From the first day of rehearsal for the pieces from Glenn McClure's Caribbean Mass, the young singers here at Brighton High School were ecstatic to be singing such fun music. The real excitement came when I announced the composer would be there for the concert and we would actually be performing the pieces with steel drums. One student said, "Wait. You mean he's still alive?" If this is not a crystal clear example of the need to teach our students that music is a living, breathing phenomenon, I cannot tell you what is.
When Mr. McClure worked with the students, he encouraged them to sing this music with their whole bodies, as opposed to singing it from the shoulders up and keeping the rest of the body still. Any voice pedagogue would agree that all vocal music is a whole-body experience. It was good for students to hear this from someone other than me. He also talked about the dual role of the choir in the pieces, sometimes singing smooth, legato phrases and at other times, singing percussively to accompany the steel drums. After we rehearsed and gained some insight from Mr. McClure about how he envisioned performances of his music, he spoke about his inspiration for writing the work.
In 1992, he said, the Americas were celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery. He noticed a disproportionately large number of programs that focused on the negative consequences of this discovery -- lots of talk about diseases that the Europeans and Native Americans introduced to each other, about the poor treatment of the Native Americans by the Europeans, etc. However, as a musician, McClure was aware of the positive cultural and artistic products of this meeting, which no one seemed to be celebrating. So, by writing a Caribbean Mass he combined the European with American. For example, he writes for piano (European) and steel drums (American). He combined Latin, Greek, and Italian texts with comparsa (Mexican) rhythmic figures.
It is not often that high school students have the opportunity to hear about a piece directly from the composer's mouth, and I know the students at Brighton appreciated that. The audience, which consisted of parents, students, and staff, also received the music very warmly. Some comments I heard: "[Mr. McClure] talked about the mixture of the different styles and cultures, and you can actually hear it! Just amazing!" "The kids were having a blast!" "This was so cool! I want to get [steel drums] for my students!"
The donors to the Brighton Education Fund and the board should feel proud to have made such an experience possible. Though it sounds cliché, we could not have done it without you! I am certain that I can speak for students, parents, and teachers when I say thank you to the Brighton Education Fund!
story and photo provided by Jason Holmes