AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Glenda Collens and I am a vocal coach.
I didn’t know I was a Trinidadian till I went to high school and met Trinidadians for the first time. I come from a Grenadian village on Lady Young Road, Morvant.
I’m first-generation Trinidadian, conceived in Grenada. My mother was four months pregnant with me when she came. My entire life before Boston University was up in Morvant.
I now live in Cascade with my husband, Shane, my son, Christopher Bolandz, my pride and joy, two rescue cats and one rescue dog.
When it was time to settle down, Shane was it. I would see this guy running around the Savannah and had no idea who he was, but thought he was hot!
Someone suggested him as a guitarist for my musical. I gave him my numbers in the corner store and that was it.
In the village where I grew up, there was only one Trinidadian family. I didn’t know that there was a difference between “us” and “them” until high school, (when) I was made aware of the difference by “them.”
My mother would remind me to not let anyone know where my family was from for fear of the label of “small islander come here to thief natives’ jobs.”
On the wave of Independence, Prime Minister Eric Williams promised the “small islanders” their own land and a better life in return for their votes.
He put them in the thicket hills of Laventille, Morvant, Barataria, Diego Martin and Carenage. Cow-itch, stinging nettle, gru-gru bef trees and endless snakes.
Hence today the generational vote is guaranteed, no matter the condition of their lives.
In 2010, I lost my mother Joyce, my guiding light. Her death left a huge void.
She was also the glue who held the family together. When she died, (the family I came from) died.
I was raised Catholic, christened, baptised and communed, but none of it stuck.
If there is a God, I’m not impressed. If this is the best the omnipotent maker can do, I have a lot of questions as to his intent. If he exists, he is having a belly laugh at our expense.
I don’t do anything special to relax because I think I’m relaxed all the time.
But my son or husband will probably have a different answer.
The “change of life” started in my 48th year so it’s been ten years of extreme difficulty. I’ve had to change into a semi-retirement state of being. My energy level is under half what it was. I have these sweats every hour on the hour, sometimes more than one, and it leaves me lifeless. Moving about is like running a marathon. (Twice) each day.
It’s exhausting. It has no mercy.
Carnival is life. Since the advent of “the rope” culture, I storm bands to see how long it will take before they toss me out.
Shane thinks it’s hysterical because they never do. He chips along on the outside rope while I way-lay-way-lay meh body with each band.
I’ve stayed what BC Pires calls “gorgeous” because I’ve always been too poor to afford the best chocolates.
And I’ve stayed slim eating my favourite dish, dumpling and stew beef, for the same reason.
I’ve always been too poor to eat out and have never eaten store-bought food, junk food or fast foods.
I’m also very vain. I was born with a great starter kit, I love it and I’m keeping it.
I don’t consider myself a teacher, but a coach. I may introduce new techniques, but I assume they already can sing and work with what they come with.
I’d never thought of my voice as extraordinary, until recently and only in retrospect. It’s always just been my voice.
I really do love singing and it’s the one thing I’m really very good at. In form five, just a teenager, I was plucked out of the Holy Name chorus by the British conductor and composer Havelock Nelson to cover the lead in an opera. I know now what a big deal it was.
I sang a lead role in Waves of Hope at the Old Fire Station Theatre and Derek Walcott wanted to meet me because he did not believe I was actually singing.
“Great show,” he said to the producers, Bernard Hazell and Ricardo Nanton, “but why did you have that girl miming to a recording?”
I honestly can’t remember that I felt anything but amused that this man – I didn’t know who he was – thought I was not singing. Seemed the silliest thing to me. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
I was 24 and ran away to NYC with my “stipend” from the bank because I’d heard from that song that, if you can make it there you can make it anywhere. I believed it.
And I did. I auditioned for the right people, got noticed right away and got to study with Ms Betty Allen at the Manhattan School of Music and the Harlem School of the Arts with funding from patrons of the arts I did not know, who wanted nothing in return but to have the talent nurtured.
New York City was extraordinary.
To be in a place where no one was minding your business was the first shock.
To be in a place where people opened the door to talent without a question (was the big shock).
And then treated that talent like something rare. It was the same wherever I sang outside of Trinidad.
(At home,) until Bernard Hazell and Ricardo Nanton, no one had ever told me how special my sound was. They told me so every day.
I’m working with a really gifted 17-year-old right now, who featured in my show at Fiesta Plaza last month. She has no idea of the strength of her instrument, the same way I suspect I had no idea when I was her age. I was understudying Juliet Eckel and Fritz Nothnagel-Gurley and singing duets with Maurice Brash at the age of 16 in the Trinidad Opera Company.
My 21-year-old son recently told me to stop investing and believing in the potential of people when they are unable to live up to what I see in them.
I am compelled to help. My prime directive is, take little to live long. I take only the jobs that will make me happy, and not necessarily the job that pays the big money.
Mango should be eaten straight from the tree, with the juice squirting down the back of your throat. And not messed with, like in chow. All that salt and pepper makes me want to slap someone. I gag at the thought of mango pepper chocolate.
Being able to see the world with the power of song was awesome and I don’t think there were any standout moments on stage, because they were all standout moments…
But my last role as an opera singer and a standing ovation for a couple minutes was pretty amazing. Huntington Theatre, in the role of Ms Addie in Marc Blitzstein’s opera Regina. The role was already cast, but I wanted it so bad, I convinced the auditioning panel to listen to me at the end of a long day for them. They were already packing up.
I killed the audition, got the role, sang my a-s off and got lots of kudos.
Over 15 years, I find myself being the best-kept secret of vocal coaching.
It was once a thing of pride to say who you studied voice with; not so much these days. Singers really want everyone to think they were born equipped with great technique.
I don’t talk about the people I coach because they don’t publicly mention my name. But I’ve coached many singers into Broadway musicals. One even made it into Hamilton, the musical.
I’m sick to death of violence by males with fragile egos who think women are to be owned.
I’ve been working with abused women, helping women find their voice again. Women who have been raped, who had their throats squeezed to stop them from making a sound.
I once tried to get funding to do a workshop for more than just the few each year I can manage to coach for free, but it’s such an undertaking. The politics and red tape of getting connected with the right groups and having to deal with the personalities to get anything done defeats me. So I manage to be satisfied with the little I’m doing.
Since the question is “What is a Trini?” and not “Who is a Trini?” I’m interpreting that to mean what a Trini does.
So a Trini is a bringer of true joy to the world with our culture, food and music.
Today Trinidad means to me all things bright and beautiful.
Read the full version of this feature on Saturday at www.BCPires.com