September 2012 Volume 9

Kingston College Chapel Choir Salutes the Nation at 50 with Heavenly Sounds

Peter-John Gordon
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On Sunday July 29, 2012 in the St. Augustine Chapel, the Kingston College Chapel Choir presented a gift to the nation; its offering was a free concert, Jamaica Glory Part Two: In Celebration of 50 years of Nationhood.  Part I was offered in May 2012 on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. where the choir was invited to represent the nation at Flower Mart 2012 and to kick start a year of celebration of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence by the Jamaican Embassy in Washington D.C.

The Washington trip ended just prior to the start of external exams which were immediately followed by internal end-of-year exams.  The choir proceeded to a 10 day camp at St. Hilda’s Diocesan School in St. Ann the day after the end of the school year.  The annual camp is used to start the preparation of the choir for its major concert season in December.  Although the choir had done concerts outside of Kingston and participated in concerts with other performers in Kingston, this was the first full length concert given by the choir in Kingston since its return from Washington.

The almost three month wait for a major concert in the capital was well worth the wait.  Jamaica Glory Part Two was a reaffirmation of the beauty, creativity and goodness of the Jamaican spirit; a reminder to any who might have doubted, the Jamaican person was just as capable of excellence as anyone else in the world.

The afternoon started with the singing of the National Anthem.  The choir turned towards the Jamaican Flag which was placed in the sanctuary of the chapel.  This made for good optics, but musically did not work very well as the choristers had their backs turned to the audience.  The anthem came across as a prelude to the concert rather than a part of the concert itself.  This was a pity as the harmony used and the descant in the second verse of the anthem were worthy of top billing.

The anthem was followed by prayers for the nation offered by the Rt. Rev. E. Don Taylor, Rector of the Kingston Parish Church and retired Vicar Bishop of New York.  Bishop Taylor an old boy and past principal of Kingston College offered prayers recalling the journey of the nation through slavery, emancipation and independence and praying for a new relationship between the sons of the slaves and the sons of the slave masters. His prayers also gave thanks for the early stalwarts of the school: Bishop Gibson, Douglas Forrest and Carlton Bruce among others.
The programme was divided into three sections.  The first was labelled “Traditional Sacred Music”.  The term ‘traditional’ could best be understood in the context that this section contained music most associated with the traditional repertoire of the choir.  Seven items were presented in this section: O how amiable are thy dwellings (R. Vaughan Williams); Salvation is created (Tchesnokoff); Alleluia (Will James); O sing Joyfully (Adrian Batten); Non Nobis Domine (Roger Quilter); Look at the World (John Rutter); and Sing to the Lord (Franz Schubert Arr. Christopher Tambling). 

Conductor Audley Davidson must be congratulated on the interpretation of all of these pieces. The sensitivity displayed by the choir in phrasing was exquisite.  The tone was superb and the diction good.  The Rutter evoked an emotion which had this reporter welling up and fighting to prevent tears flowing.

Part Two of the concert was entitled “Spirituals/Gospel” and had six selections: Jubilance (Linda Steen Spevacek); Nobody knows the trouble I see (Mitchell Southall); Ride on King Jesus (Donald Moore); His Name so sweet (Hal Johnson); Poor man Laz’rus (Jester Hairston); and Praise His holy name (Keith Hampton). 

Jubilance which is the first track on the choir’s latest CD “Songs of Praise” is the only piece in this section which appears on that CD.  Nobody knows the trouble I see was spiritually very moving.  That a boys’ choir could evoke that emotional texture was amazing.  Poor man Laz’rus was very spirited and had that audience on the edge of their seats.  The only ‘traditional’ gospel song in this section, Praise his holy name took the choir into previous uncharted waters.  Their handing of this piece demonstrated that a boys’ choir was equally comfortable in a genre that many would think was the preserve of the female voice.

After the intermission the choir presented the third section “The Jamaican Swag”.  Although three of the nine items presented in this section are on “Songs of Praise” recorded in 2011, this section had the choir moving furthest from ‘its base’ and pushing the envelope.  The section opened with This is my Land by Noel Dexter, followed by Jamaica land of beauty by Lloyd Hall.  Many Rivers to Cross by Jimmy Cliff and arranged for the choir’s trip to Washington by Grub Cooper and Peter Ashbourne followed.  This piece had the choir using a novel staging with some choristers up at the high alter, some standing on either side of the isle at the top of the nave (where the pulpit and the reading lectern are) and some sitting on the steps leading up to the choir stalls. This bit of theatrical staging added an interesting visual to the splendid voices.

Redemption Song by Bob Marley arr. by Audley Davidson (one of the three songs on the CD) followed.  Two traditional Jamaican folk songs complete with choreographed movements were next.  The movements were well executed and added immensely to the renditions.  These songs were Linsted Market (arr. Keith Rhodes) and Dis Lang Time Gal (arr. Noel Dexter).  Rhodes was the choirmaster/organist of the Bradford Cathedral Choir which visited Jamaica in the 1970s and did this arrangement while in Jamaica for the Bradford Cathedral Choir and Kingston College Chapel Choir.  Caribbean Hallelujah by Beryl Donaldson followed.  This was well received by the audience.

The final two presentations appear on “Songs of Praise”.  Jah is my keeper by Peter Tosh arr. by Audley Davidson was a huge crowd favourite.  The scoring and execution of this song is breathtaking.  The trebles transported the listener to a different dimension.  Jamaica Glory Part Two ended with the ever popular Dexter/Williams O praise ye the Lord.

The choir was most ably accompanied on pipe organ and piano by Livingston Burnett.  His playing added great texture and feeling to the choral presentation.  Vivian Crawford added humour as he guided the audience through the concert as emcee. 

Peter-John Gordon, member of the Board of Governors and member of the Choir Committee in moving the vote of thanks pointed out to the audience that the choir in 2010 and 2011 had over 40 performances per year, and again this year is on target for that many performances.  He indicated that the school wishes to have every student engaged in some form of co-curricular activity as this is important for the education of the boys.  He also said that such activities, like the choir, exposes the boys to excellence and more importantly what is required to achieve excellence.  He proclaimed that there was much beauty and goodness in Jamaica, and the next 50 years will be better than the last.

Rt. Rev. Robert Thompson, Bishop Suffragan of Kingston and Acting Chairman of the Board of Governors gave the benediction and brought the afternoon proceedings to an end.

The 40 voice, 65 year old choir immaculately dressed in school blazers, performing in the St. Augustine Chapel appropriately decorated in national colours, left the audience in awe.  Every person associated with Kingston College would have grown a few inches taller and their chests would have protruded more after that performance.

Every Jamaican would be justly proud of the achievements of these young men and their conductor Audley Davidson.  The full capacity audience could think of no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon of the eve of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary.

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