Antigua day 9 – Barbuda Concert!

Antigua day 9 – Barbuda Concert!

Day 9 in Antigua

First ever Barbuda concert

There are days that remain etched in memory, not merely for the events, but for the spirit and resonance they carry. Day 9 on our journey was one such day; Barbuda witnessed its inaugural concert. The task was formidable. With no existing arts infrastructure on the island, every instrument, equipment piece, and a sizable crew had to be ferried over on a 90-minute boat journey. As if nature wanted to test our resolve, weather-related delays briefly threatened to throw a spanner in the works. But the TCR team, ever efficient and adaptable, sprang into action. And, just as the final touches were put in place, the arrival of the Governor General to open the concert seemed like a sign from the universe that all was aligned.

The national anthem heralded the ABYSO’s debut performance on Barbuda soil. It was an historic moment, signaling not just the ensemble’s rightful embrace of the name “Barbuda” but also the island’s broader commitment to nurturing its musical roots. The earlier efforts of our team, helped initiate a string teaching programme and the recorder ensemble, bore fruit. The young recorder ensemble’s performance, featuring a fresh composition crafted in collaboration with Dan Swanni, was an aural treat. The palpable growth in the fledgling musicians’ confidence over mere days was nothing short of inspiring.

Speeches were given by Karen Thomas, ABYSO’s Barbuda Coordinator and Her Excellency Karen-Mae Hill. High commissioner of Antigua and Barbuda. Her words to the parents of the islanders were full of hope, but also the reminder that it takes a team to make a difference. Everyone can play their part and everyone can achieve something incredible. With everything coming together in this concert, The ‘Create, Perform, Inspire’ programme certainly hits all three of those points.

Nature had its own dramatic encore in store for us. As we rendered ‘Under the Sea’, the heavens opened, almost making the song’s lyrics a reality! The downpour saw a scramble for cover, a brief pause, and a fervent hope for clearer skies. Once the storm abated, the concert concluded with one final performance of Abba.

Post-performance, a new challenge awaited – the race against time to pack up and board the boat. Battling the tempestuous sea again, the team’s spirits remained undeterred, taking pride in the monumental feat achieved.

We know that the future of music on the island is just starting, but wow did it start strong! At the end of the stay, 20 musicians returned elated, but tired to the Jolly Beach Hotel.

Antigua day 8 – Concert day!

Day 8 in Antigua

First concert

The eighth day of our journey heralded a day of anticipation, excitement, and magic. With the pristine backdrop of the Wetherills Estate, the talented ABYSO took to the stage for their very first concert of this expedition. There’s a unique thrill to performing al fresco, a raw and immediate connection between the performers and nature. The shifting acoustics of the outdoors adds another layer of challenge, demanding particularly keen listening from the students. Each note carried differently, and often vanishing off to somewhere different.

The grounds of the estate slowly filled, as an eager audience, bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun, settled in. Their excitement was palpable, a mix of anticipation and pride. As the first strains of music wafted through the air, it became abundantly clear that the efforts of these budding musicians had borne fruit. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with applause reverberating through the evening air. It was evident: the performance wasn’t just appreciated; it was adored.

As the evening drew to a close and the lingering notes of the concert faded, we joined our new friends, the senior tutors of ABYSO, in a different kind of symphony: one of laughter, shared experiences, and culinary delights. We dined at The Larder, where the menu tantalised our taste buds as much as our music had delighted our ears. Over a scrumptious meal, conversations flowed effortlessly, stories were exchanged, and it became evident that the bonds forged during this journey extended beyond the realm of music. Tomorrow something special will be taking place!

Antigua day 10 – Go Compose Antigua!

Antigua day 10 – Go Compose Antigua!

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.