Having raised well over half a million dollars for various community initiatives over the last two years, the Marionettes Chorale goes back to its roots this July, as the second concert in their Hearts Beat Together 3 series takes place at St. Joseph’s Convent (Port of Spain) on Saturday 7th July, to help the school raise funds for the restoration of their chapel.
It was around this time 55 years ago that a notice appeared in the “Talk of Trinidad” column of the Trinidad Guardian, announcing the formation of a new choir and inviting singers to come for an audition. The notice had been placed by two SJC teachers — Jocelyn Pierre and June Williams-Thorne — who were looking to start a new choir. It was to be the first choir formed in a newly independent Trinidad & Tobago.
The response was tremendous. A few days later, outside Jocelyn’s small house on Warner Street, a crowd of hopeful singers turned up to have their voices assessed. The small room with the big piano was soon crowded; latecomers stood outside on the sidewalk and, when their turn came, sang through the window. Many of the young singers were past pupils of SJC, including founder member Joanne Mendes.
For male choristers, Jocelyn turned to her counterpart at Fatima College, Father Tim Corcoran, and recruited graduates from his Dominic Savio choir and keen young voices from elsewhere. Among these young men was the former Mayor of Port of Spain, Murchison Brown.
This new mixed voice choir gave its first public performance at the 1964 Music Festival, where it copped the coveted JCC Cup for Best Adult Choir. The group went from strength to strength in the following years. In addition to increasing its trophy hauls at the Music Festival, it made history in 1968 — along with the Pan Am Jet North Stars — by becoming the first choral group to blend voices with steel, in a trailblazing concert at Queen’s Hall.
After June’s and Jocelyn’s departures (Jocelyn left for Canada in 1974 to further her education), singing member Gretta Francis Taylor — herself an alumna of and teacher at SJC POS — was chosen to assume the role of conductor in 1974, with fellow member Susan Dore as her assistant, and founder member Joanne Mendes as secretary. Dore retired at the end of 2011, but continues as director of the Property Fund. Joining the executive committee in 2011–12 were Dr Roger Henry as Assistant Musical Director (himself both a former singing member of the Marionettes, and a former SJC POS teacher), Caroline Taylor as Assistant Artistic Director (also an SJC alumna), and Jacqueline Smith as Assistant Production Manager.
In the decades since its formation, the Marionettes Chorale has grown to include multiple generations and members from a range of backgrounds. In 1995, the Youth Chorale was formed — first as an all-female ensemble, comprising several SJC students who had studied under Gretta Taylor, and then later as a mixed voice choir. Together, the Marionettes Youth Chorale and Children’s Choir (formed in 2012) number nearly 100 singers from over 60 primary, secondary, and tertiary education institutions.
Both Marionettes co-founder Jocelyn Pierre (Chaconia Medal, Silver) and current director Gretta Taylor (Hummingbird Medal, Gold) are inductees of the St Joseph’s Convent Port of Spain Hall of Fame. Among several other national awards and international prizes, the Marionettes Chorale is the recipient of the Hummingbird Medal,Gold, for its outstanding contribution to music.
Hearts Beat Together 3 will showcase the Marionettes’ three choirs performing a range of music — spirituals, gospel, pop, Broadway, calypso classics arranged by Desmond Waithe, and much more. Classical music lovers will especially look forward to excerpts from John Rutter’s beautiful and rhythmic Mass of the Children. And fans of some of the nation’s top soloists of all ages — including Hermina Charles, SJC alum Jacqueline Johnson, SJC student Dominique Akal, SJC St Joseph student Annalise Emmanuel, and several first place and Championship winners from the last T&T Music Festival — won’t leave disappointed.
Tickets for the St. Joseph’s Convent performance are already on sale, and are just $150. They’re available from the St Joseph’s Convent (POS) office (625-4502) and Past Pupils Association (752-1801); Craft Creators (West Mall and Trincity Mall); Adam’s Bagels; Kitchen Corner in Long Circular Mall; from choir members; and from the Marionettes production team (790-1751, 9am–6pm; and firstname.lastname@example.org). Tickets for the All Saints (Friday 6th, 7:30pm) and St. Mary’s Anglican Church (Sunday 8th, 5:00pm) performances are available from the All Saints Church Office (627-7004) and St. Mary’s Church office (640-4429). Tickets for all performances may also be reserved online.