15th Sunday in OT (A)
July 7, 2020
Building an inclusive society
July 7, 2020

Memories of the Assumption Folk Chorale

Founding member Nigel Boos reminisces about a choir that, in its heyday, attracted young Catholic musicians and singers from across the island.

My brother, Fr John Boos MAFR (Society of the Missionaries of Africa) was ordained a priest by Archbishop Anthony Pantin CSSp at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on July 12, 1970.

He celebrated his first Mass at the Church of the Assumption, Maraval the following day in the presence of family, friends, and the public.

I had organised a choir for that Mass made up of students from St Mary’s College and St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain. I had also called upon some teenagers from Cascade, priding themselves with the name ‘Cascadores’, to provide guitar music.

We ended up with guitars played by Mark and Kirk de Souza, Nicholas Galt and Steven Pereira, with organ accompaniment by either Dave Cherie or David Lewis of CIC, and drums played by either David Hamilton or Gérard ‘Jigs’ Edghill.

After the Mass, amidst all the excitement, I thanked everyone but explained that all good things had to come to an end, and therefore I was closing the choir. They were aghast! As my dear friend, Alan Lyder put it, “What? No more choir? Why can’t we continue? We’d love to carry on if you’d only agree to lead us.”

Stimulated by their sudden interest and excitement I subsequently visited Fr Mark Connolly OP, the parish priest, and offered to provide a choir for Saturday Masses at Assumption, since, at that time, there was no choir at the church.

I wanted to experiment with the current ‘Folk Mass’ music which was being developed in the USA and elsewhere, and which included guitars, violins, organs, drums, and perhaps even steelband music, at some later date. Fr Connolly accepted the proposal.

The choir would be called The Assumption Folk Chorale (AFC).

We began practising the following week, and slowly, the parish community became accustomed to our presence and our type of music. It was not always easy, and there were indeed some who felt that guitars should not be allowed in church.

Little by little we won them over, and the teenagers continued to crowd into the choir loft to join us each Saturday.

Word spread fast, and soon we had teenagers and young adults asking to join us, from St Ann’s, Arima, Arouca, Diego Martin, Petit Valley, Port of Spain, and even a few from San Fernando.

They came, they met, they mixed, they sang, they celebrated, they had fun, they worshipped, they became friends, and a whole youth movement began right under our noses. There was no formal registration process, and everyone was welcome.

We happily accepted all backgrounds and asked only that everyone should respect the fact that we were in a Catholic church, before the Blessed Sacrament, which we believe to be the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

We met every Saturday for 6 p.m. Mass. Our success was due partly to the fact that we were meeting new faces from across the island. We saw one another regularly, and we enjoyed the thrill of being able to produce wonderful music to celebrate Mass.

After Mass, we would sometimes go in small groups to a local ice-cream shop, ‘Strawberry Alarm’ on Long Circular Road, or to someone’s home, to ‘lime’.

We became quite well-known throughout the island, and our example helped others to form similar youth choirs in a few other parishes as well.

I believe that we counted as many as 200+ members at the peak of our activity. We sang at a few weddings too, in other Catholic churches across Port of Spain, and we were grateful for a case or two of soft drinks in gratitude for our effort.

Across the island, enthusiastic young people began writing songs of glory and praise, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. I sent out a call to all the known songwriters and musicians of the day to come together in one place, on one day, to share their music.

One Saturday, therefore, some 40 youngsters turned up at my stepfather’s home, each carrying paper sheets and brown-bag lunches, and many guitars. We started at 9 a.m., allocating some time to each parish group to show us what they had developed, to distribute their prepared music sheets and to teach us, with guitar accompaniment, the new songs they had written.

As they played, guitarists from the other parishes took up the rhythms, and joined in with the presenting group. When each group had finished, the next parish took over, and so it went. At noon we stopped for lunch and then continued at 1 p.m.

At 3 pm., we voted on the songs that we thought could reasonably be used during our celebration of Holy Mass.

Although some parishes might have felt differently, they were free to continue to use their own music in their own parishes, but we agreed that, as a Church, we should use a specific group of songs universally, throughout the island.

Chris and Jean de Montagnac helped tremendously to guide us, in their role of monitors and advisers and special thanks must be given to the musicians who played essential parts in the slowly growing history of our choir.

Mark and Kirk De Souza, Nick Galt and Steven Pereira were our first guitarists even before we’d started the AFC; Nick continued to work tirelessly with me each week, determining the best guitar chords for each new song. He also played the organ brilliantly, and he would rotate with  David Lewis to provide excellent organ music every Saturday, and our two Canadians, Tim and Pete Stacey who are today well-known musicians in British Colombia and Alberta.

 

A Mass will be celebrated for original choir members at a date to be announced. For more information, contact David Lewis 317-8888 or Alan Lyder 684-0319.