Bigga dan Yaad - deCarteret College wins silver award at the World Choir Games
A round of applause erupted at the arrivals patio of the Norman Manley International Airport as the purple-clad members of deCarteret College Choir emerged. Parents, teachers, and schoolmates had gathered to welcome the award-winning group home from the World Choir Games held in South Africa.
Challenged to travel across the world with less than half their members and compete among 298 choirs from 48 countries, deCarteret College missed out on a gold placement - which went to China - by a mere four points.
"Many of them could not have afforded the trip, so we had more than half of the choir who couldn't go. We went with 21 members," choir director Rohan Walcott told The Sunday Gleaner. The choir's full complement is 48. "To know that they went, they conquered, it is a mammoth achievement. We made it, and we're happy about that."
Walcott admitted that it was challenging trying to achieve the same sound with 21, nevertheless, "we had to do it, and we did it. We did well got a silver award and that is very good," he said.
Under Walcot's guidance for close to a decade, the choir has participated in multiple local competitions, including TVJ's All Together Sing, three times. They placed second in 2009 and 2011, conquering the competition in 2013. They have also participated in JCDC Festival competitions, earning national awards in the classical, semiclassical, and negro spiritual categories. But with no other competitions to top, the choir director has set their sights on the international arena.
"We have done well here, so it's time for the world to see what deCarteret College choir has," Walcott said of the Manchester-based institution.
As first-timers in the competition, the choir entered the open category. According to Walcott, competition rules stipulate that first-time entrants are inadmissible to the championship competition. Now, that stipulation can no longer apply to the accomplished group. "The competition is biennial. In the next two years, [it] will take place in Belgium. So we're hoping to be there as well," he continued.
A Daunting Task
Upon their return, the choir was treated to a surprise welcome party of eager parents, teachers, and grounded choir members, organised by their enthusiastic principal Prim Lewis, who became principal in May.
"The choir is a phenomenal group. When I came to deCarteret College and learnt of this expedition they were trying to go on, the task was turned over to me to help them acquire funding. From day one, it was a matter of rallying the troops to enable this choir to make this journey. It was daunting," Lewis told The Sunday Gleaner.
Despite the school taking on lodging costs for the group, with airfare at a cost of approximately US$3,000 per person, it is no wonder the some members of the choir were unable to make the journey.
"We have sent out many (sponsorship) letters over 200. For 90 per cent of the letters that we sent, we got "we can't help at this time". It was very disappointing for us because we thought that Jamaica would have come on board to support something like this that's international and that big that will show off the country worldwide," Walcott said.
"My greatest fear sometimes is thinking, will I have enough money to furnish his dreams?" Nadine Miller, parent of second form choir member told The SundayGleaner. "Because he's that kind of child. He just came home and said 'I'm on the choir'. Another evening, he came home and said 'mommy, I'm going to South Africa.' When he mentioned the airfare, there was this sinking feeling, and then I said 'no faith. I know how to do this.'"
She continued: "There is absolutely no feeling that best describes it or puts it into words, so I'll use one simple word: elated. Proud doesn't begin to describe it," Miller gushed.
"It has been a combination of effort among students, parents, teachers, alumni. We have gone as far as Clarendon and Kingston to campaign to raise funds. The choir members themselves, they were on the road almost every week campaigning and asking for support. They have visited all the schools in and around region five," Lewis continued.
"We were able to provide financial assistance, and now that they've done so well, I know that the next time they come again to ask for assistance, they can rest assured that it may be more next year," said State Minister in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Alando Terrelonge, who was also present to welcome the choir home.
"We always speak about the creative industries and the fact that it is a multibillion-dollar industry in Jamaica. What these youngsters have shown us is that Jamaica is not just about reggae music or dancehall. It's not just about running or the ackee and salt fish. It's also that we can enter the World Choir Games and get the silver award. This was a tremendous feat. Big congratulations to Principal Lewis, to coach Walcott and to all the young boys and girls of deCarteret College, who made the trek all the way to South Africa to represent Jamaica. They have made our nation proud," Terrelonge said.