Music at St Joseph’s Convent (1930-1998)

Published in EUREKA magazine at St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain, in 1999

The Legacy

“Music washes away from the soul all the dust of everyday life.”

The harmonies which have resounded within the walls of St. Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain, for fifty years have done nothing less. By these melodious strains which sing to the soul, we see the smiles on the faces of an entire school community; we are refreshed by that feeling of peace, and experience – for those few moments when the music reaches our ears – that intangible link, that ethereal portal to happiness, that shows us what it means to be alive.

The choirs and instrumentalists of St. Joseph’s Convent, P.O.S., have uplifted audiences and beguiled adjudicators for decades. We have been incredibly successful in the Trinidad and Tobago Music Festival repeatedly since the late 1940s, and it would seem that we are embarking upon yet another period of musical prosperity.

It is as a result of decades of dedicated students and teachers that this school has been able to achieve such excellent results. The girls have had to practise constantly while still organising their time in such a way that they were still able to meet their academic requirements, while the teachers slaved away tirelessly. Here is just a brief description of the teachers who have driven the music in this school for fifty years, together with what and when they taught.

  • Sr. Helen De Verteuil (O.B.E) (1930-1958; late 70s) was responsible for all school singing and the choirs. In addition, she was a voice and piano coach.
  • Sr. Columba (1958 – early 60s; briefly in mid-seventies) was the school principal while teaching Mathematics, Latin and Geography, and directed school singing and the school choirs.
  • Jocelyn Pierre (HBM Silver) (1957-74; 1978-84) was a piano teacher and accompanist. In the mid 60s, she did school singing and music classes. She directed both choirs in 1973-74 and the Junior Choir in 1979-84. She also formed the Marionettes Chorale and the Pembroke Chorale (the former with St. Joseph’ Convent students, and the latter with St. Joseph’s Convent teachers).
  • Sr. Benedicta (approx. 1962-66) led school singing and the school choirs.
  • Daphne Clifford (1963-81) was the school music teacher and taught piano, recorder and music classes. She was a piano and vocal coach to SJC students during ‘free’ periods. She accompanied the school choir 1975-81. She founded the Shenstone Recorder Group and several SJC instrumental and recorder ensembles.
  • Gretta Taylor (HBM Gold) (1965-1994) taught French, Spanish, General Paper and Music classes, and directed the school choirs (Senior Choir 1974-85; Junior Choir 1976-79), and once again from 1992-94. She was an occasional accompanist and vocal coach as well.
  • Sr. Claire (approx. 1970-73) taught Spanish while leading school singing and school choirs.
  • Kathleen Borely (1973-92) taught Mathematics and Religion and directed the Folk Choir 1975-92. She led school music 1981-92.
  • Lisa Chamely (1994-1995) taught Drama, French, Religion and music classes. She directed school singing and the School Choir 1994-95.
  • Roger Henry (1995-1998) taught Drama, General Paper and English. He was also the school music teacher and choir director, and led school singing briefly.
  • Michelle Varley (1998-) teaches school Music and directs the school choirs.

The Trophies

St. Joseph’s has had an extremely rewarding fifty years in music. There has not been a year between 1948 and 1997 when the school has not at least entered a choir, and each year students – though often on their own, as opposed to being taught in school – continue to do well in the instrumental and voice classes. The talented student Miguela Gonsalves even took the initiative and trained the folk choir to enter the 1993 Festival, where the choir placed second, after Mrs. Borely’s retirement in 1992.

Jill Gomez – one of the winning vocalists and St. Joseph’s Convent graduate – now has a thriving music career and is to date one of the few local singers to achieve outstanding international success.

Patricia Pascal, another frequent winner, can now be heard singing the National Anthem many mornings in the Chapel at Assembly, though she never pursued a professional singing career.

In the 60s, Mrs. Jocelyn Pierre, along with June Williams-Thorne, founded the Marionettes Chorale, which was comprised primarily of St. Joseph’s Convent graduates, and is the only local community choir to date to have earned international prizes. It is now led by Mrs. Gretta Taylor, who took over in 1974, after Pierre’s left to pursue her studies in Canada, just a few years after suffering an unexpected stroke. Taylor founded the Marionettes Youth Chorale in 1995 and which began as having, and continues to have, many SJC students and graduates as members.

The SJC choir itself has achieved a world-class standard, which was recognised in 1979 when the joint choirs of SJC and CIC – winners of the Raleigh Cup, under Mrs. Gretta Taylor – were invited to participate in the 16th Annual Choral & Dance Festival in Vienna, Austria. In addition, the SJC instrumentalists were not to be outdone, as they were extremely successful under the training of legendary Daphne Clifford. With the choirs, the instrumental ensembles, the vocalists and the individual instrumentalists, St. Joseph’s regularly won many Championship Trophies by the close of the Festival.

1948

  • Best School Choir (under 10)

1952

  • Best School Choir (under 11)
  • Best Secondary & Intermediate School Choir
  • Best Children’s Choir (open)

1954

  • Best Junior Vocal Solo (Jill Gomez)
  • Best School Choir (under 11years)
  • Best Secondary & Intermediate School Choir (senior choir)

1956

  • Best Children’s Choir (open)
  • Best Secondary & Intermediate School Choir

1960

  • Best Children’s Choir (open)

1964

  • Best Secondary School “X” (Excellent) Class Choir (senior choir)
  • School Open Choir
  • Best Junior Vocal Ensemble (SJC Trio ‘B’)
  • Best Piano Solo (Gillian Nathaniel)

1966

  • Best Secondary School “X” Class Choir (Junior Choir)
  • Best Instrumental Ensemble (Pauline Allum-Poon & Patricia Mohommed)
  • Best Junior Instrumental Solo (Gillian Nathaniel)

1968

  • Best Secondary School “X” Class Choir (Senior Choir)
  • Best Junior Piano Solo (Peta Bain)
  • Best Junior Piano Duet (Wendy Assing & Jennifer Gowasack)

1970

  • Best Junior Instrumentalist (Pauline Allum-Poon)
  • Best Piano Duet (Pauline Allum-Poon & Mariliyn Wong)
  • Best Instrumental Ensemble (SJC Recorder Group)
  • Best Junior Sight Reading (Pauline Allum-Poon)

1972

  • Junior Chamber of Commerce Cup (Best Adult Choir) – Pembroke Chorale
  • Carmen Carter Cup (Best Instrumental Ensemble) – SJC Recorder Group
  • Lorna Daly Cup (Best School Folk Choir, over 20 singers) – SJC & CIC

1974

  • Trinidad Broadcasting Cup (Best Junior Vocalist) – Margaret Patino
  • May Johnstone Cup (Best Junior Vocal Ensemble) – Margaret Patino & Beverly Pascal
  • Siegert Cup (Best “X” Class Intermediate & Secondary School Choir)
  • Prime Minister’s Trophy (Most Outstanding Junior Choir of the Festival, i.e. under 19 years)
  • Vernon Evans Cup (Best Junior Instrumental Sight Reading) – Cecilia Theodore
  • TMA Cup#1 (Best Junior Piano Solo) – Noella Tuitt

1976

  • Judge Russel Cup (Best Secondary School Choir)
  • Siegert Cup (Most Outstanding School Choir)
  • Prime Minister’s Trophy (Most Outstanding Junior Choir of the Festival)
  • KUA Innis Cup (Best Junior Piano Duet) – Karen Noel & Cheryl Ann Peters
  • Vernon Evans Cup (Best Junior Sight Reading) – Cecilia Theodore
  • TMA Anniversary Cup#2 (Best Junior Instrumental Ensemble) – SJC Recorder Group

1978

  • TMA Cup (Best Junior Instrumental Ensemble) – SJC Senior Recorder Group
  • Carmen Carter Memorial Trophy (Best Instrumental & Recorder Group) – SJC Senior Recorder Group
  • TMA Shield (Best Open Choir, Upper Voice)
  • Raleigh Cup (Most Outstanding Mixed Voice Choir) – SJC and CIC
  • May Johnstone Cup (Best Junior Vocal Ensemble) – Pat Pascal and Beverly Bronté
  • Trinidad Broadcasting Cup (Best Junior Vocalist, Under 16) – Pat Pascal
  • Anne Marie Baksh Trophy (Most Outstanding Junior Vocalist, under 19) – Pat Pascal
  • STMA trophy (Best Recorder Solo, Open) – Caroline Lewis
  • Miner Cup Best Junior Recorder Solo) – Caroline Lewis
  • KUA Innis Cup (Best Piano Duet) – Denyse Aleong and Carol Biggs
  • Da Silva Cup (Best Instrumental Ensemble) – Shenstone Recorder Group
  • Trinidad Guardian Cup (Best Open Piano Duet) – Karen Noel and Cheryl Ann Peters

1980

  • Trinidad Broadcasting Cup (Best Junior Vocalist, Under 19 years) – Pat Pascal
  • Subscribers’ Cup (Best Open Vocal Ensemble) – Pat and Beverly Pascal
  • Lawrence Hawkins Trophy (Best Junior Piano Solo, under 15 years) – Gillian Seecheran
  • TMA Anniversary Cup#1 (Best Junior Piano Solo, 15-19years) – Judith Maing
  • Maurice Corbin Trophy (Best Piano Recital) – Judith Maing
  • Dennis Kerr Trophy (Most Outstanding Instrumental Performer) – Judith Maing
  • Miner Cup (Best Junior Recorder Solo) – Deborah Maharaj
  • STMA Trophy (Best Open Recorder Solo) – Caroline Lewis
  • Vernon Evans Cup (Best Instrumental Sight Reading) – Yolande Nicholas
  • Michelle Khan Trophy (Chamber Music) – Shenstone Trio
  • Raymond Dieffenthaler Trophy (Best Recorder Ensemble) – Shenstone Recorder Group

1984

  • May Johnstone Cup (Best Junior Vocal Ensemble) – Deborah Maharaj and Gillian Seecheran
  • Miner Cup (Best Wind Instrumentalist) – Deborah Maharaj
  • Carmen Carter Memorial Trophy (Best Junior Instrumental & Recorder Ensemble) – SJC Recorder Group ‘B’
  • May Johnstone Commemorative Trophy (Most Outstanding Performer of the entire Festival) – Deborah Maharaj

1997

  • Providence Shield (Best Secondary School Choir, Under 15 years) – SJC Junior Choir
  • Judge Russel Cup (Best Secondary School Choir, Over 15 years) – SJC Senior Choir
  • Siegert Cup (Most Outstanding Secondary School Choir) – SJC Senior Choir

The 1997 Music Festival was a very rewarding one for the choirs of St. Joseph’s Convent. Once again, the art of classical music seems to be flourishing under the dedicated leadership of our talented Mr. Roger Henry. These accomplishments have not been achieved without a great deal of sacrifice, dedication and of course talent. Together with Mr. Henry, the members of the choirs practised four days a week perfecting their tone, their line, their diction and their dynamics to reach the level of skill and quality which won over the audiences and the adjudicators. To quote one of the judges, “I’m speechless. What can I say? I simply got that ‘oooh’ [shivering] feeling…”

Music is an art form which humanity must strive to keep alive. Long-established musicians like those from St. Joseph’s Convent, Bishop Anstey, Signal Hill and Holy Name Convent, together with those from other schools which are newer to the Music Festival stage, continue to maintain a tradition of music in the country as a whole. We must all strive to promote a high standard of excellence among our musicians so that the Music Festival may be a platform which can raise them to a higher level of talent and success. And so it is to the teachers and students who have worked tirelessly to give St. Joseph’s its rich musical history, and to the girls and Mr. Henry who have worked so hard for the quality and success which we enjoy today, that I would like to extend my personal congratulations and appreciation. For it is our words and our music which are our legacy, our gift to the generations to come. Fifty years lie behind us, fifty years of songs washing away pain and anxiety from the hearts of all who surrendered themselves to the notes. The music and history are ours to cherish; the future is ours to shape.

“Ours is the power and the glory because we are capable of visions and ideas which are ultimately stronger and more enduring than we are.”

– Anne Rice

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