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Fatima’s ‘GOBAG’ – more than just a school concert

‘The Greatest Show’ performed by the Mixed Choir, with production director, Kwesi Noel, at front, centre. Photo: Aaron Hackshaw, student

By Laura Ann Phillips

The Fatima College hall was a hub of organised confusion, pockets of activity swirling in each corner as rehearsals for ‘Gifts of Blue and Gold 10’ (GOBAG) buzzed along.

A creative consultant team scribbled and typed furiously, as singers stretched and mapped out their positions on stage. Musicians plucked and stroked their instruments between sets, while a team of parents created a mini-mas’ camp under the loft, elements of the GOBAG set appearing gradually beneath their flying fingers.

Production director, Kwasi Noel, touched each pocket at intervals during the evening, respectfully listening and consulting before returning to the director’s podium at the centre. As GOBAG’s original architect ten years ago, it seemed the project had not yet become old hat.

“It is not lost on me that I play a central role,” he mused, a few hours before GOBAG 10’s opening night. “Knowing that I am partly responsible for creating memories and moments for these young people that will last a lifetime, is the greatest gift that I have received.”

He expressed gratitude to the parents and past pupils of Fatima College and Holy Name Convent, who helped carry the GOBAG colossus that ran November 23–25 at the Fatima College Hall. “I have a lot of great help,” he said, citing the aid of lead accompanist, Myrtle Cumberbatch.

“Ms Cumberbatch has been critical,” he said. “She is a master accompanist and musician, but allows me the space as director to do what I need to do. She teaches the music, not just to the choir, but to me. Because of her accuracy, I know whether the choir and other instrumentalists may not be completely accurate.”

“He’s amazingly gifted,” said the recently retired Cumberbatch of her past student, “and so generous with that gift!”

This year, GOBAG 10 featured performances by Fatima College’s Junior and Senior Choirs, Junior and Senior Steel Ensembles, Guitar Troupe and Mixed Choir, comprising students of the college and sister school, Holy Name Convent.

Offering an assortment of genres ranging from African to Latin-inspired blends, the flagship element was an adapted excerpt of the 2008 Broadway musical, In the Heights’ that explored the struggles of a depressed American-Hispanic community in Washington Heights, New York City.

Initially a nostalgic nod to the version performed in GOBAG 2, Noel had already re-set his 2018 selections in July 2016, a few months before the US general elections. It then occurred to him that, “in a local context”, it couldn’t be timelier.

“I have witnessed xenophobia in Trinidad,” said Noel, a Spanish and music teacher at the college, “as our nationals, at times, treat Venezuelan refugees as though they are ‘less than’. So, we may not be calling for a wall to be built at Icacos but, ever so often, at restaurants where Venezuelans seek employment, I have seen the Trinidadian workers disrespecting them.”

In addition to the annual concert, which is part of the regular term calendar, the college offers a myriad of other activities, all aimed at helping students discover, explore and develop their innate abilities.

“Children learn like that,” said Fatima College principal, Fr Gregory Augustine, CSSp. “You give them that platform and they blossom. So, the stage is really a metaphor for the stage of life.” Himself a past student of the college, he added, “It’s a well-rounded school and this is the tangible experience of this roundedness. It’s an academic institution, but part of this teaching and learning is that the whole person has to be developed.” And learn to balance it all; work, study, prayer.

And, that’s one of the school’s strengths, said Allisten Cooper, a Fatima College biology and religion teacher, whose two sons are students there. “Here, they are completely immersed in the religious aspect of life,” he said, “and there are other strong male personalities here to teach them that real men pray, what real men are like!”