Sharing Musical Skills: Antigua and Barbuda!

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The Commonwealth Resounds is delighted to share musical experiences with young musicians in Antigua and Barbuda. In collaboration with UK conservatoires and specialist music schools, we have supported the nurturing of young musical talent in the islands of Antigua and Barbuda following the devastating Hurricane Irma in 2017.

In 2019, as part of the Commonwealth’s 70th Anniversary celebrations, we created an exciting new training/skill-sharing programme for young musicians with the High Commissioner of Antigua and Barbuda, the Royal Over-Seas League and the Purcell School for Young Musicians.

During the Pandemic, visits to the island were limited; however, we are delighted to be returning with a new generation of musicians in 2023 – watch this space for updates!

Hurricane Irma hit Antigua

6th September 2017
06 September 2017
12:00 AM

Commonwealth Resounds began their first project

September 2017
September 30, 2017
12:00 AM

First meeting of Alison Cox MBE & Karen-Mae Hill, High Commissioner of Antigua and Barbuda

The Antigua project starts to take shape
April 2018
April 02, 2018
12:00 AM

First international musician visits

July 7th -18th 2019
July 06, 2019
12:00 AM

Go Compose Antigua!

July 2019
July 10, 2019
12:00 AM

Pandemic online tuition

2020-2023
Many of the young musicians who travelled to Antigua in July remained in touch with Karen-Mae and ABYSO and continued teaching the young people online.
January 01, 2021
12:00 AM

Return to Antigua planned

2023

The team assembles and begins to plan the first return trip after the pandemic to collaborate with the Antigua and Barbuda Youth Symphony Orchestra (ABYSO)
October 09, 2022
12:00 AM

Project news

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!

Emily reflects on Barbuda

Emily reflects on Barbuda

Emily reflects on Barbuda

Daniel Swani, Peter Banks and I had the pleasure of travelling to Barbuda for a few days during our trip with The Commonwealth Resounds. I was very excited to be travelling to Antigua’s sister island but little did I know just how life changing the experience would be!

Our aim for the trip had been to teach recorder to a few students- preparing a short piece for the ABYSO’s concert there on Sunday- while also teaching violin to Karen and Zoe (who were going to take on the role of tutoring students on the island).

Upon arrival we made our way to Holy Trinity primary school where Daniel taught a recorder session. We had a group of pupils, all with very little recorder playing experience, learning the basics of the recorder. As a non-recorder player myself, I found the session very interesting – learning where the notes were and learning breathing technique alongside the students.

One of the things that struck me during this time – and our time on Barbuda as a whole – was the work ethic of the kids we were working with. It is not easy learning a new instrument in such a short time, let alone putting a piece together, but they definitely rose to the challenge! A few of the students even kept trying to learn more notes and techniques – excited to learn the range of the recorder. Their enthusiasm was infectious and I look forward to seeing how they progress in the next few years.

The violin session was run by Peter and I at the Fisheries near the famous Barbuda lagoon and where the ABYSO will be playing on Sunday. The aim of the session was to run over the basics of the violin and its maintenance long term with a few of the tutors who would be teaching string instruments to children on the island. They had all been learning about various bits of the instrument in sessions prior to our arrival but we had brought over the instruments they would be using. It is an incredible feat to learn an instrument so quickly – with some of them taking their grade one in just six weeks.

When we weren’t tutoring in Barbuda, we were having the most amazing tour of the island by our host – Karen Thomas. In the evening of our first day we were treated to lobster pasta at Uncle Ronnie’s – a renowned restaurant on the island. The restaurant also kept a few tortoises outside which they let us feed (a bucket list moment for me!!) On the morning of the second day we were taken to Princess Diana beach where we could see the sand’s famous pink hue. Paddling along, we were able to spot a stunning, small sting ray in the water before heading off to the final recorder session.

To top off the whole trip we were taken to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary by a lovely man named George. He took us on a speed boat round the lagoon to see the island’s famous birds and explained their history.

My experience on Barbuda has been one of the most musically rewarding experiences of my life. Seeing the kids get so stuck into the music and how much they achieved in just two days is incredible. I am excited to see how much the classical musical life on Barbuda flourishes in the coming years!

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.