshall sported overalls and a fishing hat, carried a fishing rod and bucket as accessories and paced vigorously to the lively piano accompaniment.

“Caught eight fishes, To put in my pail. Seven were mackerel, But the eighth was a whale!” sang Lawrence-Marshall, ending on a very high note, to win the class.

Tang Yuk said both performers had sang really well.

“You understood what you were singing about. You understood all the words. I wish we had two trophies to give out.

“We thought that the one who really captured the character and the spirit of the piece best was our competitor from south, Kiyoshi Lawrence-Marshall.”

Tang Yuk, in presenting the trophy, fondly recalled the deep impact that the late Mrs Bodden Ritch had upon his life and career, in the early years as his music teacher at St Mary’s College.

“So I want to take a moment to thank all our music teachers in all our schools. It may not seem so at the time, but you are having a huge impact on your students.”

Newsday spoke to Lawrence-Marshall, a pupil at Princes Town Presbyterian Number 1 School who said it felt “very good” going on stage despite some initial nerves.

“Kind of nervous, because it was the championship. But overall, I am very happy that I won.”

Lawrence-Marshall sings both at school and at church, under Michelle Dowrich, and offered some advice for singers.

“Use all the actions and use your diaphragm and just push, push, push, and you will succeed.”

Otherwise, Zahra-Lys King won the James B Sinanan Trophy for the under-15 musical theatre solo, Syre Hutton won the Dianne Seukeran Trophy for the 11-12 boys vocal solo, and Kareena Singh won the Gretta Taylor Trophy for the 13-15 girls vocal solo.