Thursday, April 18, 2024

THE BIG PICTURE: The Kolij Mosaic


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The Harrison College (HC) PTA recently presented a musical tribute to its first native headmaster, Albert Williams, and to Janice Millington-Robertson, who for over three decades was the driving force behind the college’s music department. The event was a fitting tribute to two teachers whose contribution to the school cannot be overstated.
Watching the Saturday performance, one could not but be impressed by the amount of talent that passed through HC in the period between 1965 and 2002 and beyond. This was striking because in the period before 1965 the school renowned for its academic excellence, sporting prowess and high behavioural standards, was not particularly recognised for its creative cultural output.
Between 1953 and 1962, art was taught as a mainstream curricular subject only in the preparatory school and music was limited to musical appreciation in the sixth form and the Glee Club under the direction of Gerald Hudson. To the extent that this was part of a curricular model, it was one that emphasised musical listening rather than engagement, performance and creativity. In contrast, at Combermere, James Millington was producing quite accomplished musicians such as Willis Cummins, Mike Williams, Erwin Brathwaite and Gus Brathwaite.     
After becoming headmaster, Williams who possessed a keen aesthetic sense and was himself a competent flautist, introduced art and music as mainstream subjects within the college curriculum.
Janice Millington joined the staff in September of 1970 and set about organising the music department on a more structured basis than had Peter Billington who was the first head of music. In the late 1960s and 70s Barbadian society witnessed a movement of iconographic reconstruction reflecting the expression of an emerging nativist Caribbean centred identity.
In this context it was Janice’s work to bring her students’ talents to fruition with considerable success.  
As the term mosaic suggests, the concert comprised many genres, because although Janice’s first love was probably the classical repertoire, she appreciated and encouraged her students to experiment with all aspects of musical creativity. The music department provided an environment for wide creative musical expression expanding the potential of our embryonic musical culture.
For those of us for whom music at HC meant Hudson’s Beethoven and Mozart and Borodin, it seemed odd to hear jazz, calypso, soca, pop, rock and reggae sounds emanating from the precincts of Janice’s music room. At one speech day, the HC girls performed Arrow’s Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot, leading the late Rev. Romney Moseley to imagine what might be Mr Hammond’s thoughts about girls dancing on the stage of the HC Hall to the song.
A long way from his admonition when it was reported to Hammond that one HC boy was seen playing steel band on weekends. Hammond would never have imagined that one HC boy, would one day become chairman of the NCF and that the college would have its own steel-pan orchestra.  
In the first half, the outstanding performers included Brendon Phillips on the flute and David Weatherhead accompanied by Eric Cobham. Karl Smith almost unrecognisable in a formal grey suit performed two movements from Handel’s Sonata No.7.
It was nice to see that Karl has kept up playing the classical repertoire, as he has become more known for his penny whistle in Wayne Willock’s tuk band. John Roett, on piano, played his hauntingly beautiful composition You Hold My Heart about a young girl who finds love after a troubled past.
After the Intermission NexCyx with Chris Clarke got us off to a rousing start and the Mosaic Jazz Band and the Mosaic Big Band led by Andre Woodvine gave some tremendous performances. For a group that must have been only recently assembled the band sounded like the great bands of the early jazz era.
 Rosemary Phillips, accompanied by Willie Kerr, delighted with a professionalism worthy of bigger occasions and Ayanna John and Debbie Reiffer of Cover Drive exhibited some breathtaking aspects of performance. As stage performers, Smokey Burke and Adonijah were electrifying, and Emile Straker did three memorable Merrymen standards.
There was more to the occasion than music. The spoken word by Marc-Ari Weekes, who recounted the “trauma” of the transition from primary school to HC, and the now recognisable verbal artistry and insight of Adrian Greene added to the merriment and thoughtfulness of the evening. The whole event was expertly emceed by Andrew Pilgrim who has honed the skills premiered at the HC’s Music 100 concerts during his days at the college.
The Mosaic concert was a verifier of Barbadian talent and creativity. Congratulations must go to David Weatherhead and the organisers comprising Roger Gittens, Ricky Brathwaite, Nicholas Brancker, Adrian Husbands, Brendon Phillips and Nathan Richards for conceiving and executing the project. Janice would have been proud of the evening and hopefully might have awarded a mark of 98 per cent, not a mark more.   


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