Antigua Day 7

Antigua Day 7

Day 7 in Antigua

Today, on day seven of our Commonwealth Resounds trip to Antigua, the scent of anticipation was in the air as the sounds of rehearsals echoed from the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. This iconic cricket ground, named after one of the Caribbean’s if not the world’s greatest batsmen, was abuzz with rhythm, music and energy. Today’s agenda? Final sectional rehearsals and composition workshops, led by our dedicated team of composers.

The composition workshops provided an exciting opportunity for our musicians to explore their composition skills, delving deeper into the world of melodies, motifs, and movements through film and jazz composition.

The evening was devoted to a crucial milestone – our first run-through at the Wetherills Estate, our concert venue. This stunning location, with extraordinary views, nestled amidst lush tropical beauty, was abuzz with a flurry of activity. The stage was nearly complete on our arrival and the final checks were taking place to the state of the art sound system.

As we set foot in the Estate, the grandeur of the space hit us immediately. Working through our performance in the actual venue allowed us to adapt to the new acoustic environment, playing outside means that much of the sound disappears for the musician and they need to listen carefully to what is going on around them. The experience was invaluable in not only refining our performance but also igniting the young musicians excitement for the concert.

As the day wrapped up, we found ourselves looking back with a sense of accomplishment at the progress the young musicians have made. With their sounds continuing to play in our minds and the anticipation building up, we eagerly look forward to bringing everything for the audience.

Antigua Day 5 & 6

Antigua Day 5 & 6

Day 5 & 6 in Antigua

Over day 5 & 6, our team pushed the boundaries of our projects. Branching off into three separate groups, they covered a huge array of music and incredibly wide area of the islands.

Group one continued to work with the Teachers’ CPD, diving deeper into musical composition. During a relaxed morning, the rest of the team explored much of the island of Antigua, visited a local recording studio and made it to St John’s to wander round the old city. Following their wanderings, the second group continued with the ABYSO rehearsals. Working on sounds, colours and technique.

Starting with something completely new, the third group – Daniel Swanni, Emily Abbott, and Peter Banks – embarked on a different path, braving a very early wake-up call to board a boat – renowned for being rather rough – bound for the island of Barbuda. Their mission? To mentor a group of budding recorder players and to cultivate a new crop of violin and cello teachers.

Daniel was delighted to work with the recorder group, which had just embarked on their journey into playing the recorder together. Developing skills through games he carefully built their confidence and created new music for them to perform together. Over just one and a half days, he prepared them for their upcoming Sunday concert.

Emily and Peter, meanwhile, met with aspiring violin and cello teachers. They brough the first ever violins and a cello to the island. Their task was to lay the groundwork for a new string teaching programme on the island. It was a real pleasure to hand over the instruments to the new teachers and the energy in the room was extraordinary.

The potential for these teachers to bring music to Barbuda opens up a wealth of possibilities for the people. Increasing musical prosperity of an area has the potential to improve academic results, increase emotional awareness and build a quality of life. The enthusiasm of everyone involved was extraordinary and we were all humbled by the visit.

Staying overnight on Barbuda, we were treated to exquisite local cuisine and breathtaking views of the beaches. The highlight was a visit to the frigate bird colony.

We spent just a short amount of time on the Island of Barbuda, yet we feel we have made friends for life and seen the start of something really special. This moment in our lives will be something we remember forever. What stood out the most for all of us was the local enthusiasm for music.

See also, day 5 and day 6 in pictures.

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.