Day 10 in Antigua

Final performances with our concert, Go Compose Antigua!

Written by Reuben

Day 10 was filled to bursting with composition, composition, and… composition. Throughout the previous 9 days, several members of the ABYSO had sent their compositions to Alison, Ka Youn, and myself, to be played in Monday’s composer’s concert. As a result, the proposed concert programme gradually expanded throughout the week, inflating from a 40-minute concert to an hour, then an hour twenty, and so on. By the time Monday rolled around, we had a program of 14 pieces, highlighting the fantastic diversity of musical creativity on the island.

There were 4 ABSYO members who submitted individual compositions. Ja’Quan and Da’quan sent us a string quartet and a wind quartet, both beautifully concise and sumptuously pandiatonic. Da’Quan’s quartet in particular reminded me of Ravel’s string quartet, and he seemed to agree when I played the first movement to him in the afternoon’s rehearsal. Cellist Zia gave us Voyage Across the Seas, a deeply evocative piece for flute and string quintet. Orlando, a trombonist, sent us an achingly beautiful piece for large ensemble and spoken voice. His piece was so expressive that it had my eyes watering just from the MuseScore MIDI playback!

In addition to the individual compositions, the composer’s concert also featured the collaborative compositions developed throughout the trip by the composition team and the various instrumental sections of the ABYSO. There was the violinist’s piece, a string quintet, which I was frantically sewing together as late as Monday morning (a timeline I’m sure every composer is familiar with). The quintet featured melodies and accompaniments from ABYSO violinists Asafa, Alfranique, Asha, and Calynia, all massively varied in character. Tying all these fragments together resulted in a wonderfully diverse musical collage, continually moving between driving grooves and floating lullabies. While I was wrestling with this, Ka Youn was doing something similar for the lower strings, tying together their beautiful melodies into a virtuosic duet for viola and double bass. What struck us both more than anything else was the incredible creativity of the ABYSO student’s musical fragments: They would often embrace quirkiness, would never shy away from subverting harmonic and melodic expectations, making each note on the page very much their own.

The final composition scheduled for the concert featured the entire woodwind, brass, and percussion sections of the ABYSO, a collaborative piece of mammoth proportions. Through just two workshops, TCR composers Jamie and Connor created a piece, ‘Caribbean Fusions’, that featured collaboratively composed harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic cycles, with its structure being produced in real time through Connor’s gestures as proto-conductor. The end result was viscerally loud and ecstatically rhythmic, sure to get even the stiffest audience members bobbing their heads and tapping their feet.
Rehearsals in the afternoon went off without a hitch, with ABYSO students dropping in throughout the sessions to listen to the TCR instrumentalists rehearse their pieces. Everything was rehearsed by 18:15, leaving ample time for patty-eating and Ting-drinking before the concert’s scheduled start at 19:00.

What followed was one of the best concerts of my life. Education officer Caryl Edwards-Lewis compered, cultivating a wonderfully Antiguan atmosphere of audience participation and engagement, sprinkling the perfect combination of humour, encouragement, and storytelling across the evening. Sitting front row was His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams and Her Excellency Karen-Mae Hill, two people who have provided invaluable help in facilitating the development of orchestral music on Antigua and Barbuda. Many of the members of the ABYSO presented their own pieces, preparing speeches that detailed the hard work and creativity of the previous week’s workshops, with each speech being met by a mandatory stretch of thundering applause and deafening whoops from parents and peers. Witnessing students, teachers, and parents lift each other up and recognise each other’s deep dedication to music-making was a truly special experience. The student’s pieces were awe-inspiring, testaments to their musical curiosity and willingness to collaborate creatively with one another. We heard film music, string music, wind music, quartets, quintets, duets, large ensembles, jazz ensembles and more, a musical kaleidoscope that represented the individual compositional talent of every single member of the ABYSO. Really special stuff.