Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Graduating singers impress

Published:Friday | June 5, 2015 | 6:00 AMMichael Reckord
Jessica Barrett singing during her final year concert.
Keyboard player Oniel Dacres (left) and singer Jessica Barrett.
Keiko Smith performs during her final year presentation at the Vera Moody Concert Hall, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Arthur Wint Drive, St Andrew, recently.
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As the school year draws to a close, the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) offers the public quite a few fine free shows annually. They are mounted by final-year students as part of their academic programmes.

At 7 p.m. tomorrow, three graduating students of the School of Drama are scheduled to make their presentations of short, thesis-based dramatic works they have created. It should be the second of two sets of presentations in the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre. The first was scheduled for last night.

Also scheduled for tomorrow is the start of the EMCVPA School of Art's annual exhibition by graduating students. On display will be student works from the ceramics, painting, textiles, jewellery, sculpture, visual communication, and printmaking departments. The exhibition will be open to the public from late afternoon.

The School of Dance was first off the mark this year. Its final year presentations (which, unfortunately, I missed) were staged on May 1, 5, 8, and 12 in the School's Bert Rose Theatre.

As that series was ending, graduating students of the School of Music started mounting their week of shows from May 11 to 19 in the Vera Moody Concert Hall. On different evenings, I caught the presentations of two excellent singers, Jessica Barrett and Keiko Smith.

On stage for about 40 minutes, each did 10 songs - as they were mandated to do - in a variety of styles. Both had back-up singers, but while Barrett used a duo (Racquel Stephenson and Carl Scharschmid), Smith used a trio (Camille Folks, Deondra Riley, and Deadrian Mardener).

Barrett and Smith had backing bands and all concerned performed their tasks in a very professional manner. You could have been in a regular nightclub, except you weren't spending money.

At Barrett's show, I enjoyed all the songs, but, not surprisingly, she put extra 'oomph' into her final one, I Was Here, a song about the persona's desire to leave his or her "footprints on the sands of time". Judging from the applause the friendly audience - mainly EMCVPA students - also especially enjoyed Titanium, Willow Weep For Me, and the Nicki Minaj hit Moment 4 Life.

Barrett told me she does not plan to go into the classroom as so many EMCVPA graduates do. She wants to perform. Barrett said she found the four-year music programme "challenging".

"I'm really an introvert. It forced me to come out of myself and find my own voice," Barrett said. A lecturer who was particularly helpful in making her aware of her culture was Michael 'Ibo' Cooper, well known for his earlier association with Third World.

Church and soul

The school's promotional material refers to Smith as "a student of Lori Burnett," who, like Cooper, is both a lecturer and performer. Smith's thesis, the audience was told, was The Influence of Church Music on Soul Singers. However, apart from her opening thanks to God for "making the presentation possible" and the second and third songs (A Mother's Prayer and Thank You Lord, respectively) I could discern no religious bent to her show.

Something He Can Feel was a suggestive love song and Come Find Me a bouncy reggae tune. Golden was jazz, as was Wish I Didn't Miss You.

While Barrett changed clothes about four times, Smith did so only once, ending up in a tight, black leather outfit. Her last song, Lose to Win, had the audience singing along. Generally, they loved her very dynamic stage personality.

After the show, I had a chat with School of Music Director Roger Williams about the music programme. He said this set of students is graduating with a bachelor's degree in jazz and popular music; however, future graduates will be getting degrees in music in performance: contemporary music studies.

Happily, most music graduates get jobs in bands right away, Williams told me. In fact, some receive job offers before they graduate. "That means we have to be fighting to keep them in school," he admitted. "Many leave before graduating, thinking they'll be living their dream life [working], but often, they get tired of the [working] life and find they need a degree to fall back on."

When I commented on how self-assured and free of any signs of stage fright the singers were, Williams explained that they had had many opportunities to practise for the big night.

"They do weekly two-hour master classes and weekly lunch-hour concerts for the semester. And they have performance labs focusing on various aspects of performance," he said. The judges of the performances look at the students' skill in improvising, interpretation, use of stage, use of the microphone, and interaction with others on stage as well as with the audience.

The concert accounts for 50 per cent of a third year student's final grade, while it accounts for 100 per cent of a fourth year student's grade. In addition to mounting the concerts, fourth-year students must each present a portfolio that will include an electronic press kit and the concert's programme.

Williams said students who are unable to complete the four-year degree programme, perhaps because of financial challenges, may transfer to pursue the two-year associate degree.