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The ‘Color’ of contemplative music

By Kaelanne Jordan

Color Music Ministry is an evolution that is still taking place. The Catholic group started as a church choir providing music for Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary RC Church, Barbados.

The Choir of Our Lady of the Rosary (Color) eventually expanded its offering beyond Mass for weddings and funerals. The choir at that time was a unique combination of musicians and vocalists: two guitarists, Denis Del Castilho, and Dermot O’Dowd; two male vocalists—one with a wide range running from baritone to tenor, Stephen Joseph, one tenor-Chris Richards;—three female vocalists: two altos, Michelle Sambrano and Audra Stevenson Drakes (a Trinidadian living in Barbados for over 20 years), and one soprano, Monique Ramsey.

Over time, the choir produced a natural distinctive style, contemporary yet folksy with harmonic vocals partly because of the playing style of the guitarists, and the range of vocals that was a part of the group.


From church choir to music ministry

Feedback making its way back to the choir carried a consistent and similar theme: the music was prayerful, comforting, meditative, touching. This led the choir to hold a public concert in 2012 ‘In Christ Alone’.

“This was the start of the evolution from church choir to music ministry and the group started to move beyond the domain of making purely liturgical offerings,” said Stevenson Drakes, Color’s group leader, musical director, vocalist, guitarist and composer.

Additional musicians were enlisted to deliver the experience that was envisioned, violinist Deborah Hutchinson, a parishioner at Our Lady, which added a new element to the choir’s distinctive sound, and Catholic musician David Carnegie.

Because of the time spent in prayer and rehearsals, the choir moved from being just a group of persons into a very special “choir family”. In 2015, they started recording the album Breathe.

“Breathe was the next evolution… making the music accessible beyond walls, beyond country, beyond region.”

By this time, the choir had expanded into composing and performing music for responsorial psalms and creating original music.

Music was composed for praying the rosary in song, and a new composition ‘A Caribbean Rosary’ was recorded and released online.

In 2016, the group held a number of prayer sessions for Del Castilho when he fell ill. “It was natural that these sessions would incorporate music as this was our natural form of expression. This was the start of what eventually became Contemplative Worship (CW) evenings, a monthly onsite event at the parish. It has provided a space for prayer, music, and quiet reflection in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. It was (and still is) supported by other ministries within the parish and by the Clergy.”

Color draws from a pool of willing musicians and vocalists depending on the song or project and their availability. They are: Stevenson Drakes, Sambrano (Vocalist, Guitarist, Composer); Chris (Vocalist), a Trini living in Barbados for over 20 years; Hutchinson (Vocalist, Violinist); Gillian Hassel (Guitarist), St Lucian living in Barbados; O’Dowd (Guitarist), Barbadian, recently relocated to Trinidad (living between both islands); Stephen Joseph (Vocalist), St Lucia born; Ramsey (Vocalist); and Neil Newton (Sound Engineer, Bass).

According to Stevenson Drakes, each member has had music as a part of their early life in some form or another, most through the church. She shared that as a pupil of St Joseph Girls’ RC, she was one of the students who led the hymns for assembly. Sambrano commented, “I cannot remember a time when I didn’t have music in my life in some form or the other.”

She explained that the Ministry’s original music is not of one style or message. “We are usually driven by inspiration, unless there is an overarching project we are working on.”

Sambrano asserted regardless of the type of song they write, they would want it to move those who listen to reflect on the beauty, goodness, and power of God.

The group composed a song ‘Most Holy Trinity’, a prayer to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as a “gift” to Archbishop Jason Gordon when he left Barbados to take up his appointment as Archbishop of Port of Spain in 2017.

“This was part of a special selection of our original music that we wanted to share with him to support his prayer life. We had given him a personal copy but rerecorded and released publicly last year in time for Trinity Sunday,” the group explained.

Beauty in silence

Hutchinson observed that silence and stillness were hard to find in the fast-paced world that predated the pandemic. “The contemplative worship sessions have provided solace and opportunities for spiritual growth and the fact that they are podcasts means they’re always there. As special as contemplative worship in person is, it’s great to sit at home and feel joined to others out there all over the world….” Hutchinson said.

Sambrano asserted more than ever, if we cannot be quiet, we may miss the chance to hear God.

“Our noisy, crazy world will benefit much from more meditation and silence. Only in that space can we move into better relationship with Him. At the heart of contemplation is silence. This can feel contradictory to a tradition that emphasises the spoken and proclaimed Word.”

She commented, for a body to be healthy and grow, it must not only ingest but also digest. “If time is spent only in getting the message, how will we benefit from the message without spending time to internally review and truly understand what is being proclaimed? And how would we hear God’s response if we are not quiet enough to discern His voice? It is a two-step process. Without both, the Word will not grow in us.”

CW moved into a virtual space with the onset of Covid and lockdowns, and they now have Contemplative Worship Evenings, live online. Under the umbrella of ‘Color Music Ministry’ is an amalgamation of Music by Color, Contemplative Worship Live (CW Evenings), the Contemplative Worship Podcast and the Color Barbados YouTube channel.

Under this ministry, Color collaborates with the choir at Our Lady of the Rosary RC, other Catholic ministries, musicians, and contributors to provide opportunities for encounter with God.

The Contemplative Worship Podcast which started in October 2018 was the start of the final evolution into what the group currently is today.

The group’s biggest audience on the podcast comes from the USA, UK, and Canada. For YouTube and SoundCloud, they see larger audiences from Barbados and Trinidad.

Color Music Ministry tends to stay behind the scenes, which is why you will notice that the group doesn’t appear in the music videos, and there are hardly any photos of the group online. The group asserted they want the focus to remain on “the offering” i.e., the music, the worship sessions, the reflections etc.

“Our wish is for people to connect with the message, not the messengers,” Stevenson Drakes said.