Review: Deo Gratias – a spirit of gratitude

The Lydians celebrated their jubilee 40th anniversary with world-class music and dance in their annual concert at Queen’s Hall from the 12th to 15th of December. In a spirit of gratitude, the concert title ‘Deo Gratias’ is a nod to the late and legendary Pat Bishop who often used the Latin phrase meaning ‘thanks be to God’ as a closing salutation on her musical director’s note in the concert programme. The concert was a patchwork of fusions across different levels- fusions of genres, of art forms, of stories, of cultural influences and of voices.

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The theme on the whole was a stroke of imaginative genius as they fused greek mythology with the yuletide vibe by introducing the three (3) Greek muses of Lydian music past, present and future. The demi-goddesses visited the stage at several points throughout the show, with Delores Alexander, Afesha and Akida Lawrence decked in elaborate white gowns by fashion phenomenon, Ronald Guy James. These pieces ought to be on display in a museum. La Madame, the muse that personified the past, was what I would call (perhaps erroneously) a Marie Antoinette figure with a grand wig and hoop skirt et al. La Reine, the muse of Lydians present, wore the ever-familiar bélé skirt and headwrap with a twist and La Belle Nouvelle, the muse of the future in a sort of ball gown. Each dress was edged with music manuscript pages- a delicate and brilliantly- crafted detail.

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From left to right: La Madame (Afesha Lawrence), La Reine (Delores Alexander), Andrew Samlal – Guitarist, and  La Belle Nouvelle (Akida Lawrence) | Photo credit: Saul Ramlal

The fusion of art forms came with the dance interludes that accentuated the programme, in between the good old choir two-step. With choreography in the hands of Adele Bynoe and Allison Seepaul, the movement was guaranteed to be as clean and sophisticated as it was executed by Safiya Defour, Kristen Mollineau, Anya Sepaul and Sidelle Wooding. Behind all of the action- but in no way eclipsed- I marvelled at the set pieces designed by Christopher Littrean, particularly a dazzling 3D Christmas tree that was flown in the first half.

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Photo credit: Saul Ramlal

The Lydians are blessed with an excellent technical team behind the scenes of the magic. Celia Wells’ lighting design was most complementary to each item on the programme. The acoustics in Queen’s Hall worked in the choir’s favour, with resident sound designer, Kino Alvarez, ensuring a good balance within the choir itself, and between the stage and the orchestra pit. Just listening to their performance of Joy To The World would prove the evenness of sound between the choir’s sections.

As an anniversary special, the programme featured many specials from the Lydians repertoire in years gone, with the young Jamaican mastermind, Carl-Anthony Hines somehow finding time to be their musical lead in between his studies at UWI. The first half took us through popular Christmas classics like Silent Night and O Holy Night (sung by Joanne Pyle and Alliyah Boland) along with pieces from their past performances of operas including Koanga, Orpheus and Eurydice and L’ElisirD’Amore.

The second half promised us a more sorrel-infused Christmas feel as the Lydian Steel orchestra tagged in a parang band to accompany the choir. In fact, they brought it home somewhere between Latin and Latin American music with parang and socaparang preceding parts of the Latin Mass arranged by the likes of Vitier and Father Rosado in Cuban and Salsa styles. All the more reason why I was a bit thrown off by the costume choice of madras fabric, which is typically associated with the French colonial influence. The only justification I could conceive is that the costumes may have alluded to a fusion of the French that is an essential part of Trinbagonian culture, although it is less visible (if at all) in our Christmas traditions. For a segment that was so heavily Spanish in sound, however, I couldn’t see the madras as being consistent with the performance.

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A sorrel-infused performance by the Lydian Singers | Photo credit: Saul Ramlal

I also questioned the performance of parang staple, Rio Manzanares as an adagio lament. When it started off on the downtempo (almost beyond recognition) I expected it to progress at some point into the vivacious version that the ear has grown accustomed to. It didn’t, and I still wish it did. Though the lyrics, which pay tribute to the Venezuelan river, come from a sombre folk tale, I would argue that the song itself isn’t as melancholy as the Lydians made it to be. The sentiment of this rendition was delivered strongly, nonetheless, by some of the choir members who performed it physically, while others stood still. This moment was a reminder that choral singing involves a great deal of acting- especially in cases like these where there is no set choreography. The impact would have been so much greater if there was full commitment to the movement (albeit improvised) by the choir as a whole. As the saying goes- all or nothing!

For local choirs of the Lydian ilk, there will always be that challenge of striking the delicate balance between classical vocal technique and the West Indian sound. Tenor soloist, Jamel Williams, found that balance and executed it superbly in his performance of the calypsonian Crazy’s ‘Merry Christmas’. Super soprano, (and incredible multi-talent, who also conceptualized the brilliant theme) Janine Charles-Farray also managed this balance, all while giving the audience comic relief with a memorable performance of ‘All I Want for Christmas is A Pan Man’.

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Janine Charles-Farray and the Lydians | Photo credit: Saul Ramlal

On the more classical side, David Williams’ flawless vocals were a real treat with a full-bodied and extraordinarily soulful delivery of I Know I’ve Been Changed and the penultimate song, the salsa-flavoured Gloria. Fayola King-Lawrence also blew the audience away with a crisp soprano voice in her performance of Vitier’s Ave Maria por Cuba. Of course it wouldn’t be a Lydians concert if it didn’t conclude with their speciality fusion- the Hallelujah Chorus con tassa from the Soogrim-Ram family, which spilled out into the foyer, sending patrons home on a high note.

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David Williams’ flawless vocals were a real treat | Photo credit: Saul Ramlal

With 40 years of musical merit under their belt, the Lydians continue to affirm their name among the choral greats on the local cultural scene, and deo gratias, thanks be to God for that!

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NOTE: The author attended the December 14th performance. Photos were taken on December 13th.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Harmony FarrellHarmony is a poet, actor, dancer, stage singer, researcher, educator, content creator…and the list goes on! In 2019 she graduated from the Guildford School of Acting/University of Surrey with a first class honours degree in Theatre & Performance with Creative Writing, where she grew an interest in writing about the arts. Her passion for performing emerged somewhere between being involved as an ensemble member & soloist for groups in musical theatre, parang, choral singing, dance (ballet, tap and contemporary), spoken word, comedy videos and again, the list can go on. Harmony’s writing is situated between her scholarly focus and her practitioner’s insight.

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