National awardee and chairman of the Junior Calypso Committee Thora Best says she would like to see more teachers using calypso to teach students English, literature and history.
“It takes a little effort but it can be done.”
She made the comment during an interview with Sunday Newsday at her office at the Catholic Education Board in Belmont.
Best, who won a Humming Bird Medal (Gold) for National Development and Public Service during the national awards ceremony on Republic Day, said when she was a teacher she would use calypso in the classroom and it made the class exciting and relevant to the children. She said there are calypsoes for every occasion and can be used to teach local and international history, figures of speech, grammar and when to use dialect and when to use standard English.
On her national award, Best said when she was told she had been nominated she experienced a “whirlwind of emotions” including euphoria.
“Me? Why me?”
Best said she is not a “front line person” and she does not like the spotlight. She said now that she is a national awardee she will have to work harder and step up her game.
Her daughter told her she deserved the award because she had worked long and hard.
On the night of the ceremony, Best felt like a “ball of nerves” but when she went up to receive the award she felt gratitude. She received an “outpouring of congratulations” from everyone.
Best said she never worked to get a national award but she was following one of her mantras handed down from her parents – to whom much is given much is expected.
“Always giving and doing something for someone else.”
Best said she was never someone to sit down and be idle and became a teacher at a young age, was a school scout leader, choir mistress, led chorale speaking national committee, has always been involved in her parish church St Dominic’s RC in Morvant and has worked with the Port of Spain East Lions group though she has been too busy to be a member.
She is the former principal of Rose Hill RC Primary in Port of Spain where she “did a lot of work.”
“My heart is in the Laventille Morvant area.”
After she retired, Best was asked to join the Catholic Education Board as a vicariate manager to supervise Catholic schools in Port of Spain environs.
Best has been involved in junior calypso for 40 years and her first exposure was as a teacher carrying her students to a calypso show. She and other teachers were invited to be a part of the Junior Calypso Committee and in 2007 she became chairman.
One of her joys was seeing the children graduate from junior calypso and then do well in the adult arena. She said calypsonians like Heather McIntosh , Helon Francis, and former monarchs Karene Asche, Devon Seale, Duane O’Connor and Roderick “Chucky” Gordon all passed through junior calypso. “I feel like a proud mama. So proud of them.”
She said they all call her “Aunty Thora” and are happy to see her.
She said junior calypso was not only about singing calypso but it is a developmental activity. As part of the process they have a workshop where they teach the history of calypso, figurative language and stage craft.
She recalled in the early days of junior calypso, calypsonian Lord Relator (Willard Harris) and two musicians would play while the children would sing. She said now the children have pre-recorded background music.
Best said another big change, and one she does not like, is that junior calypso has become “a bit too competitive.” She said the competition is for the parents and not the children as the latter back each other up for performances even on the day of competition.
The junior calypsonians also participate in a roving tent which goes to schools. Best said the tent eliminates the competition and the junior calypsonians can bond and develop camaraderie.
She said the public is very supportive of junior calypso and there is a particular group that attends every year. Best said they are drawn by how well the children, ages five to about 18, perform.
“There are juniors who can give senior a run for their money.”
She said they can command a stage and their lyrics are not lewd or political but enjoyable. Best said she personally enjoys the calypsos and after junior calypso her Carnival “could finish.” Best said she likes different calypsonians but her favourites are David Rudder and Stalin. She said the corporate sector also supports them and their biggest supporter is First Citizens which provided all monetary prizes. Central Bank provided trophies and TSTT has assisted with financing at times.
Best is also announcer for children’s parade of the bands and a member of the Uptown Carnival Committee following on from her late father Winston Best who was chairman. Her father, a Justice of the Peace, was kidnapped and murdered in early 2008 and a maxi taxi driver was held for the crime.
She said the national award is for everyone who has been a part of her life and worked with her.
“Because of them I was able to achieve this.” She said her parents were very service-oriented so she has it in her genes. Best said her mother was very excited about her receiving a national award. She told her, “If your father was alive he would have been so proud.”