THE 2012 concert season of the Diocesan Festival Choir at the St Margaret's Anglican Church in Liguanea, St Andrew, on Sunday afternoon, got off to an excellent start.
Under the distinguished patronage of the Rt Rev Dr Howard Gregory (Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands), the festival's theme 'From Felsted to Marley', celebrated the works of Jamaican composers across several musical genres.
The first half of the concert was around the Oratorio — Jonah — written in 1775 by Samuel Felsted, who was at the time organist of the St Andrew Parish Church.
Based on the biblical story of Jonah, this Oratorio (large musical composition including orchestra, choir, and soloists) is recognised in classical music circles as the first complete work of its kind to be performed in the New World.
The opening section belonged to soloist Peter Dawes, whose tenor pitch registered impeccably. Hitting all the right chords, with accompanists Audley Davidson and Ann Trouth in excellent form, Dawes warmed the hearts of the appreciative gathering with his splendid renditions of Billows Around My Head and Repent Ye Men of Nineveh.
After an intermission, the musical journey continued with patriotic numbers and songs of worship, all with a Jamaican flavour, culminating in those with Rastafari influences. In this half of the concert, veteran arranger Noel Dexter was instrumental in the arrangement of no less than five of the songs. In this respect, Dr Olive Lewin, Beryl Donaldson, Carl Anthony Hines and Eric Levy were also credited for having contributed to the high quality of the marvellous presentations.
Even though there was a specific segment allotted to the Rastafari influence, the second half of the musical journey traversed a variety of genres including worship and patriotic songs. But overall, the Rastafari influence was dominant. Beginning with the St Luke's Sign Language Ministry featuring some young members of that organisation executing movements in sign language to the strains of Bob Marley's Three Little Birds. Interestingly, the other song that provided the soundtrack for their interpretation was, We Will Glorify the King of Kings.
With the full choir conducted by Michael Sutherland, performing all the songs in this stanza, a number of them had the distinct melody of Rastafarian Nyahbinghi-flavoured beat, albeit sometimes partially. Among them were the Noel Dexter arranged Te Deum Laudamus and the Olive Lewin-arranged Holy Mount Zion which listed as one of the songs for the Rastafari section. The others under that heading were Marley's Redemption Song another Dexter-arranged number, and Peter Tosh's Creation (Jah is My Keeper) arranged by Winston Ewart.
No less fascinating were the performances of Our Freedom Song, O Praise Ye the Lord, The Lord Is My Shepherd on all of which Dexter's influence was evident. In terms of arrangement, Beryl Donaldson made her mark on Oh, Island of Jamaica and Caribbean Hallelujah while Carl Anthony Hines was magnificent on The Magnificat. The Rt Rev Dr Robert Thompson, who gave the invocation and welcome, was the narrator. The season continues with a second performance at the St James Cathedral in Spanish Town, St Catherine on Sunday, October 21 at 4:00 pm.
— Basil Walters