The choir is an entity Bahamians should be appreciative of considering where the Bahamas National Youth Choir (BNYC) has sung in 25 foreign languages, produced nine commercial recordings, traveled to 24 countries on four continents and researched and documented much of the folk music of The Bahamas. And this musical entity is celebrating its 30th year of existence.
The BNYC’s official three-decade anniversary took place on January 1. The choir was originally founded and directed by the late Cleophas Adderley in 1983 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Bahamian independence, but was re-established in 1990 after a years-long hiatus.
Official celebrations to mark the choir’s 30 years of providing opportunities for self-growth, development and training, as it continues to create responsible and confident citizens while building an enduring national cultural institution were set to take place during the month of April which had been proclaimed Bahamas National Youth Choir Month by Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, have been postponed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic with three confirmed cases in country as of yesterday.
While celebrations are on hold, BNYC choir director Dexter Fernander says three decades in, the choir is an entity Bahamians should be appreciative of considering where the choir came from and the house that Adderley built, to which he’s now adding what he terms the “accoutrements” to keep the house functionable for now and the future.
“Many did not expect us to go beyond five years. We (Bahamians) should be proud of what the choir has accomplished,” said Fernander.
The choir has appeared at the Concert Hall of the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City; the Moscow Conservatory in Russia; the Barbican and the Oxford University Palyhouse in England; Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; the Beijing Symphony Hall in China; St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City; and the Royal Swazi Theatre and Convention Centre, Swaziland.
The choir has also performed for Queen Elizabeth II; the late Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa; and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.
The BNYC is the recipient of many awards, including two awards for outstanding work at the Seventh China International Chorus Festival; two gold and a silver medal at the 2012 World Choir Games; and the Cacique Awards (Performing Arts).
The choir, which is now under the direction of Fernander, had a number of events planned for its 30th celebration which has been aptly themed “It’s a Celebration” and, when rescheduled, will feature a concert filled with international and Bahamian folk music; and a fusion of “Caribbean-Classic” with choral and dance arrangements of indigenous music of the diaspora.
The 32 member-strong choir takes Bahamians through dances such as the Quadrille and heel ‘n’ toe polka, along with the mesmerizing sounds of Junkanoo and rake ‘n’ scrape, which members say draw audiences back to the days of the good ole backyard party.
Another highlight of the anniversary celebrations will be the alumni showcase, during which former choir members Kiara Sherman, Ericka “Lady E” Symonette, Anya Bowe, classical singer Chinequa Gardiner and Jonathan Farrington will be on display.
Fernander said their intent is to show the BNYC has moved beyond a training ground and the fact that former choir members have moved into musical careers.
“We want to showcase that the entity of the choir has moved from just being “come together and sing”, to teaching soft skills necessary for careers in the performing arts industry,” said Fernander, himself a product of the BNYC.
Fernander, a baritone and pianist, joined the choir in 1994. After pursuing postsecondary education, he was named assistant choir director in 2013 by Adderley, who died in July 2017. Fernander then stepped up to the role of interim director before he transitioned into director in fall 2019.
Having to postpone the 30th anniversary celebrations, he said, was disappointing, but at the same time he said the health of the singers and the choir’s supporters are first and foremost all-important.
“The choir will continue to monitor the potential impacts of coronavirus in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and make additional plans. This decision is based on current best practices regarding social distancing as a prevention strategy for disease transmission,” said Fernander. “Our primary responsibility is to safeguard both our members and the general public from this current health crisis. COVID-19 is a reality in The Bahamas. This course of action is prudent and provides us the best opportunity to make the transitions necessary to transfer our work to virtual meeting spaces for choristers. This includes accessing Dropbox, WhatsApp chat group and revision material sound clips to continue the work necessary for a stellar performance.”
Social distancing has forced the choir to move into avenues they had been considering, but had not delved into as yet – the internet.
“We were hesitant about going into online platforms and creating class schedules – but now we have a discussion board, and most homework is placed on the discussion board, rehearsals are being held online and in the future, this gives us a chance to consider
Family Islanders who may be interested in joining,” said Fernander.
The BNYC held its pilot rehearsal online on Wednesday.
“It was a challenge,” he admitted. “I had tested it earlier, and the internet connection was wonderful, but during the actual pilot rehearsal there was so much demand on the bandwidth, with so many people home, that when it was time to log in for the live part with us all on the system at the same time, it was a challenge.”
Other than that challenge, he said choir members were able to access the discussion board and do their homework online.
As for choir members’ homework, Fernander has them scouring the Smithsonian and New York Library to access information that is limited at home to research the origin and history of the Bahamian music and dances they perform, and even what they’re wearing, so that they will be informed and be able to speak intelligently on the subject matters when they’re on tour.
“As a good teacher, you always have plan B when plan A goes awry,” said the director.
Fernander said during rehearsals, they’ve also started to record themselves and choir members have been able to review the dance routines since they can’t come together and do them in person.
July 1-4 are the potential dates being considered for BNYC 30th anniversary celebrations. All tickets sold will be honored for the new date.
2012: Gold Medalist – 7th World Choir Games (Champion Category – Scenic Folklore)
2012: Gold Medalist – 7th World Choir Games (Champion Category – Show Choir)
2012: Silver Medalist – 7th World Choir Games (Champion Category – Classical)
2008: Silver Medalist – 5th World Choir Games (Open Category – Mixed Chamber Choir)
2008: Silver Medalist – 5th World Choir Games (Open Category – Folklore)
2008: 1st Place Winners – 37th International Youth and Music Festival