Tobago tops calypso choirs with dramatic flair

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain performs Bring Back the Ole Time Days at the TT Music Festival at Naparima Bowl, San Fernando, on March 12. – Photo by Lincoln Holder

BISHOP Anstey High School, Naparima Girls School and St Joseph’s Convent (SJC), Port of Spain, each gave astounding performances in the calypso choir class at the TT Music Festival championships on March 12, even as their younger peers from Belmont St Francis Girls RC School were the darlings of the audience. However it was Scarborough Secondary School which snatched the TUCO Trophy, at Naparima Bowl, San Fernando.

Bishops, Naps and St Joseph’s were matchless in their musical dynamics.

Yet the Tobago youngsters brought a fresh novelty to the stage with a theatrical flair from the get-go, on top of the natural richness of their singers’ individual voices.

Scarborough sung David Rudder’s Ganges meets the Nile. Pupils were in small groups around the stage, some standing, some seated, but all singing, gradually assembling into choir ranks, to bring a heavy folk flavour to the whole presentation. Still singing, singers took their places in the choir ranks.

“Put up your hand if you understand,” they sang, as all singers punched their fists into the air.

Raising right hands to eye level to peer, they sang, “See how we moving, Watch how we grooving.”

Each performer was well-spaced out on-stage to comfortably perform.

The Bishop Anstey choir pulsated as one, their vocals backed by vigorous hand-clapping and lively African drumming.

“Oh, black woman, raise your head, save your children/ Oh, black woman, save them from self destruction.”

Naps Girls were likewise peerless, with Ella Andall’s Rhythm of a People. At a slowed tempo, their touchingly sweet blend of voices softly rallied listeners.

With interlinked arms, they swayed and sang, “People hear the call, a call for unity. Together none will fall, shape our destiny!”

St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain, led by John Thomas, were unsurpassed in their musical dynamics, rendering Richard “Nappy” Mayers’ Bring back the old time days. Very disciplined voices, in clear sections, blended creativity to make a nostalgic cry, all polished off by wavelike hand motions as they sang reassuringly, “Woo, oo, oo, oo, oo. Bring it back! Bring it back!”

The audience applauded the St Francis girls for their colourful outfits, enjoying the purity of their developing voices singing Denyse Plummer’s Right Here, led by Mariam Jones-Sprott.

Adjudicator Nubia Williams hailed Bishop’s, “The entrance was very captivating, in blend and expression, with that incremental build, maintaining balance and clarity.”

Bishops Anstey High School performs Black Woman in the Calypso Chorale category at the TT Music Festival, Naparima Bowl, San Fernando, on Marc 12. – Photo by Lincoln Holder

She said all SJC’s lyrics were heard. “Interesting orchestration. Not always consistent in terms of its intonation. A really nice blend.”

Williams said St Francis pupils’ voices were beautiful but still developing. Their song was “nicely interpreted.”

She praised Naps Girls. “We felt that the balance, the orchestration, the arrangement, were really homogeneous and you really did showcase that ‘rhythm’ in your presentation.”

Williams hailed Scarborough Secondary for a very good interpretation of Rudder.

“The arrangement showcased a unique auditory effect in keeping with that folk theme. A very powerful ending.”

Scarborough theatre arts teacher Olimall Gordon-Holder told Newsday, “We are elated. We are so happy. We have gone through so much to get here. We are really happy all the hard work the children put it has paid off.”

She said the performance reflected the school motto, Committed to excellence.

“When we qualified to come, it was 14 of them. In the last week we added a few more members who just learned the song for the first time. It was a labour of pure love – blood, sweat and tears – to get them here within this week, to perform and do their best on stage.”

Pupil Shivelle Williams thanked her teacher for helping her catch up.

Nataki Thompson, TT national junior calypso monarch, said it had not been an easy road to learn the song.

“But we did it and we became victorious!”

She recalled helping younger pupils overcome nerves, saying, “Because once we hit the stage, it’s show time!

“The feeling was a pure vibes. I could feel the energy, the good energy, so we really enjoyed it on stage.”

Adafih Padmore, leading Bishop’s, said, “I always tell the girls when we go into a competition, anything could happen. We go into it and do the best we can, having as much fun as we can, so that whatever the outcome is, we will be satisfied. So I think that’s what happened.

“The girls are in good spirits. A little disappointed, but their support of the groups that won was good. ‘Miss they were really good and very energetic.’

“Every group at this stage, in the championship, is the best in their district. Whatever the outcome, we’re good with it.”

She told Newsday the girls keenly connected with Andall’s songs.

“We started with a crescendo, so they started really soft, and every time they would come in they would build that crescendo.

“Then for the third verse, we changed the key, as we wanted to give a little darker sense to that, because the lyrics are, ‘Look around and you will see. All that you were not meant to be.’

“We really wanted to give a sense of there is a darkness there. And then we returned to the original key in the end, just to add that sense of positivity because we didn’t want to leave it so dark and sad.”

The song ended in some call and response, with each girl striking a queenly pose. “I told them, ‘Chose a pose that makes you look like a queen’ and that’s what they did.”

St Francis’ Jones-Sprott said, “I am very pleased, although my girls are a bit disappointed. They wanted to blaze the secondary school students. That they did in the north.

“Tobago was spectacular, so they really deserved their placement, in my opinion, and I feel in my soul we came second overall.”

Her pupil Mya Pierre told Newsday, “I didn’t feel nervous. I actually felt really happy to be on stage today. I felt kind of sad we did not win but we are still champions of the north and we had a very good teacher that taught us.”

Naps Girls Jeniece Pierre told Newsday, “I think actually it went well. I think we worked really hard and this is the best performance we have given.”

She reckoned Naps had placed second. “And really and truly Tobago was extraordinary.”

Her schoolmate Ivana Davis said, “Although we didn’t come first, we really put our all into it, so I am really satisfied with that.”

SJC principal Anna Pounder felt “tremendously proud” of her pupils. “They are talented, brave, courageous. They make the school extremely proud.”

She was proud of pupils’ agility, in entering so many different categories of music. “The girls really stretched themselves, as sometimes people think we are a traditional choir. It’s wonderful to see our children in calypso on Tuesday, and Wednesday it is folk.”

SJC pupil Sierra Smith, said choir mates had helped to choreograph her earlier performance in the girls folk solos.

“It is always fun to perform in the choir. The girls are like family. We go everywhere together because we are always in practice.

“It’s always really fun to perform, see people out of the corner of your eye enjoying themselves, to have a little inside joke and stuff.”