St Joseph’s Convent tops under-19 girls duets, trios at Music Festival

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando duet, Gianna Griffith, left, and Za’ariah Balksisoon perform a heartfelt rendition of Pie Jesu on their way to first place in the girls vocal duet during the TT Music Festival at Naparima Bowl, San Fernando, on March 7. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

BEST friends Gianna Griffith and Za’ariah Balkissoon won thunderous applause from the audience at Naparima Bowl on March 7 after their soul-touching duet performance of Pie Jesu, at the south central leg of the 2024 Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival.

The pupils of St Joseph’s Convent (SJC), San Fernando, won the duets to uphold school pride, just before their schoolmates won the girls trio class, after the SJC school senior choir was earlier edged out by Naparima Girls High School.

Pie Jesu (“Pious/Merciful Jesus”) is requiem song in Latin, crafted by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Balkissoon began the duet with calm and grace. She sang in a high register of pitches.

She swayed one hand from side to side following the song, while her other hand held Griffith’s in mutual support.

It was then Griffith’s turn to sing the verse. “Pie jesu. Pie jesu. Pie jesu. Pie jesu.”

Her voice was positively soothing, amid the emotiveness of a prayer for the dead. She was calm and centred, yet intense, totally masterful and quietly confident in herself.

Then Griffith, in a lower register, and Balkissoon, in a higher, blended their voices sweetly.

“Qui tollis peccata mundi, Dona eis requiem, Dona eis requiem” (“Who takes away the sins of the world, Grant them rest, grant them rest.”)

The two sang the third verse together, each holding their own. Balkissoon was the only singer in seven duet-pairs who was able to hold the final high note in the last word, “requiem,” and she was beautifully rounded off by Griffith in a lower note. Overall, it was perfection.

Adjudicator Nadine Gonzales said, “Beautiful voices. Well matched. Good blend.”

“It was a bit slow. You wanted it that slow? Okay.” She said the slowed-down pace had not at all affected the award of marks to them.

Gonzales sang a line to show Balkissoon how she had inadvertently paused to breathe each time she had sung the word, “requiem.”

She ruled, “Very good effort, both of you.” Gonzales awarded Balkissoon and Griffith 87 marks out of 100, to win the class.

She said Bryanna Atwell and Aaliyah Loorkhoor had made a good effort, although missing a high note, earning 60 marks.

Cassidy King and Ruann Pierre had shown good potential but had seemed a bit distracted in looking all around the auditorium while singing, Gonzales said.

“You looked nervous. I’m not sure if you were looking for someone in the audience to validate you.

“Always seem confident, even if you are not feeling it. Fake it until you make it.” She urged them to maintain their focus and improve their projection, and gave them 70 marks.

Atwell and Loorkhoor plus King and Pierre were from St Stephen’s College, Princes Town, whose music teacher Anikha Ballah told Newsday they were reviving the choir post-pandemic.

Ashara Satahoo and Naomi Wilson perform Pie Jesu in the girls vocal duet during the TT Music Festival at Naparima Bowl, San Fernando on March 7. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

Danielle Adams and Kalyssa Sooklal had good potential, the judge said, although urging the lower-voice singer to open her mouth a bit more. They earned 70 marks.

Gonzales said Jeniece Pierre and Ivana Davis had beautiful voices, with good potential, earning 75 marks. She wondered if they had switched parts midway but they said no.

“More shape to your faces needed. Good effort.”

Regarding Rayya Mohammed and Dayna Sankar, she said, “Good potential.” Gonzales liked the vibrato shown by the girl singing the upper voice.

“More projection is needed in the lower voice. More expression and dynamics needed in both voices. Keep working on your techniques.” The duet earned 78 marks.

Ashara Satahoo and Naomi Wilson had beautiful voices with good potential, the judge said.

“Voices could have been more developed to demonstrate easier access to the range of the piece in the upper voice.”

She said they needed more expression, dynamics and shaping of phrases. Satahoo and Wilson earned 77 marks.

Newsday spoke to Griffith, fresh from winning the open class for contemporary religious solo on Wednesday night with, In The Name Of The Lord.

Newsday asked about her duet of Pie Jesu.

“Before singing it, we did the translation because I am a person who believes that before singing a song you need to understand the song.”

She said it was a very religious song, meaning Merciful Jesus. “We really wanted to mimic that, so my partner and I worked hard to let the composer’s vision come to light.

“That is why we also felt it best to slow it down a little bit to make it a little more solemn, sentimental. And it paid off.”

Newsday asked about Balkissoon being the only singer able to hold the last high note.

Griffith replied, “She held it together. And I am so proud of her. She is my best friend.”

Griffith was due to sing later in the musical theatre class, offering Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.

Balkissoon told Newsday. “I was really nervous at first , but I pulled through. Gianna really helped me gain confidence.”

She said being on stage felt very different to being in rehearsals.

“I think all the practices pulled me through and I displayed a good performance.

“I felt in practice I was not singing my best, but on the stage I really pulled through.”

Newsday asked how she managed to hold the final high note singing “requiem.”

Balkissoon said, “Honestly, it is just pushing from your diaphragm. Don’t slide up the note but push for the note. A lot of praying as well.”

Newsday also spoke to SJC Trio C which had won the trio class, singing The Gentle Maiden by Harold Boulton. Tianna Caesar, Celeste Greenidge and Minerva Maharaj made up this trio.

Greenidge said, “It feels absolutely great. Our hard work has paid off. It was a bit rocky in the beginning, because all the voices were clashing and stuff. It really ended well. I am really proud of us.” Maharaj said it had been a very exciting process. “It was my first time performing in front of such an audience with so few numbers of voices. It was exciting.”

Caesar said, “I agree. The process of getting everything together was fun. To see everything just blossom and pay off was very satisfying. I am very proud of us.”

Ziara Ali of a second-placed trio from The Trebles choir told Newsday, “It was good. I was scared against all the others, the convent girls, but in the end it ended up well.

“I really liked the judge she was really nice. And all the other competitors were really nice. Everybody was really nice.”

Ali said it had taken months of practice to get three voices working together.

“Everybody is doing something different, but sometimes the voices need to blend and will be doing similar things.”

Ali earlier this week won a vocal solo, and was in a second-placed duet and a second-placed choir.

Jeniece Pierre, and Ivana Davis perform Pie Jesu in the girls vocal duet during the TT Music Festival at Naparima Bowl, San Fernando on March 7. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

Newsday spoke to Bryanna Atwell, unplaced in the girls 16-19 duets. She said the day had been a positive experience.

“The time management of Music Festival was impeccable. I did not have to come and worry ‘What is going on?’ I was well-informed.

“It is always a new experience coming and having someone play the piano on the spot and having no choir practice with them.”

Atwell was grateful for the advice from the adjudicator.

“The constructive criticism given was top tier. It is definitely something I would work on for the future, as it is only up from here.”

She said the moments before going on stage were a bit nerve-wracking.

“It is not so much that the people in the audience would see me, but I am wondering about my performance. Would it be how I intended it to be? Will it not be how I intended? When I go on stage it is just I am there, in the moment. Either I do my part or not. Or at least I try.”

Atwell recalled singing last Monday in the contemporary religious solo, boy or girl, 16-19, coming third with her own choice, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

“Something unique about the Music Festival is that after I performed I was able to hear my quote, unquote ‘competitors,’ but it does not feel like a competition.

“It is more like a showcase of talent and how can we improve together on this.”