Song, Steel, and Social Impact in Trinidad and Tobago

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Song, Steel, and Social Impact in Trinidad and Tobago

Dr. Leah Brown, Artistic Director and Interim Musical Director, The Lydians


…The fruit of our effort we offer only to God –
to feed His hungry
to heal His sick
to educate His untaught.
We offer our song as well:
to bring solace where there is grief,
to mark His presence where there is joy,
and to bring His Name to all people.
We set ourselves the goal of Excellence…
— from The Lydians’ mission statement

From Puccini’s Turandot to the Congolese-inspired Missa Luba, from pulsating calypso arrangements to Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” performed to the rhythm of East Indian tassa drums, The Lydians organization has always sought to expand its participants’ sense of what’s possible. For the past 44 years, the Trinidad and Tobago institution has worked to represent and support its community through musical performance and service. Encompassing The Lydian Singers choir and The Lydian Steel band, we rely on a passionate supporting group of accompanists, percussionists, designers, and other valuable creative collaborators to see our mission through.

The Lydian Steel. Photo: The Lydians.

Established in 1979 by music educator Joyce Spence, the choir initially comprised the alumni of Bishop Anstey High School, an all-girls school in Port of Spain where Mrs. Spence attended classes and taught. Wanting to form a SATB choir that could participate at the Trinidad and Tobago Biennial Music Festival, she joined forces with Lindy Ann Boden Rich, the music teacher at the all-boys St. Mary’s College. In 1984, Alma Pierre took over as the choir’s director and then, in 1987, Dr. Pat Bishop became its musical and artistic director. Embodying a “visionary embrace of the pannist as a literate and accomplished musician,” in 1995 Dr. Bishop added The Lydian Steel ensemble to the organization. Under her leadership, The Lydians took on many pioneering musical projects. 

Dr. Pat Bishop is viewed as a pivotal figure in the choir’s development. When she took over in 1987, she encouraged a challenging and diverse repertoire for the Lydians, and also formed the Lydian Steel, a set of young steel pan players who were musically literate. Under Pat, the choir sang many Caribbean, Latin American, and classical works, including performing operas. When she passed in 2011, the choir experienced an immediate leadership crisis from which it might still be recovering.

Dr. Pat Bishop. Photo: The Lydians.

The choir has been led by many distinguished musicians since then—Victor Prescod, Lorraine Granderson, Carl-Anthony Hines. In 2022, I had the honor of being appointed Artistic Director and Interim Musical Director. Our Board of Governors, formed in 2016, has helped to deal with issues of governance, developing a five-year strategic plan to help guide the organization. Still, Dr. Bishop’s absence has been felt, especially creatively.

One of our best solutions has been to introduce three young Associate Conductors, who have helped to install a coherent artistic strategy and healthy communication practices. That, coupled with the appointment of choral section leaders and a Lydian Steel captain, has proven to be an excellent rudder as the organization grapples with the challenges of charting a new course. The launch of a junior choir, The Lydian Tecomas, has also been embraced with enthusiasm.

The Lydian Singers. Photo: The Lydians. 

The Lydian Tecomas can be more fully described as a Youth Development and Music Education Program, born of our desire to create sustainable and fulfilling paths for members, both legacy and new. In launching the Tecomas, we outlined both musical and social benefits, including the value of creating a safe choral climate. Tecoma Director Shurvone Brathwaite tells the story of Leo, who has hearing challenges: “In order to facilitate a safe space for him, I asked him if he would be okay with me having a discussion with the boys about his challenges, in his presence. He was happy for me to do so, and after the conversation I noticed the boys checking up on him at moments when he did not fully understand the instructions given.” Helping to develop this sense of empathy and inclusivity is as important to our mission as nurturing the young singers musically.

In 1991, The Lydians became the recipient of a National Award, The Hummingbird Medal – Gold, for loyal and devoted service in the sphere of singing. The Lydians envisions itself as an international ambassador for Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean and is recognized as one of the nation’s few musical organizations to perform the works of both classical masters and contemporary compositions. The choir has shined at the Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival, winning over 30 championship trophies.

The Lydian Singers. Photo: The Lydians.

The Lydians has been proudly supported by First Citizens Bank of Trinidad and Tobago for the past three years. Our yearly performance schedule would typically include two to three major concerts and several sponsor engagements. We are often invited to participate in state events, various corporate and diplomatic functions, fundraisers, and community outreach. This past year, we were fortunate to participate in “Ignite,” a benefit concert for the University of the West Indies’ Development and Endowment Fund, as well as “Rise up and Believe,” a fund raiser for two young pilgrims of the St. Anthony’s RC Church. We look forward to our upcoming performances, including our mid-year programs, “Roots: D’Rhythm Within” and “Joyful, Joyful: A Jazzy Lydian Christmas.”

Despite all our changes over the years, The Lydians organization is grounded by a desire to expand—our repertoire, our membership, and our impact. We have weathered the rocky seas of change in order to prepare ourselves for this next chapter. As long as we continue to keep as our central focus—the communities where we operate and our commitment to excellence—we know we will achieve our mission.


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