This Friday at 6 pm at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-of-Spain, friends and prot�g�es of the late Geraldine Connor will gather to commemorate her life and work. Connor passed away in October, 2011, and there has already been a memorial for her at Queen's Hall, which took place one month after her death. However, the Geraldine Connor Memorial Committee, co-chaired by her good friend Anne Fridal, has opted to do another memorial–this one also celebrating what was perhaps her best-known work, Carnival Messiah. With no apologies, I stand by the overwhelmingly positive review of Carnival Messiah I wrote in the Guardian when the musical debuted here some nine years ago. Though Peter Minshall famously went on to say rather unflattering things about the production, I maintain that it was–and is–a brilliant combination of high European tradition and indigenous Caribbean tradition. It was spectacular, a kind of big, glitzy vision of our Carnival, with superior performances, costuming and choreography that, more than merely acknowledging our history of cultural syncretism, celebrated it. I don't think I ever met Geraldine Connor. I don't know any of her work beyond Carnival Messiah. But I do know that piece of work is a special gift to our country, and for this reason I embraced the opportunity when Connor's close friend Fridal called for people to walk in the procession at Friday's event, called Geri's Journey.
My daughter, The Lady and two school friends of hers will join me in the procession. It's an opportunity for them to do something beyond the routines of teenage life– school, the mall, text after text after text etc–and I hope they enjoy it. I'm confident they will; Ataklan, Raymond Edwards, Marvin Smith, Mavis John, and Anne herself will perform at Friday's event, a tribute to the wide influence Connor had in her life as an ethnomusicologist with a career that spanned Trinidad and the UK. A press release from the committee says, "Geri, as she was known, was responsible for such works as Blues in the Night, Vodou Nation, and, of course, Carnival Messiah.? She was a past pupil of and a teacher at Diego Martin Government Secondary School. She also taught at Queen's Royal College. She taught pan and music to the nation via her television programme in the 80s, and was a part of the UWI Extra-Mural Vacation Class programme where she taught choral skills and conducting." The celebration of Connor's life continues on Sunday when the committee will hold a jazz party at Le Caf� Opera, Cipriani Boulevard. (Called Jazz it for Geri, it is a fund-raiser and tickets cost $100.) As I'm writing this, I'm looking at Trinidadian-born tenor Ronald Samm singing Redeemer in a YouTube video recorded at the 2007 staging of Carnival Messiah at Harewood House, Leeds. The ethereal tones of the kora, a West African stringed instrument, underpin a gospel-style rendition of the Baroque Handel oratorio piece, while Alyson Browne swoops around the stage in 20-foot tall white silken wings. When I saw this scene at Queen's Hall so many years ago, I cried. It was one of the highlights of the show.
Samm sings a touching, simple version of a classical work, and Connor makes the classic immediate and accessible by staging that takes in Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. I go back to YouTube to find a traditional interpretation of I Know that My Redeemer Liveth, and there's a classical singer performing it with an orchestra. It's also beautiful, but the Carnival Messiah interpretation is a whole other experience. Without a doubt, Geraldine Connor has created some- thing new from this music, something powerful, deeply moving and unique. This is the legacy I will celebrate on Friday when I walk with the girls down the Trinity Cathedral centre aisle. Friday's event is free and open to the public. I invite all of you to come and share in the celebration of the life of this woman who has touched so many people. Do it for yourself, too, because when we celebrate the accomplishments of T&T's citizens, we celebrate ourselves. Geri's Journey will take place at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-of-Spain, on Friday, from 6 pm. It is open to the public and entry is free; a collection will be taken. Jazz it for Geri, a fund-raiser, will take place on Sunday, at Le Caf� Opera, Cipriani Boulevard, Port-of-Spain. Tickets are $100 and available from the following members of the Geraldine Connor Memorial Committee: Anne–766-9300, Marvin–763-8681, Donna Mae– 497-2085.