Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Dr Curtis Watson creates choirs. Brandenburg Singers annual concert November 1

Published:Friday | October 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Members of The Brandenburg Singers.
Dr Curtis Watson (centre) with members of The Brandenburg Singers. PhotoS by Michael Reckord
Rhonda Lumsden Lue (left), Dr Curtis Watson (centre), and Monica Shakespeare, of The Brandenburg Singers.
Dr Curtis Watson in conductor mode.
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Michael Reckord, Contributor

Internationally, bass-baritone Dr Curtis Watson is best known as an opera singer.

In 1979, while studying at the School of Music in Jamaica, he was awarded a joint Soviet-Jamaica Government scholarship to study Opera and Concert Singing at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. During his six years there, Watson became the first foreigner to win a medal in the Glinka All Soviet Competition.

In 1994, he won first prize at the Mario del Monaco International Opera Competition in Germany and diplomas in the Belvedere International Opera, Glinka, and Byelorussian Ministry of Culture competitions.

He has sung roles in The Marriage of Figaro, Faust, La Tosca, Il Travatore, and Porgy and Bess, among other operas and musicals, and has won acclaim across Europe, the former Soviet Union, North America, the Caribbean and Japan as an opera and concert singer.

But getting others to sing has also been "a passion" from Watson's early music days, especially getting others to sing chorally. So he has formed many choirs and trained and conducted even more. That's one reason why, in 1996, The Mico College's 150th anniversary year, Dr Watson was honoured for Distinguished Service to the Development of Music Education in Jamaica.

"My first serious choir was the Inter-Frat Choir, which I formed while at Mico College as a student many moons ago," Watson told me. "Every Thursday, the various fraternities would have meetings, and out of that situation, I formed the choir."

Interestingly, at Mico, Watson studied industrial science along with his real love, music, graduating with a teacher's diploma and getting the Mico Award for Excellence. He taught for a couple of years then enrolled at the School of Music, where he studied with English baritone Robert Williams and Jamaican Joyce Britton.

Youth Chorale

"Later, when I left Mico," Watson continued, "I rejuvenated the group and used young people from the high schools where I taught and renamed it the Inter-Frat Youth Chorale. We did a lot of work, including some big works like Mozart's Coronation Mass and Beethoven's (only) oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives. This was before I went to Russia."

In Russia, Watson got formal training in conducting and formed the Moscow International choir, composed largely of diplomats. "The members came from the embassies, mainly the British and American," Watson said. "It was really interesting."

After returning home from Russia, Watson continued to work with choirs, one of the earliest being The University Singers. "I did two weeks of workshops and master classes with them," he said. "They still talk about it."

He also helped to train the Pantomime Company's chorus at the Little Theatre and a number of church choirs around Jamaica. "I've worked with choirs in Mandeville and Montego Bay," he said, "and with the Edna Manley College choir."

He guided the singing for a number of Curtis Watson and Friends concerts and formed the Jamaica Festival Opera, a project especially dear to his heart. "It is non-functional at the moment," he said, "but we did some really interesting work, like Verdi's Aida and Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors."

Dr Watson now has a new choir, The Brandenburg Singers. It was formed about four years ago and has been giving annual concerts since. This year's concert will be on Saturday, November 1, at the Temple of Light Centre for Spiritual Living, Fairway Avenue, Kingston 10.

I spoke with Watson after Sunday's service, the singing for which was noticeably richer than usual because of the presence of The Brandenburg Singers. The ensemble has been doing more than just annual concerts, Watson told me.

"We had our debut at St Margaret's Church, we have performed before at the Temple of Light and we do the odd performance here and there. We sang twice for the Ward Theatre Foundation and also for the St Elizabeth Homecoming Foundation," he said.

Explaining the name Brandenburg, Watson said he wanted something exotic. "The name comes from Germany, of course. A lot of people will know of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, the famous German landmark, and those who know music will know Johann Sebastian Bach's Brandenburg concertos," he said.

The group is a diverse one. "We have all sorts of professionals. There's a master jeweller in the person of Carol Campbell and a number of music teachers, including Monica Shakespeare and Orville Manning. We have former and current members of The University Singers. Rhonda Lumsden Lue is a member of the NDTC Singers. What unites them is a love for music," Watson said.

What pieces will audiences hear at the November 1 concert?

"Mozart's Coronation Mass will be the centrepiece," Watson said. "And we're doing the Alleluia chorus from Beethoven's Christ on the Mount of Olives and other Alleluia pieces, and also Negro Spirituals."

The concert begins at 7:00 p.m.