By this time 45 years ago, the first members of the Marionettes Chorale had just come together to form a group which has become a national icon and cultural treasure.
Around the middle of 1963, less than a year after Trinidad & Tobago’s independence, a notice appeared in the “Talk of Trinidad” column of the Trinidad Guardian announcing auditions for a new choir. A few days later, outside a small house on Warner Street, a large crowd of hopeful singers turned up. The small audition room could only fit the piano and a few songbirds, so latecomers stood outside on the pavement, waiting their turn – and eventually singing through the window.
The new choir’s directors were Jocelyn Pierre – the music teacher at St Joseph’s Convent (Port of Spain) – and June Williams-Thorne from Holy Name Convent. At first, the choir was all-female, but as the 1964 Music Festival approached, the choir needed male members in order to compete in the mixed-voice classes. Jocelyn turned to friend and colleague, Fr Tim Corcoran at Fatima College for new recruits – and so was born the first choir to be formed in newly-independent Trinidad & Tobago.
The Marionettes made their performing debut in the 1964 Music Festival the following year, singing with founder members Joanne Mendes – still the group’s secretary – and the honourable Mayor of Port of Spain Murchison Brown, who still sings with the group when his schedule permits. In their very first appearance at the Festival, the choir won the coveted JCC Cup as the Best Adult Choir in the competition. The Chorale continued its winning streak over the next 16 years, retiring unbeaten from local competition in 1980, and continuing to distinguish itself in international competition over the next decade.
Then in July 1995, musical director Gretta Taylor, assistant musical director Susan Dore, and founder member and secretary Joanne Mendes – who have run the Chorale since 1974 – answered calls from parents, teachers and scores of young people for the group to begin a youth choir. Like its senior counterpart, the Youth Chorale began as an all-girls choir, with members from 16 schools. Within three years, they had grown to a mixed-voice choir at times exceeding 90 singers from some 40 schools nationwide, and had mounted their own full-length production at Queen’s Hall. The Youth Chorale now hold their own and share the stage with the senior chorale for at least two full-length productions at Queen’s Hall each year.
In the coming months, the Marionettes look forward to honouring, remembering, and sharing a rich and powerful history as they approach the 45th anniversary of their first public performance. They do this with the generous and unstinting support of bpTT, who have sponsored the group since 1972 and who have been an immeasurable part of the group’s continued success and community work.
The Marionettes bring 2008 to a close with their eagerly anticipated December production, Holiday Moods. This will not only be the group’s fifth major undertaking for the year – with performances at the Trinidad & Tobago Music Festival and Steelpan Jazz Festival, and hosting A Concert of Festival Champions and hugely successful mid-year series, Tributes – but will also mark the official launch of their latest holiday album, Sing Noël.
Holiday Moods opens at the Queen’s Hall on December 4th with a gala benefiting the Trinidad & Tobago Cancer Society, and runs until December 7th. The series also includes a special matinee performance for children’s and senior citizens’ homes on Saturday 6th at 3pm. Tickets go on sale from November 10th at the Queen’s Hall Box Office and from members of the choirs.