Our Readers' Opinions
February 21, 2017
‘Celebrating 60 years of joyful singing’

by Jeanne Horne

Musical Director, New Kingstown Chorale

When Patrick Eugene Prescod M.B.E., G.T.C.L., L.R.C.M, Pianist, Composer, Arranger, Accompanist, Organist, Musical Director, Music Officer and Music Teacher, followed his passion and founded in 1956 The Kingstown Choral Group, now The New Kingstown Chorale, he instilled in its members not only the love of choral singing, but also an appreciation of different kinds of music, the attention to good diction and tonal quality, the discipline of attending rehearsals and the desire to excel and maintain a high level of performance, principles that the group has embodied over the years. As a member of The Chorale for nearly 50 years and its Musical Director for 28 of those, I will always be grateful for his vision, guidance, teaching and mentorship.

Over the years, The New Kingstown Chorale has become one of the best and most versatile choirs in the region. Its repertoire includes classical, religious and secular tunes, folk songs and calypsos, the traditional and the contemporary. It has staged numerous highly acclaimed concerts, participated in Nine Mornings celebrations, contributed to charities, performed at charitable and State functions, and visited institutions during the Christmas season to bring cheer to the sick and shut in. What stands out, however, is how this group has represented and promoted St Vincent and the Grenadines at home and abroad:

  • Two Carifestas, in Guyana and Cuba
  • Participation in the Caribbean cultural programme held in Barbados to celebrate the 25th anniversary of CXC
  • Entertaining Heads of Government at their Caricom conference in Canouan
  • Performing at a function to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Goddard Enterprises Ltd in Barbados
  • Producing a Christmas DVD, commissioned by Goddard Enterprises, Barbados, which was aired regionally for two consecutive years
  • Presenting our Vincy package ” Echoes of Hairoun” on every overseas tour – in Trinidad, Grenada, St Lucia, Barbados, New York, Toronto and The United Kingdom. Dressed in our Vincy colours we sang our patriotic and folk songs and calypsos, and gave a little taste of Vincy life in our folk operetta and Tea Meeting.
  • Singing at the Dag Hammarskjold Library and Public Lobby at the United Nations where we received from then Council Member, Una Clarke, a proclamation on behalf of the city of New York and a Peace Medal
  • Singing for tourists at hotels and on cruise liners

I make bold to say, without fear of contradiction, that no cultural group has represented St Vincent and the Grenadines so well and for so long as the New Kingstown Chorale has. We have been cultural ambassadors long before there were cultural ambassadors!

I would like to thank Ms Rene Baptiste and The Vincentian Association of Artists, Writers & Producers Inc for recognising our contribution to culture and presenting to us the Lifetime Achievement Award – Music and Choir, on 13th October 2016, as we celebrated our 60th anniversary. This is the first and only award or public recognition we have received here at home. It took 60 years, but we really do appreciate it.

The responses from our audiences at home and abroad have been overwhelming, but very often it was the spontaneous reactions that touched me most: the delight of the Cuban audience as we sang Guantanamera, their most noted patriotic song. They followed us as we exited the hall, clapping and dancing; the emotional responses to our religious concerts in Brooklyn, Toronto and Barbados when the audiences rose to their feet and there was hardly a dry eye in those churches; the reaction from Vincentians living abroad who told us how proud we had made them! As they identified with what they saw on stage during our folk presentations, they often broke out in spontaneous laughter and applause, at times shouting out advice to Dalfus and Sarah during the folk operetta. How can we ever forget the advice given to Dalfus? “Carry Sarah ah grassroot!” shouted a Vincentian voice from the audience in High Wycombe, England; the spontaneous reaction from a crowd that gathered when a few Chorale members, who went to France from England, started singing on an outdoor balcony outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Nobody had ever heard of St Vincent and the Grenadines! We soon changed that; the enthusiasm and delight of young students in schools we visited during last year’s Independence celebrations. At one school two couples spontaneously went to the middle of the hall and started dancing to our renditions of Moonlight and Eddie Brown.

Our success during this sixty year journey would not have been possible without the following:-

– Past and present accompanists, especially Sean Sutherland, one of four schoolboys we took on our North American tour, who now returns home as a professional concert pianist to accompany us, and Donna Clarke, who has so willingly given of her expertise and helps train the junior choir; Starlift, Potential and Rythmix steel orchestras and several young pannists, some of whom went on overseas tours with us; past and present members of our band, especially Joffre Venner, Ronald Browne, Justin DaSilva, Ashley ‘BT’Marksman and Bert Walker

  • The Vincentian composers whose songs we sing. These include Alban Henry, Albert Lawrence, Olsen Peters, Tim Daisy, ‘Shake’ Keane and Western Lewis, Becket, Touch, Rasum, and more
  • Those who took the time to do beautiful choral arrangements just for us- Pat Prescod, Dennis Jardine, Joffre Venner, Willis Williams and Frankie Mc InTosh.
  • The talented young musicians who appeared as guest artistes on our shows
  • The creative artists and decorators who have done backdrops and decorations for our performances, transforming an otherwise dingy hall into a thing of beauty.
  • The individuals, firms and business houses who have supported us through the years, especially Goddards Enterprises, Barbados.
  • The media houses, journalists, reporters, commentators, and videographers who have covered our performances and given us such positive reviews.
  • Former members and organising committees who facilitated our overseas tours
  • those who opened their homes and schools to us for rehearsals, especially Mrs. Balcombe and the St Joseph’s Convent, Kingstown
  • And especially our patrons and audiences who have supported us over the years. We would not have lasted this long or done so well without you. You have lifted us up and motivated us to continue doing what we love so much to do – sing and bring you joy. Our heartfelt thanks to all!

Our journey has not always been easy. Unfortunately we have never been able to attract major sponsorship. As we celebrated our 60th anniversary in 2016 and approached several businesses, banks and organisations for help, we were disheartened but not entirely surprised by the overwhelming number of negative responses we received. This has been part of our history. Our thanks to those who did help! When we took a leap of faith and decided to visit The United Kingdom in 1995, we did so with the expectation of getting some sponsorship. Unfortunately that didn’t happen! Although our performances there were well received, they were not financially rewarding and it took us years to repay the loan we eventually had to take.

Finding venues for our shows remains a huge problem. The Memorial Hall has served us well for years but it has also served its time. We have had to undertake repairs to the hall in the past, extending the stage, replacing broken windows and painting. All cultural groups deserve a home worthy of their talents – a hall with all the amenities that will enhance their performances-adequate space, acoustics, lighting, sound and backstage facilities. We hope that one day this will be put on a priority list.

A major concern for me is the continuation and future of choral singing! In an age when quality of sound is sacrificed for quantity of sound, when our young people are exposed to one type of music, when everyone sings in a very low key, when parts are not taught but are just ‘put in’ by the singers, choral music is fast becoming an endangered art. Regrettably, gone are the Music Festival days when there were multiple genres and categories to choose from, when there were set pieces for duet, trio, quartet and choir where parts had to be learned and held, when sopranos, altos, tenors and basses had the opportunity to show off their talent and when good tonal quality was rewarded. I would like to encourage music teachers in schools and choir directors to cater to the wide vocal range of their singers, not just those who have low voices, insist on good tonal quality and help every singer to realise his or her full potential.

As we continue our journey, we continue to invest in our young people and look to our young choir, the Dynamic Chorale Voices. For years they have been an important part of our success story. There were times when we actually had three choirs at our shows – the little ones (4-10 years), the teenagers (11-18), and the senior choir. That was until the logistics of having three big choirs at Memorial Hall overwhelmed us and we had to discontinue the youngest group, much to the dismay of our audiences who looked forward to the unpredictability of their performances. Thanks to Calma Balcombe and Donna Clarke, we have a vibrant group of youngsters who love to sing. They are energetic, learn quickly and are willing to try different genres even though they may have their favourites. They are taught the proper techniques of choral singing, and after leaving school, some join the senior choir. Because of them I have hope that choral music will survive. My thanks to all past and present members of Dynamic Chorale Voices and their parents for their support!

Finally, I would like to thank the members of the Chorale for their discipline, the long hours spent learning parts and lyrics, the joy they bring to each performance, their dedication to a high standard of performance and their support. The longstanding members of the group must be specially commended. They are the glue that has kept this group together for sixty years. They are the ones who hardly miss a practice, and the ones whose joy and love of singing remain undiminished. Thanks to Brenton Bailey, our accompanist who also helps with rehearsals, for his commitment to the group despite his heavy work load. Thanks to Gillian John, our manager, who has devoted herself to help preserve Mr Prescod’s legacy and maintain the high standards for which the group is known, and last but by no means least, thanks to Clifford Edwards, the backbone of this choir. He is the giant behind the scenes who organises everything and who has played a major role in keeping this group together.

The New Kingstown Chorale is open to all those who love to sing, have good voices, can hold a part and are prepared to attend rehearsals regularly. You’re invited to come and audition to join us. By God’s grace, we will continue to do what we enjoy doing for as long as we can. Thanks to all who have helped us to achieve this significant milestone!