Standing ovation for patois cantata 'Jiizas a-go Baan'
The Jamaica Philharmonic Orchestra received a very long and loud round of applause at the end of Sunday's concert at the University of the West Indies Mona Chapel.
The applause was for the superb presentations in the concert's two parts - the first featuring disparate items by a variety of musicians; and the second - the world premiere of a cantata by Dr Andrew Marshall.
The first part included several child musicians, including two violinists, one on steel pan, and a group of children playing a tune by the synchronised tolling of bells. The quality of their work indicate that they could grow up to be as good as the event's excellent adult musicians.
The adults formed The Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica (POJ), and the Jamaica Chorale Scholars (JCS). Their main task for the evening was to perform Marshall's latest cantata - Jiizas a-go Baan - a historic 70-minute work written largely in Jamaican patois (creole). However, individuals and sections of the main groups were given a chance to show off their individual talent earlier on in the programme.
So the audience was able to enjoy a delightful presentation which included, Paulette Bellamy's A New King is Born, a medley of some well- known carols, played by Brian Morris on flute, Emily Dixon on cello and Bellamy on piano. Mezzo-soprano Danielle Brown, singing Marshall's composition - Mary Had a Baby; a wind quartet comprising of Morris on flute, Althea Neblett on oboe, Andrew Coley on clarinet and Rafael Salazar on bass clarinet, playing Buddy Greene's Mary Did You Know; and soprano Sashekia Brown singing Mozart's Alleluia, accompanied by Bellamy on piano.
Marshall states in his programme notes that the composition was "part of (his) continued desire to create music fused with distinct Jamaican elements". Jiizas a-go Baan was presented by an orchestra, a choir, and four soloists (Danielle Brown as Mieri (Mary), the mother of Jesus; Sashekia Brown as Illizibet (Elizabeth), her cousin; tenor Karim Chang as the ienjel (angel); and bass Calynton Blake as the narrator.
The cantata solidified the opinions of those who believe that Marshall is the foremost composer of Jamaican art (classical) music. The compËre for the concert, Allison Wallace, suggested combining 'Jamaican' and 'classical' to create 'Jassical' for the genre.
Marshall further states in his notes, "It is my hope that the work has captured the enduring spirit of our nation, and that the music will effectively serve the fresh retelling of a well-known event in an indigenous tongue near and dear to Jamaicans around the world." Most of the cantata's text comes from the Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment - the Jamaican patois Bible. Additions were written by Marshall.
Because the cantata was sung in an operatic style in patois, something probably new to most of the audience, many would have had some difficulty deciphering the words. Giving out a programme with the patois text shown side-by-side with a standard English translation was a great idea.
The beauty of the story of Jesus' birth, the excellence of the music composed, and the creativity of the structure all suggest that Marshall's hope will be realised - no matter which musicians perform the work. Still, while it is possible that better singers and instrumentalists may present the work in the future, the weekend's offering was certainly regarded by the audience as world-class.
It's true that when the classically trained singers started singing in patois, there was some tentative laughter, but it soon died down, and by the dramatic end, people were leaping to their feet in applause.