Golden voices | Caribbean Beat

Originally written for and published in Caribbean Beat magazine in 2013

The half-century anniversary of Trinidad’s popular Marionettes Chorale

It was all a little inevitable. My mother was the conductor, and my two godmothers were the executive management. Some of my best-established blackmailers are those who can recount me “conducting” from the audience as a pre-schooler, with frilly white socks on my hands. Dubbed a “Marionette-ette” by one of those godmothers, I have been part of the Marionettes Chorale quite literally from my own conception. In fact, the only Marionettes concerts I have ever missed were those when I was away at university, overseas working on theatrical projects — or in Trinidad, but trying to be absolutely sure it really wasn’t all too predictable, and that the music, community, and legacy of the Marionettes was something too valuable to me to forego.

It was. And the coming year — starting this July, with our Landmarks concert series — is an especially beautiful time to be a part of this organisation, as we commemorate fifty years of existence. I’m often asked by people what I enjoy most about being a member of the Marionettes, and the achievements I’m most proud of. The list is long, but there are a few things that, for me, define our fifty-year history.

The Marionettes were the first choir to be formed in post-Independence Trinidad and Tobago, and one of the few organisations even to survive this long in our local cultural landscape. Soon after formation, the group also became the first local choir to blend voices with steel, when performing with the PanAm North Stars. After retiring, unbeaten, from the local music festival in 1980, the ’Nettes — as one faithful member lovingly calls the group — then became the first and only local community choir to earn major prizes at international choral festivals, competing against some of the best choirs in the world, over three tours of Britain.

At home, the Marionettes are known for giving local or Caribbean premieres of celebrated classical works like Orff’s Carmina Burana, Fanshawe’s African Sanctus, Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, Poulenc’s Gloria, Bernstein’s Missa Brevis and Chichester Psalms, and Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man (A Mass for Peace) — including the accompanying film.

But the Marionettes’ repertoire extends far beyond Western classical, and includes opera, spirituals, Broadway, Caribbean and international folk songs, and of course Trinidad and Tobago’s calypso. Our commitment to our national art forms includes the commissioning of choral arrangements of Caribbean and national folk songs, calypso, and other music, to perform both at home and overseas. The sad fact is, this is not something that happens nearly as often as it should in the Caribbean.

With Landmarks — which runs 12 to 14 July at Queen’s Hall in Pot of Spain — the Marionettes revisit some of our proudest moments. Performing will be some of our best-loved soloists, as well as the Youth Chorale and new Children’s Choir, under the batons of artistic and musical director Gretta Taylor (my aforementioned mother) and new assistant musical director Roger Henry. The series also marks the launch of a companion double-CD of the same name, and a full year of planned anniversary events, including performances, workshops, exhibitions, and documentary features.

So, as inevitable as it all seems — from being a founder member of the Youth Chorale, to being the youngest-ever member of the senior choir, and now its assistant artistic director — here I am, proud and happy to be part of an organisation with such a rich legacy, and a future that already looks so bright with possibility.

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