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Classical Jewels in steelband music

Published: 
Saturday, November 18, 2017

This weekend’s premier steelband event is tonight’s Classical Jewels XI (Journey From Jules to Jemmott) being staged by Massy Trinidad All Stars at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (Napa), Port-of-Spain, with a repeat tomorrow evening.

I remember as a young man in the ‘70s Classical Jewels being a must-attend event for my parents.

Back then, sponsored by Catelli, the legendary steel orchestra was under the musical direction of Gerry “Uncle Jem” Jemmott and for the occasion its guest conductors included Paul Hill and Pat Bishop.

As a prelude to this weekend’s concert, All Stars hosted a media reception last week Thursday at its Duke Street panyard. Guests were warmly welcomed by manager Nigel Williams, PRO Daryl Joseph, Jackie McKell, Denise Hernandez, Keith Matthews and Rhonda Allick.

With a photoshoot in progress at one side of the yard of All Stars’ youth orchestra, its senior members performed some of its Classical Jewels XI repertoire including J’Ouvert in ah Band, a piece composed 26 years ago by drummer Jason “Stumps” Lewis as a tribute to All Stars living legend Neville Jules, vocalised by Sheldon Reid. The band’s playing of the theme from the Magnificent 7 movie also evoked much comment from the guests in attendance.

For this weekend’s production All Stars’ musical director Deryk Nurse will serve as its main conductor, aided by guest conductors Kygel Benjamin, June Nathaniel, Jessel Murray, Sule Sampson and Dr Mia Gormandy.

A steelband which continues to maintain its mandate of developing its young musicians many of All Stars’ premier players in Classical Jewels XI, despite their youth, are veteran musicians with the orchestra including Gormandy, who scored some of this weekend’s pieces, Nurse, Benjamin and crackshot tenor player Dane Gulston.

Classical Jewels XI is not entirely all national instrument and guest artistes, beside Reid and Gulston, will include Eleanor Ryan, Rahel Moore and the UWI Arts Chorale.

Of course the All Stars youth orchestra is also an integral ingredient in the mix.

The producers of Classical Jewels XI are playing their cards extremely close to their chests, refusing to reveal the repertoire patrons can expect this weekend. When Classical Jewels V was staged in 1985 patrons were left spellbound by the orchestra’s interpretation of classics by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Bizet and Glinka.

If I can hazard a guess this weekend I am hoping that it performs something from Von Suppe, perhaps one of my favourites, Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna.

What I did manage to discern is that the programme will provide many pieces by local composers performed in a classical manner.

All Stars’ busy-as-a-bee member Staci-Ann Patrick is hoping that Classical Jewels XI will dispell some of the unflattering labels attached to the national instrument and pan musicians.

“For starters,” she said, “we no longer ‘beat’ pan. We are competent musicians who are on par with accomplished musical peers who play any other instrument, be it violin or piano. Trinidadians need to start giving more respect to pan musicians, composers and arrangers.

“I find that the national instrument is being sacrificed, primarily because our people do not put themselves out there to appreciate or listen to pan music outside of the Panorama season.

“When someone takes the time to listen to the national instrument played outside of Carnival and Panorama, and hear the different layers and intricacies of the music played they would certainly foster a greater appreciation for something that is uniquely special to this nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

“The Journey from Jules to Jemmott will certainly showcase the dexterity and showmanship of pan musicians.”