Bereavement Mass at Cathedral
November 16, 2018
Spoken Word on the state of the world
November 16, 2018

Play one for us, ‘J’

Carlyle Jeanville can’t write musical notes but can read music by sight.

Story and photos by Lara Pickford-Gordon,

The name Carlyle Jeanville may not be familiar to you because he works in the background but if you’ve been to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception or Sacred Heart RC, you may have glimpsed him. He has contributed his musical skills to liturgies in parishes across the country and regionally. The Catholic News interviewed Jeanville recently after he played the organ at the noon Mass at Sacred Heart RC, Richmond Street.

Seventy-year-old Jeanville, the eldest son of Lynette ‘Granny’ Luces, said from quite early on he was a “born musician”. Originally from St Joseph, Jeanville, also known to his friends as ‘J’, said he was exposed to music while living Five Rivers, Arouca with his grandmother ‘Paulie’ Jeanville, who played piano at Mass in the Arouca parish.

She was former principal of Nelson St Girls’ RC and Jeanville recalls she did not want him learning to play in the style of Winifred Atwell, the Trinidadian pianist who gained popularity in the 1950s for ‘boogie woogie’ and ragtime hits

Thirty years ago Jeanville led a band—JJ and Superstars.  They played at The Revue calypso tent of the ‘Grandmaster’ Lord Kitchener, the Mas Camp pub and Christmas events at school.

His grandmother insisted he learn the Classics; she also saw the need for a pipe organist for church. Jeanville said then Arouca Parish Priest, Fr Fitzgerald approached the pipe organist for the Cathedral Professor Alan Carr, to get tuition for him.

There were “years” of travelling from Five Rivers to get lessons at the Cathedral. This was during the tenure of then Cathedral Administrator Fr Sydney Charles, now deceased.

Under Professor Carr’s tuition, Jeanville tried to master playing the piano without looking down at the musical sheet. He would say “You have to hear…your eyes and ears must hook up in one.”

Professor Carr taught that the player must not be too dependent on the eyes or ears; the ears can overpower the eyes and the player must not be too dependent on the music sheet. Another thing he learnt was to cultivate a “pleasant look” while playing: “My face must smile while playing”.

Fr John Mendes, the next administrator also assisted Jeanville to get lessons from Dr Evans, the pipe organist at Trinity Cathedral.  Adding to his knowledge was Anthony Prospect, the first bandleader of the T&T Police Band and Bro Paschal Jordan OSB.  Jeanville said when he began playing the pipe organ at the Cathedral in 1968 he earned $7 monthly.

Jeanville’s pursuit of training did not escape attention from his peers who tried to dissuade him, in at times harsh, derogatory language. He was even asked to get involved planting marijuana as a source of income. Jeanville was not convinced.

Around 1973, music took Jeanville to Venezuela playing a bore pan (a pan with holes separating the notes) created by Bertie Marshall. “I’m a pannist and pan tuner too,” he said, adding that he has arranged music for Finland Steelband from San Juan.

“They had a concert in the Cathedral and they played music I arranged and everything; that was in the days of Fr Mendes and Fr Michael Makhan, and Fr Cockburn and all these people.”

US tuition

Jeanville studied music in the US, while his training under the British tutors taught him the “big words”—supertonic, submediant, but in the US he said in the first month he was like a “dunce”.

“They talking a different language…they don’t even use the international words…it was very short cut, very good,” he commented. Jeanville was taught a “short-cut” system which allowed him to transpose musical notes easily by using numbers. From the US, he went to Canada on “gigs” with a group of musicians in 1975 and played at a church there.

Back home in the 80s he “practised hard” for three years to hone his skills. His routine at this time was “home and church”. Jeanville wanted to be able to play fast like Professor Carr.

He did not have an organ so he played his piano and improvised for the pedals using a block of wood and wearing “organ shoes”, used by organists for organ pedals.  “Right now I can play with any shoe because I know the skills,” he said.

Jeanville did not become the organist of the Cathedral without proving himself. After Professor Carr died, he said Fr Mendes sought recommendations for a new organist. There were three persons vying for the position. Ultimately, he was chosen.

Today, he has been recognised with awards for his contribution to music. Though he can’t write musical notes he can read music just by “sight”.  He can even play without a music sheet.

“I play anything, Indian music, ‘kaiso’, I know the high Classics ‘Jesu Joy…’, Jamaican music…it is the same music notes. Anything you come with and I start, you will say I know it already,” he said.

Jeanville, the father of two adult children, said to be an organist for the church he has had to live a “certain way.” “I can’t be in fight and vex, I can’t be in these kinds of things and I have to pray and relax myself.” He added, that to play music he has to be free of negative emotions. “This is me,” he said.