In her own words, Nicole Jordan is an 'anti-diva'. If you met her, you'd instantly agree with the self-description, but if you'd just heard about her you'd probably be skeptical. She is the holder of a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance, a Master of Science degree in the Psychology of Music, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Music Performance, and is an accomplished, world-travelled, classically trained operatic soprano.
And she is just 36 years old.
With not a stitch of makeup on during our interview, she actually looked a lot closer to 26, and possessed the youthful demeanor to match, but there is no mistaking the aura of elegance and polish that surrounds her. When the makeup artist asked if she'd brought a gown, or some other such formal apparel as befitting of her 'station', for the photo shoot, with a surprised look Nicole said no... what she did have was something funky, something fun, something a little flirty even.
Nicole was born here to a Trinidadian dad and a Canadian mother, the youngest of three children from the marriage, but migrated to Canada with her mother when she was 5 years old. I asked her when exactly she started singing and her answer was 'always'.... she just can't remember a time in her life when she wasn't singing.... but she began serious music and voice lessons when she was 12 years old. In her mind, she always knew this was her path in life.
She became a professional singer at age 20, after completing her undergraduate degree, when she was accepted to join a professional chamber choir. In time, and after overcoming some personal hurdles, Nicole established her career in Europe, the Netherlands to be exact, where she also runs her own voice training studio and ensemble, and from where she travels to concert engagements across the continent.
She visited T&T over the years to spend time with her father, Carlisle Jordan, in Tobago, where he was born and is now retired. It was on one of those visits, in 2011, that she first approached the University of Trinidad & Tobago, mainly out of curiosity to see what their performing arts program was like. She was very impressed with what she saw, and before she left she expressed interest in 'giving back' to the land of her birth, just in case any opportunity to do so through the University should present itself.
A few months later, UTT offered her a one-year stint as a 'Visiting Artist 'lecturer, which she accepted, and in October 2012 she commenced her program of voice and Psychology of Music Performance lectures at the university.
Her time there has only served to increase her regard for what she describes as the 'incredibly high standard' of training at the university, the dedication and creativity of the staff, and the passion the students have for learning. She is confident that the future of classical music in T&T holds immense potential.
Though still very active in her international career, Nicole will be performing in public here for only the first time when she takes the stage this weekend in a performance of Henry Purcell's classical opera, Dido and Aeneas. The Classical Music Development Foundation's Young Artists Collective in collaboration with the UTT Academy of the Performing Arts is staging it at Daaga Hall, UWI. Along with two of her UTT students, Nicole will be performing in the role of Belinda, the Queen's handmaiden, alongside the revered Natalia Dopwell in the role of Queen Dido.
Because of her conviction that performing arts are the soul and voice of the communities in which they exist, Nicole firmly believes that artists have a responsibility to share not just their talents but also their knowledge, and teaching is clearly a role she enjoys. She speaks quite enthusiastically when referring to her students, whom she says come from varied backgrounds, and is full of praise for the GATE program, which she says has opened the doors for students who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to pursue a career in music.
She holds to the credo 'Find Your Voice' as her own personal mantra, and imparts it to her students frequently. She says that beyond the literal application in their chosen career, it also applies to every aspect of their lives and development... it means always asking themselves, in whatever situation they might find themselves, 'what am I trying to say?'. She says living by that principle helps them develop their own identity.
I asked about her own 'psychology of music performance'. She said that she creates an atmosphere that is more 'smoky jazz club' than 'opera concert hall' because she is most comfortable when she feels that intimate connection with her audience. She then adds that spending more time with her father, and Trinis on the whole, had in fact brought a greater appreciation for the way Trinis connect with each other. You can see it in the way they find each other wherever they are in the world, and being here she feels it so strongly that it's almost "a spiritual thing". She believes that her own intensified connection with her father and her Trini roots uncovered a previously untapped depth to her that now manifests in her own performances, strengthening her own ability to connect with her audience in that same, almost spiritual way.
As far as her own career goes, her dream is simply to keep doing what she does. Once her time here is up she will head back to the Netherlands to resume the running of her studio and her ensemble and fulfill the numerous concert bookings she already has lined up, but says that a part of her will always be in 'sweet T&T', and that, given the opportunity she will surely be back.