Wednesday 27th April, 2005


Playing it by ear - a twilight song

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The CDs are on sale at Khan’s Music World and Rhyner’s at
Piarco Airport or Augustus can be contact at his home, 633-0406.

By Sheldon J Yearwood

Walking past Manning Street, Diego Martin, one may hear piano music coming from the hills.

The sounds are the graceful styles of Norman Augustus, 66.

He is best known from his days in the real estate business, from which he is now semi-retired. Over the last four years he has dedicated his life to his first love, music.

In 2001 he recorded his first volume of songs, Piano Medleys for All Times. He has brought out a volume every year since then. His fourth, with the same title, is a 14-track album ranging from waltz to calypso and fox-trot. Most of the songs recorded are classic hits from the 40s and 50s.

Sitting in his home he spoke with precision and poise. He was obviously very passionate about his music as he sat behind his piano lightly fingering the keys for a brief moment.

After his interlude he related his musical journey.

Growing up in Palo Seco, he was born into a musical family and started playing the piano at the age of six.

“There was always a piano at our home and we also had a family band. The band forged a great bond amongst us and we were a happy family. Every opportunity I got I would tinkle on the keys as a little boy.”

One year later he had his first public performance broadcast on Radio Trinidad in 1947.

His father John Cyril Augustus, who was also a pianist, seeing he had a special gift took him to renowned southern bandleader Nello Braithwaite, who took him under his wing. He learnt to play the instrument by ear.

Both his father and Braithwaite were employees of Trinidad Petroleum Development Co Ltd, nestled in the heart of Santa Flora. Every lunch hour on Mondays and Thursdays he would practise with Braithwaite on the camp (beach camp, where employees lived).

After an hour’s practise each week for five years, he perfected the skill of playing piano by ear.

In 1949 he went to school at St Mary’s College where he was a boarder at his aunt’s home on Flament Street, Port-of-Spain.

At this juncture he decided to pursue classical music.

“My father encouraged me to pursue classical music, thus broadening my horizons as a musician. I can learn tunes from reading music and do my own thing by ear after.”

While at St Mary’s he went under the tutelage of J Donald Greaves, of St Vincent Street (opposite the then Empire cinema), who was also his father’s tutor, before moving on to Milicent Roberts of Carlos Street, Woodbrook, where he spent six years. Augustus was taught up to grade seven out of eight by Roberts.

He recalls practising from 5 am as he gradually rose from grade one to seven.

When he left St Mary’s at 18, his focus was shifted to the field of work at TPD in Palo Seco; he was unable to continue classes.

But his love for music was always there as he kept on playing in small functions and family gatherings.

“Playing the piano or performing, for that matter, was not a money-making venture but a pursuit undertaken for the love of it.”

His first shy at recording came upon the advice of his father and wife in the late 1970s.

Augustus made an audiotape using only a microphone and a home cassette recorder. Now he has in his home, a Clavinova, a digital piano which aids in giving the high-quality sound that can be heard on his CDs.

“After 50 years or more I now have the time, experience and a proper instrument to record. It’s a part of me I would never trade for anything.”

At this stage he cannot say if he will produce any more music, but if inspiration strikes, who knows.

Sadly, he believes, music in T&T is losing its creativity and the few who are trying to bring forth the melody again are being stifled.

“There are a few composers and pianists who have done well, but the vast majority I cannot seem to absorb. You do not hear the chords and the melody anymore, nothing soft and sweet. The lyrics, well, I am disappointed.

Augustus hopes the melodies would encourage the younger generation to play a musical instrument especially those who have the gift to develop and parents who would have the discipline and commitment at practice sessions to listen with an attentive ear.

“The discipline which my parents instilled in me over the years prepared me for life and the trials it may bring. It would bring me great joy if I can help the less fortunate learn to play the piano or any other musical instrument for that matter. This is my contribution in reclaiming so many lost youths in our country. ”




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