The Lydians Count Their Blesings

In 1979, Mrs. Joyce Spence, legendary Music Mistress of Bishop Anstey High School, brought together mainly past pupils of that school to prepare for the Music Festival of the following year. This small group of twenty singers was billed as the Lydian Singers who were so successful at the festival that it was decided to invite a few more voices and to include some male voices. These were mainly from St. Mary's College. The group performed brilliantly at the next Music Festival in 1982,as well as at a few concert performances. Sadly, later that year, Mrs. Spence's health forced her to give up directing the choir and Miss Alma Pierre led the group to a major concert The Wedding of Hiawatha performed at All Saints Hall after which she too retired.

Luckily for the then leaderless group, in 1987 Miss Pat Bishop agreed to take up the baton, and has been musical director from then to the present time. She has not only led the choir, but has also fused the singers with her other love, the steelband. At first, the choir was accompanied by various steelbands, Witco Desperadoes, Amoco Renegades, but eventually, miss Bishop, along with Mr. Ben Jackson and Miss Loraine Granderson, nurtured the Lydian Steel, a group of very capable youngsters who are music literate and who are making waves and raves here and abroad. She has also introduced African and Tassa drummers, and dancers from folk and Ballet disciplines.

The choir has grown from that small beginning to over one hundred voices, her open-door policy paying off brilliantly in attracting some outstanding performers. These she has encouraged and trained for solo work, often losing some of them to musical careers overseas, the others, such as the internationally acclaimed, Eddie Cumberbatch, the talented Randal Robinson, Joanne Pyle, Glenis Yearwood and Jenny Archer remaining here to add lustre to local performances.

That is not all that Miss Bishop has done to change the face and direction of this group. At first, when she began directing the Lydian Singers, she concentrated on the Music Festival and entered the choir and soloists in several classes. Eventually, the choir proved itself beyond question a force to be reckoned with, culminating in 1987 as Most Outstanding Choir and in 1990 with Eddie Cumberbatch walking away with 8 trophies and sharing 2 others with Glenis Yearwood who had won the soprano solo, Joanne Pyle the Mezzo soprano class and Jenny Archer the Alto class. In 1997, Barry Martin, now a member of the national opera company of Great Britain, was awarded Most Outstanding Performer ; three awards went to the male choir including Most Outstanding Adult Choir. In 1999 winner of the Ashdown Cup (Lydian Males), the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce Cup (Lydian Ladies), the Edric Connor Memorial Trophy for best Folk Song Solo- Germaine Wilson, and Merchant's Cup for Most Outstanding Adult Choir (Lydian Males)

In the meantime, Miss Bishop decided on some other projects in the form of major concerts which challenged the choir and enriched its repertoire. These concerts included The Verdi Requiem accompanied by the Trinidad and Tobago Orchestra; (more recently, she reproduced the Verdi Requiem, accompanied this time by the Lydian Steel.) Other successful works included the Stabat Mater by Rossini, The Misa Solemnis by Beethoven, the Misa Criola and Misa Luba. By then, the Lydian Steel and Lydian Drummers raised the sound to new heights and Miss Bishop turned to Opera, first in the form of arias offered by her main soloists at concerts and then to three full operas in Koanga by Delius, Elizir d'amor by Donizetti and more recently Turandot by Puccini.

The Set and costume designer, the late Carlisle Chang and Gillian Bishop so enriched this production that 'Turandot' received a Cacique award for "Best Costume Design" and Miss Bishop "Best Musical Director in June 2000. Since Turandot, the choir and steel have performed the Brahms Requiem, and more recently Bach's Jesu Meine Freude and The Seven Last Words of Christ by Dubois.

The venues for these concerts were as exciting and challenging as the concerts themselves: apart from the conventional Queen's Hall and the Naparima Bowl, Miss Bishop took her massive troupe to the Central Bank Auditorium, the Normandie Hotel, in The Market and Under the Trees, the Little Carib Theatre, The Country Club, The Rosary Monastery in St. Ann's, the Eric Williams Medical Complex, and of course to the two Cathedrals, Mount St. Benedict and almost every church in the length and breadth of the country.

The concerts were generally seasonal, that is, at Christmas, Easter and the four Sundays in July. But between times there were other performances and recitals, some in-house for the entertainment of members when any singer, often prepared by Eddie, would present a mini recital, taken very seriously by the performer of the evening and greatly appreciated by the in-house audience. Who can forget George's, billed as "Sweet Georgie" ! Eddie himself presented several recitals at home and abroad, for example, in Jamaica and in South Africa where he won the male voice over 25 and was acclaimed best performer in the 1997 Eisteddford Music Festival. Joanne Pyle's recital given more recently was a great success and there are plans for more show-casing of the soloists in future.

The Lydians are often called on to celebrate the achievements of other people, for example, at National Awards functions at President's House; at Annual Awards functions of their sponsor, the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited; at special functions of the Guardian Life of the Caribbean Limited, at a major celebration of the Trinidad and Tobago Hockey Association, at the Anniversary of the Chinese Arrival in Trinidad and Tobago; at the 200th anniversary of Freemasonry in Trinidad and Tobago, at several wedding anniversaries of members and of their families and friends; and at weddings which have taken them as far as Toco.

In keeping with the choir's mission to share the gift of music, they often sing in support of charitable causes and at hospitals, orphanages, geriatric homes.

For their own part, they have celebrated receiving a national award - the Humming Bird Gold in 1991. They sang with joy also when Miss Bishop was awarded the Trinity Cross and later an honorary doctorate from UWI in 1994. The choir has also sung at many weddings of Lydian members including three couples who met in the choir and who subsequently got married. There is an annual party, at Christmas time or early in the New Year when the Lydians don formal evening wear and enjoy a sit-down dinner, much appreciated by all. Another joyful event, another of Pat's brilliant ideas, is the Annual Choir Service which is held at a different church each year when the Secretary reports and the choir is blessed by the attending abbot or priest or nun. It is a form of renewal of faith, not to be missed.

The group which includes Lydian Steel and Drummers and Dancers of the Malick Folk Performers or the Metamorphosis Dance Company, often responds to Command Performances for example, for Cuban President Fidel Castro at the Prime Minister's residence; at the inauguration of this country's president, President Arthur N.R. Robinson ; for Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa; for Prince Charles of Great Britain; for the Prime Minister of Canada and Mrs. Jean Chretien; for United States of America President Bill Clinton when he was in Barbados.

The group has on occasion teamed up with several well-known artistes, including calypsonian David Rudder, backing his CD and also his stage performances Under the Trees; Jit Samaroo and the Samaroo Jets, the Exodus Steel Orchestra, and internationally acclaimed mezzo soprano, Hyacinth Nicholls. There have been several Benefit Concerts and Memorials, the most memorable of these being the Marion Anderson Memorial Concerts performed at several of the nations concert venues.

Sometimes, their voices create an atmosphere that is sombre and the mood appropriately reverent as at the formal funerals of some of our countrymen and women - those that come to mind are that of C.L. R. James, Morris Marshall, Lord Kitchener, Beryl Mc Burnie, the Memorial for Jamaica's Prime Minister, Michael Manley, and the funerals of our own dear founder, Mrs. Joyce Spence and her immediate successor, Miss Alma Pierre and our former stage director, Charles Applewaite and our several friends like Wanda Alladin and other fallen Lydians and friends who have gone ahead.

It is left to note that this chronicle of the group under the direction and care of its highly respected and loved leader, Pat Bishop, has enhanced its scope, lengthened its life and is showing every indication that its potential is wide open. There is no predicting where its influence and reach will stop:

"Oh, but a man's reach must exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for!"

Marlene Davis
June 2001