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Trinidad and Tobago launches music school to "revitalise diocese"

Posted on: August 19, 2011 10:12 AM
Related Categories: Trinidad & Tobago, West Indies

From the Anglican Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago

“An initiative by and for young people, to stir things up a bit, and wake the church up”- this is how 22-year-old Keisha Baisden, Director of the newly-launched Music School, describes the initiative.

Lamenting the diminishing participation of her own generation in the affairs of the Church, Baisden is convinced that this initiative will revitalize the Diocese, by improving the quality of music within church services, and encouraging stewardship through music. The School will also aim to develop students holistically and to provide opportunities for intense musical study and performance.

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Samuel Stewart performs "The Greatest Love of All"
Credit: Diocese of Trinidad & Tobago

The Right Reverend Bishop Calvin Bess, has openly expressed his growing concern that there is a dearth of qualified musicians within the Diocese. Many churches must hire professional pianists as organists, or simply do without musical accompaniment at their services. As a result, a high percentage of respondents in the Diocese's 2010 Capacity Building Survey stated that one of the main reasons they do not attend services regularly is because the services are lacking the energy and passion present when musicians aid the leading of hymns.

As an effort to address the concerns of locals, Bishop Bess has asked Baisden, as a young person within the Church, to spearhead this initiative, drawing support from other young musicians and other persons interested in the development of the Church.

The Anglican Diocese comprises 31 parishes and 103 churches scattered throughout Trinidad and Tobago. In addition, there are 60 primary schools, one special school and eight secondary schools. In 1983 the Anglican Diocese had a population of 190,000 and 41,000 of these were communicants. More recent information suggests that the population of Anglicans has declined significantly and is less than 100,000. In 1990, the population of Anglicans was 10.9 % and by 2000 the number had fallen to 86,792 a mere 7.8% of the total population. Evidently, this has implications for the vibrancy of the communion and has caused concern among the Clergy.

Relying on others
The music ministry has the major challenge of inadequate numbers of qualified musicians which is reflected in the use of persons from other denominations being utilized for church services.

While this is a tribute to ecumenism this is not a desirable situation, as the church cannot have first call on these musicians. The preferred situation is one where there is a continuous supply of persons available to serve in the church. Excellence in the music ministry requires a consistent supply of teachers in vocal and instrumental techniques particularly for piano and organ accompanists as well as music theory. Increasing the range of instruments available for study will give students the opportunity to learn and later master instruments which include string, brass, woodwind, the steel pan and percussion.

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St Margaret's Boys' AC Steel Orchestra
Credit: Diocese of Trinidad & Tobago

The Music School has great potential to be a sound option in terms of extra curricula activities for the large numbers of school children, in particular those in need of special guidance and direction. With the proliferation of musical performance groups, one can see how the success of many young people in music can ultimately encourage others to be part of this uplifting social phenomenon. In view of these benefits, the Church will be obliged to formalize an outreach programme so that persons in the communities within parishes particularly the disadvantaged could be beneficiaries of the Music School.

It has been proven time and again that music training benefits students, and enable them to build qualities that aid in creating a humane, holistic and intelligent human being. In addition, there is a sense of achievement gained from having learned and ultimately mastered the technical aspects of their respective instruments. This feeling encourages young people to continue to realize their fullest potential as they exercise discipline in their music and by extension, all their endeavours. Students would also have the opportunity to perform at music festivals and other musical productions.

The Cathedral launch
On July 24th, 2011, the initiative was formally presented to the public at the Official Cocktail Reception and Launch, held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Guests were treated to a preview of the musical excellence which will be expected by future students. Under an elegantly decorated tent, patrons sipped wine and enjoyed the melodies of the St. Margaret’s Boys’ AC Steel Orchestra, The Eastern Performing Arts Fraternity (Vocalists Iziah Kanhai and Tevin Gall), and Vocalist Samuel Stewart (St. Mary’s Children’s Home). The energetic drumming of the Trinity College (Moka) Drum Ensemble, on the steps of the Cathedral, heralded the start of the official ceremony.

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Musical Director Keisha Baisden 
Credit: Diocese of Trinidad & Tobago

After Bishop Berkley’s Invocation and Welcome Address, Dramatic Soprano Anne Fridal (acc. Sheldon Morales) was introduced by Master of Ceremonies, Ms. Kathleen Weekes. Richard Owen delivered the Committee Report, and Dr. Ian Robertson, professor at the University of the West Indies, gave the Feature Address. After a performance by Lyric Tenor John Thomas, Bishop Bess declared the school officially open. The night ended with a fitting tribute by Ms. Baisden on the Violin, accompanied by Alan Cooper.

Pilot Project
The original Steering Committee, which has developed proposal documents over the past few months, consists of Baisden, Nerle Robertson, Richard Owen, Kathleen Weekes, Rhona Williams, and Enrique Moore. Currently expanding to include Parish Coordinators and other positions, the Committee has decided to begin with a Pilot Project, carded to begin on September 17th, 2011, and end on August 31st, 2012.

Music classes will be offered throughout the country, with tutors specializing in brass instruments, steelpan, organ, piano, and music theory. There will also be bi-monthly 1-day workshops in General Musicianship, Musical Etiquette, and Personal Development.

About the Musical Director
Keisha Baisden (22) is an alumna of the prestigious University of Miami, where she studied Music Therapy and Psychology. She holds a Diploma in Violin Performance, and Grade 8 Certificates in Piano Performance and Music Theory from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (England). She also holds a Grade 8 Certificate in Steelpan Performance from the University of the West Indies' Department of Creative and Festival Arts. Baisden has served as Assistant Concertmaster of the National Youth Orchestra, Concertmaster of the National Sinfonia, President of the Eastern Performing Arts Fraternity, and Interim Director of the Eastern Youth Chorale. Earlier this year, she served as the youngest adjudicator at the National Junior Panorama Competition, National Junior Steelpan Festival, and the Talented Kids Competition. She is no stranger to leadership, having served as the President of the 900-member Florida Caribbean Students' Association, among others. Ms. Baisden is also a member of Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity, and Psi Chi International Honor Society for Psychology.

The great-niece of Trinidad's first local Bishop, Clive Abdulah, and a proud alumna of the Anglican Bishop Anstey High School, Keisha is a staunch member of the church, and is passionate about using her talents to affect change. She has provided music therapy services to children and adults with disabilities, the elderly, prisoners, war veterans, adolescents with mental disorders, and the homeless, in Florida (USA), Trinidad, and Jamaica. Most recently, she founded the Music Inspiring Change Project, which has already donated instruments to the St. Mary's Children's Home.