In 2011 my colleagues and I, on faculty at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, started a series of concerts called All Together Now! Designed to celebrate the outreach programs we had created in the communities surrounding the capital city of Port of Spain, this was my first opportunity to show off the teacher training string program I had formed at the Caribbean Network for Arts and Education Foundation (CANAOE).
I was a proud mama. I had a scrappy, spirited group of young lads in a new string quintet and we were going to perform When the Saints Go Marching In, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,(which Cornelius, affectionately known as Corn Man, had spent an inordinate amount of time learning to say, so that he could announce the piece) and the piece de resistance, A Tisket, A Tasket, which I had dressed up nicely with one of my student teaching artists singing along in homage to the great Ella Fitzgerald.
Letters were sent home to parents with directions given to the National Academy for the Performing Arts (which was unnecessary, as it is a large spaceship, planted on the edge of the Queen’s Park Savannah in the middle of Port of Spain, visible from just about anywhere on the planet)and information regarding rehearsal times, proper attire and a concert start time of 5:00 pm sharp.
“So I’ll see you at 3:00 on Friday?”
“Everybody know where they are going?”
“Yes, Miss.” After which I should have asked,
“Does everybody have transport down to NAPA?”
To which they would have responded, “No, Miss.”
3:00 came and went….3:15, 3:30….phone calls were made. “Okay,” I said, “meet me at the school, I’m coming to get you!” I shot out of NAPA, careened around the Savannah and arrived at CANOAE. There was Mark, my most reliable student, scrubbed up and shiny in his ill-fitting white shirt and high waters with flip flops on his feet.
“Where do you think they are?”
“Home, Miss. Bathing.”
“But we said 3:00!” Silence.
Then, “Yes, Miss.”
Arghhhh! “Well, do you know where they live?”
And so we drove up into Cascade to collect Josiah and then up into St. Anns to collect Shane, Corn Man and Nekaa. And at 7:00 we were celebrating at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“Miss,” said Cornelius, “I was real nervous today.”
“That’s alright,” I said, we rocked the house.”
“So I’ll see you on Friday?”
“Everybody know what time we are rehearsing?”
And then, because I’m no idiot, “Everybody have transport?”
“Okay, I’ll pick you up at CANOAE at 2:30, okay?”
I was confident, smug even! And then 2:30 came and went. 2:45…3:00. Up walks Mark, scrubbed up and shiny in a too big white shirt, a well-worn pair of black trousers and gleaming black trainers.
“Where is everybody? Didn’t we say 2:30?”
“But it’s 3:00!”
“Get in!” And we shot up into Cascade and then into St Anns and careened around the Savannah, amazing myself by arriving in time for a short rehearsal of Aunt Rhodie’s Appetite.
“I wasn’t as nervous this year, Miss.” said Cornelius.
“Whaaat?” said Shane, as he shovelled in a second slice of pizza, “I was real frightened, Miss!” “Yeah, but we rocked the house, right?”
The lads and I knew each other well now. A composer friend of mine had challenged me that year to do a composition project with them, which culminated in a piece of music called ‘Rainforest.’ We had spent weeks planning our soundscape, using tempo and dynamics to create mood and experimenting with timbre to imitate the sounds of a kiskadee and a mosquito. Their work was to be premiered at the annual All Together Now! concert.
This time I didn’t even ask, boldly announcing that I would collect them at home.
“Be ready!” I said.
“Anybody’s parents coming?”
“Maybe, well, probably not, Miss. My mum needs to work.”
“Okay, never mind, see you at 2:30.”
I was jazzed. I had Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony cranked as I drove up into Cascade, collecting first Josiah, then Mark. Well, at least I’ve got a duo, I thought.
“What’s this Miss?”
“It’s a piece by Beethoven.”
“No offence, Miss? but he sounds kind of angry…I’m just sayin’.”
“Well, he was almost completely deaf when he wrote it. I think he probably was kind of angry.”
“I like it, Miss.”
Now I’ve got Shane in the car, I’ve got a trio! We arrive at the bottom of Corn Man and Nekaa’s hill. Nobody.
“Right, who has Nekaa’s phone number?”
“Me, Miss. But I don’t have any minutes on my phone.”
“Well, can you remember the number?”
“Oh, Gawd!” said Nekaa. “I just bathing!”
“Nekaa! If you two don’t get your bumsies down here right now, I’m coming up that muddy hill and pluck you outta the bath!”
“I comin, Miss!”
Two boys, flying down the hill, shoes and socks in hand, Corn Man’s afro blowing in the wind- no corn rows today. Beethoven cranked, windows down, careening around the Savannah. Boys laughter loud in my ears.
“What’s this, Miss?” Asked Nekaa.
“Beethoven. It’s me, actually, from a recording when I lived in London.”
“Miss! I didn’t know you were THAT good.” And then, “He sounds kind of angry.”
Looks from the other boys.
“I’m just sayin’.”
“Well,” said Mark, “that’s because he was deaf when he wrote it. They had to turn him around at the end of the concert because he couldn’t hear the clapping.”
“Is that for real, Miss?”
That night, they played their own composition and they heard every note. We celebrated at
Mc Donald’s, the applause still ringing in our ears.
Sometimes getting there is half the battle.