Two worship-filled weekend concerts
Edna Manley College School of Music lecturer June Lawson is laying claim to one of the most revered periods on the Christian calendar, Good Friday afternoons, as her show time. So last Friday, at the University Chapel, Mona, she introduced the Jamaican public to 'Reflective Worship', a concert she plans to make an annual event.
Thirty-four years ago, the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) made its claim on an equally revered time, Easter mornings at daybreak, and, as usual, Sunday saw another staging of the company's Morning of Movement and Music at The Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue.
Both concerts had enthusiastic audiences, but the people in the chapel had to wait 30 minutes past the scheduled start at 5 p.m., for emcee Vivian Crawford to take the microphone and give both an apology for lateness and a welcome. The well-practised NDTC concert began right on time, at 6 a.m.
Giving an overview of Reflective Worship, Crawford said that the audience would be listening to words and music as they reflected on Jesus' crucifixion. Over the course of the next hour, while quoting humorous or inspirational sayings by famous people, he introduced Lawson and her friends as well as the 20 or so items making up the programme.
The friends were instrumenta-lists Paulette Bellamy and Jon Williams (who accompanied many of the singers), viola player Darren Young, tenor Roy Thompson, trumpeter Channiel Christian, gospel singers Kimiela 'Candy' Isaacs and Trevel Clarke, the singing group Chosen Six and keyboardist Sidney Thorpe, who is best known as a member of the Fab 5 band.
Not all the items were entertaining or of high quality, but there were some half dozen that were both. In the first half, Lawson sang, I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked, My Lord What a Morning and His Eye is on the Sparrow, with compelling reverence.
Thompson managed to get both tremendous power and lots of vocal colour for Bizet's slow, solemn Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and the lively spiritual Ride on King Jesus. The dramatic ending he gave to the latter, elicited cheers and applause.
Even more dramatic and exciting were Bellamy and Williams' instrumental tunes that closed the concert's first half. The first, I'll Walk With God, saw Bellamy on the organ and Williams on the keyboard, but for the medley of spirituals (Have a Little Talk with Jesus and Little David Play on Your Harp), Bellamy picked up her violin while Williams took her place at the organ. In addition to the cheers and applause (which Thompson had also received), the duo got excited screams.
Christian's first tune on the trumpet, Your Are The Strength Of My Life, was pedestrian, but his second item, a medley which included Something In My Heart Like a River, When The Saints Go Marching In and Down By The Riverside, was excellent.
The sincerity that marked many of the earlier songs was quite absent from Clarke's and Isaacs' jazzy versions of The Old Rugged Cross and Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, respectively, and Isaacs' Can't Live a Day Without You came across as more romantic than religious.
But for the final item, the bouncy Donnie McClurkin hit Days of Elijah (Behold He Comes Riding on the Clouds), the two joined with others to become the Chosen Six and really ended the show on a high note.
There was not one weak item in the NDTC's 16-item programme. The dancing began, as usual, with gracefully executed warm-up exercises choreographed by Kevin Moore. While the full complement of dancers ran, jumped and spun across the stage, the NDTC Singers sang and the company orchestra accompanied them.
The show ended the way the Easter concerts always end, with dancers, singers and orchestra again combining to perform composer Noel Dexter's joyous Psalm 150. Between the first and last items were other spirit-filled pieces built from dance, song, the spoken word and music.
Art, too, had an input, for many of the costumes were simply gorgeous; and, really, one of the delights of the concert was the variety of sensory appeals packed into the mere 80 minutes it lasted.
Clive Thompson's 1995 dance, 'Vision', choreographed to Willard White's Deep River and Aaron Neville's Ave Maria, featured the company's king and queen of dance, Mark Phinn and Kerry-Ann Henry. Dressed in full white, they showed superb grace and control, visually matching the beauty of the songs.
They were followed by NDTC Singer Grace Livingstone singing, solo, I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, with guest pianist Stephen Shaw-Naar sensitively accompanying her. Traditionally at these concerts, the company's dancers and singers appear alternately on stage - except for special pieces where they appear together. However, on Sunday there was a pleasant surprise, Livingston was followed by poetry.
The poem, Day of the Palms, by Easton Lee, was read by well-known actress/broadcaster Fae Ellington and interpreted in a dance by Tamara Noel, Kayon Wray and Kemar Francis (choreographed by Oniel Pryce). Musical backing came from Steve Golding on guitar and Andrae Wilson on keyboard.
Another departure from the norm came in the performance by guest singer Joseph Roach and three back-up singers. Accompanied by the NDTC orchestra, he sang an energetic reggae gospel number, Thou Oh Lord, about courage and gratitude.
There were a number of colourful, enjoyable ensemble dances, but two contrasting solos deserve special mention. Phinn danced Kevin Moore's I Find No Peace, with the requisite pain and distress, while Marisa Benain joyfully danced the other, A New Dawn (Monika Lawrence) to Nina Simone's song, Feeling Good - which was the mood of the audience as, shortly after, they exited the theatre and walked into a bright, sunny Easter morning.