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Magical tribute from youth music group

Published: 
Thursday, July 31, 2014
The youthful T&T Steel and Brass Symphonic Orchestra.

Wesley Gibbings

It might not have been on the official programme of Emancipation Day activities, but the youthful T&T Steel and Brass Symphonic Orchestra’s (TTSBSO) musical tribute to five international, national and community icons on July 27 provided a perfect launch pad for reflection on emancipation observances.

Staged at Daaga Hall on the UWI campus in St Augustine, A Musical Tribute was arguably the best public production of this group of young steel and brass musicians of recent years, under the supervision of the husband-and-wife team of Leslie and Judith Clement who founded TTSBSO in 2008.

Honoured at the event were the late South African president, Nelson Mandela and T&T prime minister and president, ANR Robinson. Former school principals Jennifer Cox-Williams of Bon Air Secondary and Kathleen Kalloo of Five Rivers Secondary were also on the list of honorees together with Dale Maharaj, also of Five Rivers Secondary School.

Not unlike the performances of previous years, the “junior band,” comprising graduates of the orchestra’s annual holiday music camp, amazed a packed hall with inspired interpretations of Bacharach favourites such as Say a Little Prayer and Close to You and a highly entertaining rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, complete with a be-gloved “moonwalker.”

Hopefully, videographers engaged to record the concert got the senior band’s entire memorable rendition of Jorge Ben Jor’s Mas Que Nada—a guaranteed earworm conducted by Stephen Villafana.

Young trumpeter Randell Adams tried his best during his solo on Bacharach’s Say a Little Prayer and perhaps, only then, realised the delicate treatment required to faithfully carry one of the American composer’s more challenging melodies. Adams is someone to keep an eye on for the future.

Yet again, TTSBSO scored high marks for song selection. Robert W Smith’s Africa Ceremony, Song and Ritual was rendered with a high level of skill and sensitivity by the senior band and featured the orchestra’s recently established dance troupe—who all had to down their instruments for the performance.

There was even a vocal performance, by the youngsters of the junior band, of The Lion Sleeps Tonight arranged by prolific choir master John Baptiste.

The TTSBSO has emerged as a significant contributor to music education in the country with hundreds of young musicians from east Trinidad communities benefiting from first class instruction offered by the Clements and Villafana and, this year, young musicians from the senior band who also served as tutors at the music camp.

Judith Clement and Martina Chow also offered their services as “life skills” coaches while Kelvin Pierre and Mahalia Mayers operated as camp managers.

A high number of the orchestra seniors are currently in music degree programmes at UWI and elsewhere and several have gone on to higher educational opportunities at universities abroad.

The lack of cohesive corporate support for the orchestra, whose members come from what Leslie Clement has described as “financially challenged” areas of the country, was noted by the master of ceremonies more than once.

In fact, there is even a challenge with accessing sufficient instruments for players and a call was made for people with wind instruments stored, unused anywhere to be donated to the orchestra.

More than one member of the audience retorted that the relative poverty of TTSBSO was inexplicable in the midst of an economic boom and evidence of considerable official, financial waste.

Among this year’s major benefactors were the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism, Simon’s Music Supplies, National Flour Mills and more than a dozen credit unions. “Not a single bank,” the MC said.

A Musical Tribute was certainly worth more than the $100 admission. Much, much more. It was a magical musical tribute to undoubted heroes.

The TTSBSO chairman is Kelvin Pierre and he can be contacted at 704-2616.