Music Festival opens amid cry for more sponsorship

Championship adjudicator Dr Richard Tang Yuk gives his remarks  at the opening ceremony of the 35th Biennial Music Festival, at Queen's Hall, St Ann's, on February 18. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle
Championship adjudicator Dr Richard Tang Yuk gives his remarks at the opening ceremony of the 35th Biennial Music Festival, at Queen's Hall, St Ann's, on February 18. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

The Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival Association (TTMFA) launched the 35th edition of its biennial music festival at the Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, on February 18.

The formal speeches at the opening ceremony were punctuated with performances by a National Philharmonic Orchestra ensemble, violinist David Frank and a medley of pieces by the Lydian Singers.

Delivering the opening remarks, chairman of the TTMFA Wendy Jeremie described the festival as the gold standard through which music is upheld in TT.

“Many have participated in the festival and are renowned musicians both locally and globally. The festival was the bedrock for launching their careers in music.”

She added her hope is that the festival can uphold musical standards and provide a positive experience for performers so they can continue their music for as long as possible.

Jeremie said the festival is necessary considering the many challenges facing society.

“Music has the ability to bring people together. It also improves our mood, reduces our anxiety and is therapy for loneliness and social isolation. We communicate, we create and celebrate through music.”

Member of the North Regional Committee Lorraine Granderson said there was a change in the festival’s format this year with the competition adopting a hybrid format.

The National Philharmonic Orchestra plays an ensemble at the opening ceremony of the 35th Biennial Music Festival at Queen's Hall, St Ann's, on February 18. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Granderson, who represented north committee chair Maureen Manchouck, said the preliminaries for all solo classes will be held via online submissions.

She said this was largely for economic reasons and to increase efficiency.

“The festival had no money and we decided that rather than have a million people enter and then only ten turn up, it would have been a waste of time, money, resources and everything. So we decided that people would submit videos and that way we knew exactly how many competitors we were going to have.

“It enabled us to plan a programme and have much more efficiency. Yes, it's new and it causes a little bit of upheaval, but I think at the end of the day it is working.”

The preliminaries for all ensembles, as well as the semifinals and finals for all classes will be conducted live.

The National Championships will also be conducted live and will be held in Port of Spain and San Fernando.

Granderson also noted the declining number of participants, saying the festival has not had the number of entries it had before covid19.

She said teachers have told her the reduction is because the festival is competing with the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) and other examinations for students’ time and attention.

Violinist David Frank plays at the opening ceremony of the 35th Biennial Music Festival at Queen's Hall, St Ann's, on February 18. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

“I remember as a young teacher there would be over 50 primary schools entering and there were no music teachers in the school. It was teachers who had the interest and who taught the children the music and brought them to the festival. Now, SEA has taken over so children cannot sing in choirs because they have SEA and the children have to study.”

She suggested the organisers find a way to encourage teachers to expose the children to the festival.

“We probably need to get together with the ministry and supervisors and school principals to see what kind of plan we can come up with to motivate them.

“I am always very sad because I don't think people realise how important and the kind of value that singing brings to children.”

Chief adjudicator Dr Richard Tang Yuk agreed with Granderson as he cited a German study from 2013 which suggested that music was more beneficial to children than sports.

“According to these scientific studies, there are many benefits of music lessons. It improved reading and verbal skills, mathematical skills, spatial and temporal reasoning…it made you a better listener, made you better learning languages, slowed the effects of ageing, strengthened your motor cortex and it helped your memory.”

He also urged the TTMFA to also consider expanding the festival.

“The Music Festival needs to start thinking beyond a national festival. It should be regional. We should be inviting musicians from other Caribbean islands from the region to participate.”

Tang Yuk noted the lack of corporate sponsorship for the festival with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts named as the lone sponsor for the Trinidad leg of the festival.

He suggested the festival be free to the public which he said might address the issue of sponsorship and low attendance figures.

TT Music Festival Association chairman Wendy Jeremie gives opening remarks at the 35th Biennial Music Festival at Queen's Hall, St Ann's. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

“I heard that the ticket revenue for the entire festival in all zones, is approximately 2.4 per cent of the entire budget. That is negligible. I would recommend that the festival committee consider opening up the entire festival free of charge to the entire public and not charge admission because it's not going to make a dent in your budget. It is better to have the hall full.

“It's easy to say businesses should sponsor the music festival. However…a business person is not going to invest money in an entity unless they're getting something from it. So if we invite a potential sponsor to the music festival, they need to see a packed hall. If they come to the hall and there are only 100 people, they're not going to invest in this. It's not enough mileage for them.”

However, speaking with Newsday, Jeremie said that is not yet an option.

“Our entrance fees are only $10 for children, $20 for adults in the daytime and at night $20 for children, and $40 for adults. So it's not expensive at all. So we have made it extremely affordable so that everybody could still come. But we cannot say free as yet because we need those little pennies.

“We still have to pay caterers, we have to pay for the use of Queen’s Hall, we have to pay our adjudicators and while a lot of it is voluntary, we have to pay those services that we have to pay for.”

She said given the low ticket prices, she didn’t believe that making it free would do much for attendance figures anyway.

“You see the attendance we got yesterday and it was free. We saw a lot of the good old patrons who were mature people. They used to come to the festival and they came out in their numbers yesterday again. I can't say if it would have made such a difference if they weren’t going to pay. If they like it, they would come.”

TTMFA South Regional Committee chairman Jessell Murray gives the vote of thanks at the opening ceremony of the 35th Biennial Music Festival, at Queen's Hall, St Ann's, on February 18. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Delivering the vote of thanks at the opening ceremony, chairman of the south regional committee Jessel Murray defended the ticket prices and urged people to support the festival.

“Whether or not you're paying for it, encourage people to come. It's the best. It's still the best. Especially in terms of value for money. It is the best set of musical endeavours that you can find within TT and who vex loss if I say that it is the best endeavour.”

Jeremie told Newsday she hoped the TT business community would see the importance of investing in the festival.

“I would love them to recognise the importance of music in everybody's life. We have created a lot of careers out of the music passing through the Music Festival. This is helping some people, some children, we could keep them off the streets. We want the children to come (to the festival) and say ‘I want to be like that person there who conducted,’ or ‘I want to play a guitar like that lady’ or ‘I want to sing.’ That's the impact we want to make.”

The festival runs until March 17.


"Music Festival opens amid cry for more sponsorship"

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