The passing of Pat Bishop, as tragic as it must be to her family and friends, is also the end of a remarkable career in the arts in Trinidad and Tobago, one that is largely unparalleled in its polymath range, intellectual complexity and earth deep richness. Pat Bishop was an artist, a teacher, a musician and conductor, but those descriptions seem woefully inadequate in capturing the full range of the work that she did in those fields.
As an artist, her work engaged her among peers like Carlisle Chang and Carlisle Harris, as a musician; she interpreted inventively both classical and local works for the steelband. As a conductor, she not only led the Lydians on intriguing creative journeys during her years as their third Musical Director and creative spark but also inspired and coached several individual singers in the group to creative acclaim.
Her first degree was in art, her second in West Indian history and her lifelong vocation would be the exploration of the many skeins of creative endeavour fuelled by this country's mingling cultures and inventive passions. To that end, it is unsurprising that Bishop rarely worked alone. She gave time and energy to intriguing projects, from Minshall's Santimanitay to the graduate company of the Caribbean School of Dancing, Metamorphosis. In turn, there was no shortage of creative talent available to her for her own projects. Dancers, artists and designers collaborated on Bishop's projects over the years, the Lydians alone attracting creative partners ranging from Destra Garcia to the Duke Ellington Choir. In 1999, Bishop's performance of Puccini's Turandot lured the reclusive Carlisle Chang out of his Woodbrook studio to design the costumes for the performance. Bishop's was a life complicated by health challenges.
In 1994, she became gravely ill and had triple bypass surgery. The scare of her mortality prompted some long overdue attention to her accomplishments. That year UWI conferred an honorary doctorate of letters to the artist, and in 1995, Bishop was given the nation's highest honour, the Trinity Cross. Pat Bishop would often talk about her plans for retirement after the lengthy convalesence that her illness occasioned, but she never acted on them. Aside from her work with the steelband, Bishop conducted the Lydians in dozens of performances each year and staged, between 1995 and 2010, ten major productions by the company, from Frederick Delius' Koanga to last year's Misa Cubana, interpretations that probed the lyrics and music of the works for relevance and resonance with the country that the conductor loved so much. And let there be no mistake, despite her many disappointments with those who promised so much for local culture, Bishop was thoroughly and completely smitten with the promise, potential and capability of the creative people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Still, there was such a sense of urgency in her recent talks on creative matters, a sense that time was running out, that the seemingly insurmountable challenges of the cultural landscape still needed to be broken down into actionable projects. The artist said as much at her last meeting with yet another summit of creative thinkers convened by yet another government. Bishop had given so much time, so much thought and so much energy to talk shops and think tanks that duly reported their findings and proposals and deftly filed them far from sight and action. Yet on Saturday, mindful that she was not in top form, she saddled up and rode into town again, willing to guide another group of minds. It still remains to be known what her last words were, but they can readily be imagined. Bishop would have wanted the Government and corporate Trinidad and Tobago to act on their words, making real investments in sustainable, sensible projects that would educate our intellectual potential, promote our best cultural works and engage so many lost minds in their creative legacy.
Respect her wishes.