“It’s paradise with a touch of ash, no matter where in the world you roam… Montserrat is home sweet home”
These are lyrics from a Montserratian folk song “Still Home Still Nice”.
One of my evening commitments during the Autumn term was The Emerald Community Singers, a Folk Choir founded in 1971 with the primary focus of researching and maintaining Montserrat Folklore. With a troop of very dedicated members, the choir rehearses on Sunday and Wednesday evenings we were preparing for their annual Christmas Concert at the Cultural Centre.
The Montserrat Cultural Centre was gifted to the Montserratians by Sir George Martin, using funds raised by the concert “Music for Montserrat”. This concert took place at the Royal Albert Hall when world renowned artists such as Elton John, Sting and Paul McCartney came together to support Montserrat. Many of these artists would have spent time recording at the famous “Air Studios” that was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
My role with the choir was to do some voice training, vocal warm-ups and to accompany them (on a piano on which several of the important keys don’t work and many of those that do often stick down and don’t come back up again!) Although I hope that my presence there had a positive impact on the choir it was also extremely beneficial for me. I’d say I had to play by ear 90% of the time, which has really improved my skills in this area as I am generally more comfortable reading music. It also means that I learnt a huge amount of local folk songs and am getting a great insight into local culture. A lot of the songs they sing are about living though and surviving after the Volcanic Crisis. The passion and sheer honesty that comes across when they sing these songs gives you a better idea of how hard life was for the people during this time, losing their capital city and surrounding areas (where almost everybody lived) and a huge proportion of their population.
“Our people have turned their lives around. Now living in country when before all they knew was town. Familiar places are now buried in ash and gone. But look to the north, where life goes on”
Meet Jamari… The son of one of the choir memebers who I teach at primary school. He begged his mum to come to rehearsals just to sit next to me. He would sit there and watch me, copying what I did on his pretend piano, occasionally adding a drum beat on the back of a chair or a table. He also watched the piano keys as I played, waiting for one to stick down (old piano) and pulled it back up again for me! His little face definitely made it worth going out to rehearsal on a Sunday evening!!