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UWI Arts Chorale and UWI Steel Ensemble Star at New York Concert

BRAVO!! - ‘Celebration’ an Artistic Success

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Brooklyn, New York - The UWI (University of the West Indies) Arts Chorale and the UWI Steel Ensemble from Trinidad appeared in concert as part of their tour, at the Founders Hall at St. Francis College - located in downtown Brooklyn, New York.  Their performance was simply marvelous.

The concert and tour are part of the tenth year anniversary celebrations of the musical  organizations’ founding.  According to the concert info, “10 years ago the University of the West Indies Arts Chorale & Steel Band Ensemble started this programme as two courses, that has turned into a plethora of successful concerts and five successful musical productions.  Ten years later, they celebrate this milestone with their second international Concert tour with a trip to St. Francis College.”

UWI Chorale
UWI Arts Chorale on stage at Founders Hall, St. Francis Church, Brooklyn

The chorale, lead by its co-director, was conducted by Jessel Murray - who also served as Master of Ceremonies - and took the audience on a fantastic musical journey.  Jazz, Pop, Calypso, Gospel and Caribbean Folk songs were all part of the varied music genres superbly presented at this event.  The harmonic content, rhythms and sophisticated delivery presented a unique voice, sound and interpretations to standards in a manner never heard in these parts before.  Indeed, on display was the full creative and artistic musical genius of the Caribbean artist without restrictions or undercover apologies.

Jessel Murray
Jessel Murray addresses the audience

Under the directive of Jessel Murray, the combined UWI Arts Chorale and the UWI Steel Ensemble has succeeded in putting its own indelible musical stamp on a collection of classic and folk standards in a manner that is both fresh and thought-provoking.  Moreover, the performance simultaneously highlighted the rich culture and immense talent that continues to emanate from the Caribbean.

We, the audience, were given a short and small glimpse of the massive musical and artist talent being produced at UWI and in the Caribbean at large.

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From spirituals to calypso to pop - the UWI chorale put its indelible stamp on a slew of classic and folk standards.   The chorale demonstrated its versatility to handle a varied number of musical genres superbly while maintaining its own identity and unique style.   If you were present at the UWI presentation at St. Francis you were privy to a command performance. 

The two-act performance allowed us an introspective look into Trinidad & Tobago’s music works of traditional Caribbean folk songs.  The journey continued through their presentation of the music of Calypso artist and composer David Rudder, that of steelpan music composer Ray Holman, the Beatles (Yesterday), and finally the musical works of Andrew Lloyd Webber.  The groups’ interpretation at times exhibited a special brand of humour, wit and rhythm.

UWI Steel Ensemble
Jessel Murray conducts the UWI Steel Ensemble at Founders Hall

This trip has not been without its drama and controversy.  “Unexpected bureaucratic difficulties” as Murray so diplomatically put it, plagued the group from the onset as they were forced to leave several performing members of the Steel Ensemble behind in Trinidad, because of “issues” not expounded upon by the US embassy in Port-of-Spain.  He could only say that members of the group were denied entrance Visas into the US because of a newspaper article.  Even the group’s drum set was missing throughout the performance.  Components of the group’s equipment were held over by airport security for fear of ‘terrorist’ usage.

UWI Chorale
Jessel Murray and the UWI Arts Chorale at Founders Hall

The University of the West Indies is the largest overall institution of higher learning in the Caribbean.  The university celebrated sixty years last year.  There are three main campuses located on the islands of Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica.  The choral group and steel ensemble on tour are out of the Trinidad campus located in St. Augustine.  They are part of the department of Creative and Festival Arts - now celebrating twenty years - where degrees in music, dance, carnival studies, visual and theatre arts are offered.  According to Mr. Murray, the musical arts program offers degrees in voice, steelpan playing, piano and well as percussion studies.

The instruments for the steelpan ensemble are tuned by the master tuner Wallace Austin, who previously resided in Brooklyn up a few years ago and serviced the New York pan community.  The UWI instruments sounded awesome.

The only sour note of this event was the lack of or extremely poor publicity and promotion of the event and tour itinerary overall.  There is absolutely no doubt this played a large role in the low audience turn out.  When Steel Talks found out about the performance only by mere chance.  Imagine if the person or persons responsible for publicizing the tour, had the presence of mind to even contact the national morning Television shows headquartered in New York, and arrange even a brief appearance as a visiting group.

However, the audience fortunate enough to be on hand left no doubt as to how extremely pleased they were with the performances.

The Show

In his capacity as Master of Ceremonies, Jessel Murray informed the audience that the program would include sets of choral music, sets of steel orchestra music, classical pieces, calypso and soca, reggae, pop and jazz.


Jessel Murray conducts the UWI Chorale
Jessel Murray conducts the UWI Arts Chorale at Founders Hall

This segment featured three choral pieces - two of which were from Venezuela, one a “Pasahe” - a song that imitates the sounds of instruments.  The well-loved spiritual- a song that imitates the sounds of instruments.  The well-loved spiritual “Lift Every Voice” was included in this Act.  The Steelpan Ensemble followed with an ‘adaptation from the melodies’ from the “Poet and Peasant Overture,” variations on Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusikk.”


UWI Chorale sings a Caribbean folk song
UWIUWI Arts Chorale performs Trinidad & Tobago folk songs at Founders Hall

As Murray explained, Act 2 would take the audience from Trinidad and Tobago Folk, Caribbean music and Calypso - all the way to a marriage of chorus and steel on ‘Broadway.’  The choir opened with an adaptation of David Rudder’s “Calypso Music” in a Calypso/Soca format (the music of Trinidad and Tobago).  A moving rendition of the Jamaican folk song “Sammy Dead,” the humorous “Nah Go Marry” and the universally liked “Mango,” all laced with traditional calypso movements, followed.  These four consecutive Caribbean pieces were a live and unplugged, educational class in the heart  and soul of the musical tapestry and timeline of the Calypso genre.  Call and response, counterpoint, overlay and of course storytelling - it was all there.  The Spyro Gyra anthem “Morning Dance” was also storied in steel.

Under the baton of Jessel Murray, the performances from the two ensembles were high-level and professional.  They allowed the audience a fantastic musical experience that was one not to be missed.

Contact Jessel Murray: jmurray@tstt.net.tt;  jessel.murray@sta.uwi.edu

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