‘Joy cometh in the morning’, a commendable concert by 4 conductors
News day reporter
Dr. Richard L. TangYuk
Last Sunday, MW Productions presented a concert at the Church of the Assumption, Maraval entitled, Joy cometh in the morning. Founded by Kory Mendez and Anton Williams in 2021, the mission of this young company is, in part, to “cultivate the untapped potential of Trinbagonian youth”.
The concert featured four young conductors, Kadesh Clouden, Joshua Joseph, Shaquille Rose and Anton Williams, along with a host of talented young singers and an orchestra of steel.
Directing a choir or an instrumental ensemble is much more difficult than it seems. It is also a mystifying art. The conductor does not sing or play a single note in a performance, but profoundly influences the sound of the music with his aural insight, technique, personality, and behind-the-scenes rehearsal process. The only way to get really good at it (besides studying conducting) is to do it. MW Productions provided a platform for these young men to do just that. Most of them have done commendable work.
What was impressive about the performance was the string of vocal soloists. Within this group of very good singers, a few stood out. One was Ms. Patrice Richardson, who not only has a beautiful voice, but is refined in her performance art. I must also mention Ms. Jaydelle Baird. The fervor she brought to her rendition of “Take me to the King” was exemplary of what music is all about, connecting emotionally with the listener. It felt like she wasn’t even trying or thinking about how to accomplish this.
The choir showed excellent ensemble, good intonation and sometimes good diction. A few members of the choral ensemble provided elegant backing to the jazz and gospel selections which they obviously enjoyed.
The criticism offered next is intended to help this young generation of musicians improve and become more discerning in their craft.
Some musical genres lend themselves to amplification, unlike choral music. The challenge for the producers here was a program that traversed two soundscapes: the chorus and pan idiom on the more formal tracks, and the jazz/gospel solo vocal idiom. It is impossible for everything to work successfully if you mix these two soundscapes on the same concert. Amplification that suits the jazz/blues idiom does not work for the chorus and pan combination. Why even amplify the steelpan? He is already capable of a very strong dynamic. Also, boosting pan and chorus doesn’t help with clarity. It actually does the opposite, with the result that textures lose definition and diction is obscured.
The choice of venue and its inherent acoustics therefore play a major role in the outcome of your concert. Conductors and producers should place more importance on where they perform. Ideally, you want acoustics to enhance your performance, rather than trying to dampen it.
On the orchestration: if you have a steelpan ensemble, avoid doubling the exact same thing on the electric keyboard(s). It’s not necessary, and both instruments are fixed-pitch, meaning performers can’t make micro-adjustments to pitch as one would on a wind or string instrument. Steelpan tuning is affected by use, temperature, and not every note is affected equally. Tuning on an electric keyboard is stubbornly consistent, however. This inevitably causes some discrepancy in the tuning if it is doubled. Proper orchestration of the parts would help this. The most successful works were those where only the steel ensemble or only the keyboard accompanied.
Among the instrumentalists, Lemuel Patterson (keyboard), Sekou McGregor (bass guitar), Quianna Mahabir (drums) and Louise Clarke (percussion) deserve praise for their rhythmic integrity and sensitivity to balance.
More so, the steady outpouring of emotion and passion across many selections was wonderful. I have already mentioned two of the soloists. Then came Mr. Quinton Neckles (tenor), an outstanding performer who rocked the house. It should have been the final. The choice to follow Mr. Neckles’ exciting “Joyful, Joyeux” with “Lift every voice and sing” was a small anti-climax. Of course, everyone should be in the finale, and that’s where program design comes in. Programming is an art in itself, and the concert sequence is an integral part of that design.
It is gratifying to see young musicians become entrepreneurs in the performing arts. The objectives displayed by MW Productions are admirable and the evening definitely succeeded in cultivating our youth. This young company is worth the detour. I look forward to their choral event in July (without amplification please)!
Dr. Richard L Tang Yuk is a former Music/Artistic Director of Princeton and Indiana Universities.