National Junior Panorama winner in the primary schools category, Guaico Presbyterian Steel Orchestra had an experience of a lifetime earlier this month when its members toured and played at schools in Maryland, US on the invitation of the Cultural Academy for Excellence (CAFE). CAFE is a youth-based performing arts programme that seeks to instil discipline for learning, leadership and academic achievement to at-risk children.
The Sangre Grande students were invited to play at the CAFE graduation, and the 30 students stunned their host with their renditions of both the US and TT national anthems, Kees’ Savannah Grass, Bruno Mars’ Finesse and Michelle Williams’ (When Jesus) Say Yes. The Guaico students even learned to play Baby Shark as a special treat to the youngest students in their audience. Newsday visited the Panorama champs at their school a week after they returned from tour and spoke to Anna Noel, artistic director of the orchestra. “They (CAFE) were pleased to see students who are so young; they played instruments, they knew that they had sticks in their hands, but they were amazed how the songs came out and how powerful the music sounded. It impacted their life,” she said.
Their first performance was at Veterans Memorial Park. June is Caribbean Heritage Month and they were invited to an event that showcased Caribbean culture. There were displays from countries such as Barbados and Jamaica, but Noel said the Guaico students stole the show as people were awestruck to hear children from TT perform.
“It meant a lot to know that the kids came from TT and they delivered. They represented in song and represented the national instrument in fine style. It impacted on their lives. In terms of the kids, it was a bit overwhelming at first, all these people staring at us expecting to deliver our music with such grace and poise. And that touched their hearts, to know they were put in the spotlight and persons were depending on them to do well and they did great,” Noel said.
But it was not all fun and games, as they were expected to be as disciplined on the trip as they were when they were preparing for the Panorama competition. They were required to wake up early on the mornings they had to perform, and some of the students complained that the schedule was too hectic. But Noel said the students carried themselves like professionals and played with enthusiasm. “We saw the eyes and the ‘Miss, we have to get up?’ but they handled it well. They slept on the way to their performance but by the time they reached there they were fresh,” she said.
The students were accompanied by teachers and chaperones, fathers and mothers, who also helped with lifting and transporting the equipment from one venue to another. Noel said it was a joy to see them bond with the children. “We had parents who volunteered to come on tour with us and chaperon. I must say the guys stepped up. We had three guys on tour with us and they really assisted the students, the boys especially. It was really nice to see the fathers bonding with the boys. They had to think very quickly, especially when things did not go to plan,” she said.
Prior to their return home the students got to do a bit of shopping and sightseeing in New York. Some of them, Noel said, were in awe of seeing the Statue of Liberty in real life.
But Noel said it was a struggle raising the funds to get to Maryland, and she explained that even now there are still outstanding fees to be paid. The orchestra will be hosting a concert on July 7 to raise funds, and that, coupled with a promise by the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts to contribute $25,000 towards the outstanding debt, Noel said, hopefully will cover the cost of it.