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Mayor, Hill deny scrapping Ward orchestra pit

Published:Saturday | December 7, 2019 | 12:28 AMKimberley Small/Staff Reporter

The Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) has hit back at criticism from noted composer Peter Ashbourne that the orchestra pit at the famed Ward Theatre would be scrapped, describing his fears as unfounded.

Town Clerk Robert Hill and Kingston Mayor Delroy Williams asserted yesterday that the pit’s termite-infested floorboards were removed and that the corporation had visions of expanding the feature.

Pressed by The Gleaner for a response to Ashbourne’s charges before publication on Thursday, Hill had declined comment to this newspaper but broke his silence yesterday.

“There was never any contemplation of removing, destroying or minimising, but rather to expand to accommodate a wider complement of instrument players,” said Hill, chief executive officer of the KSAMC.

The town clerk explained that he had previously declined comment because he and the mayor were engaged in dialogue with theatre lobbyist and musician Rosina Moder-Ashbourne, wife of Ashbourne, immediately following a tour of the iconic theatre on Wednesday.

Hill said that the restoration team has been looking at various options and consulted with persons in the performance arts and theatre construction industry.

“The last person that spoke with us was Rosina Moder-Ashbourne, who ... has since apologised for Mr Ashbourne’s utterances, and she has redoubled in that apology her commitment to work with us to look at the options that are available,” Hill said.

KSAMC: We weighed two options

Peter Ashbourne, a leading arranger and conductor, raked the municipal corporation’s renovation crew over concerns that the orchestra pit might be phased out as the facelift of the downtown Kingston theatre continued.

“Now these blasted buttus have taken over the thing, and they’re going to turn it into bathroom tiles and formica, I suppose,” Ashbourne told The Gleaner.

“When you say these things, people like me get accused of being elitist, or you’re doing the colonial slave masters’ thing. That is rubbish! If they want a buttu palace, build one,” he added.

But Williams said that Ashbourne was misinformed, saying that there was no intention to remove the orchestra pit.

“From as far back as February 2017, at the genesis of the restoration, the KSAMC has been weighing two options as it relates to the Ward Theatre orchestra pit. The first is the option of keeping the pit at its current size, and the second, based on consultation with local experts, the option of having the pit expanded,” Williams said in a statement issued to the media yesterday.

Meanwhile, Moder-Ashbourne apologised to the KSAMC hierarchy on the behalf of Ashbourne, a board member of the Music Unites Jamaica Foundation, “for the offence caused by the unfortunate choice of words”.

The foundation pledged to keep the channels of communication open in collaborating on “co-creating an optimal space for orchestral and band musicians to restore life to the ‘Grand Dame’ of musical theatre in Kingston, The Ward”.

Speaking to The Gleaner yesterday, Moder-Ashbourne said that no stone should be left unturned in restoring the theatre, built in 1912, back to its glory.

“There is no opera house in the world without an orchestra pit, so, of course this orchestra pit is very close to my heart,” she said.

Restoration works have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but Williams said that at least $300 million was needed to complete the project.