Sunday 27th November, 2005

 

An enduring musical love affair

 
 
 
 
 
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For as long as she can remember, Gretta Taylor has had a love affair with music. Her memories go as far back as being taken to concerts by her parents and throwing tantrums when the curtains came down because she didn’t want to leave all the music behind.

After being introduced to the piano, she would practise for hours and hours, “not because I had to, but because I enjoyed it.”

In 1963, the Marionettes Chorale was formed by two music teachers from St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain: Jocelyn Pierre and June Thorne.

An ad was placed in the newspapers inviting singers to attend an audition at Pierre’s home on Warner Street in Newtown. The turnout was so tremendous that the crowd spilled out of the house and onto the pavement.

In spite of the initial rush, Taylor managed to secure a spot in the choir. During our interview last week, however, the decorated conductor of the award-winning Marionettes was not shy about admitting that it was a turn of events she never saw in her cards.

“I wasn’t supposed to be a singer,” she said seriously. “I always admired everybody else who could sing and people who sang in choirs. I just assumed that I didn’t have the goods and the talent.

“I didn’t pine over it, I just accepted the facts for what they were. It didn’t make me stop loving choral music.”

The facts being as they were about her singing ability, Taylor and her friend Susan Dore began to cause quite a stir at the T&T Music Festival with Taylor’s light fingers on the piano drawing attention.

When Thorne (who wanted to spend more time raising her family) and then Pierre (who became ill and later received a four-year scholarship from the Government to study in Montreal) departed from the Marionettes, there arose a vacancy for the position of choir master/ conductor.

The position was offered to both Taylor and Dore but both women declined.

“But they wouldn’t accept my answer,” she laughed. “I was also teaching languages at Convent and Jocelyn Pierre had also left a vacancy with the choir there and the principal approached me to attempt to continue to deal with the choir,” Taylor said.

“I never imagined that I would be here up to now, but it was something I said I would try... and here I am, 31 years later. So I have accepted that there really must be some kind of master plan.”

Since 1974, Taylor has produced and directed several full-length productions with the Marionettes, each running for up to six nights with full-scale costumes, dance and sets, as well as many other concert appearances and four overseas tours.

The choir has established a reputation for the highest musical standards and a wide repertoire, ranging from the most challenging classical and contemporary choral works to musical theatre, spirituals, folksongs, carols, calypso and parang.

“The biggest challenge for me when I first started was having come out of the choir ranks. I had to now turn and face them and they had to respect me,” she said.

“A lot of them were older than I was and they had their loyalties to Jocelyn, as did I. It was not easy for me, for example, to correct them. But I grew in the role.”

And as she grew in the role, Taylor found that her plans to raise the standard of music the choir was performing, involved taking chances. She trained the ear of the listening public to accept that a performance from the Marionettes would always bring them something different.

The Marionettes Youth Chorale was launched in June 1995, to groom young singers to join the senior Marionettes and to provide a serious musical outlet for young singers and instrumentalists.

This new entity brought with it new challenges.

“The big problem is commitment. The younger generation tends to go wherever the action is. I am not judging whether it is right or wrong but it does make planning very difficult when you are not sure who is going to turn up at rehearsals,” she said.

“And of course, there is a stigma attached to boys singing, which unfortunately is a big factor in a developing country but not in developed countries. So, it is more difficult to attract the boys. Sometimes they are desperate to sing but they don’t because they are afraid of what their peers, and sometimes their parents, would say.

“But as far as I am concerned, it is soul food, so it makes you a more rounded and a more sensitive person.

“There are some, though, who just don’t care about what anybody has to say and I thank God for that.”

Theme for the Marionettes Chorale’s Christmas concert this year, which is also a celebration of the Youth Chorale’s 10th anniversary, is Joyful Song. Performances take place at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s from December 8–11.

International honours:

* Visiting group making the most outstanding contribution to the Cork International Chorale and Dance Festival (1984).

* Second place among all international choirs at the Cork International Festival, madrigal and mixed voice classes (1984).

* Second place among all international choirs at the Middlesborough International Chorale Festival (1992).

Successes at home:

* Championship trophies for all the classes entered in the Trinidad Music Festival 1964 to 1968, before withdrawing from the competition.

* Most Outstanding Performer, 1968 Music Festival.

* Most Outstanding Choir, 1980 Music Festival.

* Humming Bird Medal (Gold) for services to music (1987).

* Humming Bird Medal (Gold) for services to music awarded to conductor Gretta Taylor (1990).

Recordings:

* To Music (1972)

* The Marionettes Live at Queen’s Hall (1989)

* Voices & Steel (1995)

* Christmas with the Marionettes (1998)

* Good News (2002)

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