How The Assumption Folk Chorale was born

Let’s Open Our Hearts from the album A Brand New Canticle by Nigel Boos & The Assumption Chorale.

Produced by Kazim Abasali – The Empowering Artist
Photos used in this music video Kazim took while in The Seychelles, Dubai, and Sweden in 2013.

How The Assumption Folk Chorale was born in Trinidad and Tobago by Nigel Boos – Founder

(written by Nigel Boos on November 2007, in Ajax, Ontario, Canada.)
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JOHN’S FIRST MASS
John was coming home to Trinidad, to be ordained a priest by Archbishop Anthony Pantin, the first local Trinidadian to be created an Archbishop. Great news! A wonderful blessing from Almighty God, and one to be recorded forever in our family’s history.

So, how could I help, to make his day a memorable one. As I thought about it, I realized that the answer was right in front of me. I was a Music Teacher (although a rather poor one), I had a choir, and all I needed to do was to persuade my choir to sing at his first Mass.

Now, in those days, (1970), it was still unheard of for girls to be associated with boys, and the two were kept strictly apart. The back gates of CIC on Pembroke Street were immediately adjacent to the front gates of St. Joseph’s Convent, however, and when classes ended each day, it was the obvious meeting place for the young men and young ladies to meet and greet each other, in full view of the Holy Ghost Fathers, on one side of the road, and of the Sisters of St. Joseph, on the other.

Wonderful friendships developed through the fact that the two gates abutted onto one another, and intense academic rivalries exploded year after year, as students vied for the coveted Island Scholarships which would be granted to the top achievers only, in the annual Oxford & Cambridge “A” (Advanced) Level Examinations. The lucky winners of these Scholarships were given financial rewards that allowed them to pursue, free of charge and at the Government’s expense, any course of study of their own choosing, at any recognized University in the world.

But it was quite unheard of for the youngsters to perform together (for example in plays, in skits, in music, etc.) and the genders were kept far apart. During an earlier phase of the College’s life, in fact, the parts of women who populated Shakespearian plays were all given to boys, who had to endure the most unfitting make-up and dress. Further to this, any need for a black actor was fulfilled by painting a white boy with black shoe polish or burned cork.

It was within this atmosphere that I decided to form a choir for John’s First Mass. But I didn’t want the whole of St. Mary’s College Choir to turn up. I was more selective. I approached Mark and Kirk de Souza, both young guitarists at the time, and asked them if they would help me out by practicing and then playing for the First Mass. Then, Mark advised me that he knew of a group of teenagers who had formed a little band and that they practiced regularly in their parents’ garage in Cascade. They called themselves, quite appropriately, “The Cascadors”. I drove the CIC community’s car over to the address given to me, the home of Mr. Ian De Verteuil, and there they were, on a Saturday afternoon, practicing their stuff. I got out of the car and leaned back on it, to listen to them. (They were very surprised, since they knew who I was, from the fact that they were CIC students, but I had never had any previous connection with any of them.)

Eventually, I walked over to them and introduced myself.

“Hi, fellas”, I said, “Can I talk to you for a while?”

“Sure, Mr. Boos, what can we do for you?”

“Well, you boys seem to have a fine little band here, and you seem to be well coordinated. Obviously, you’ve been practicing a long time. But where do you play? Do you get any work? Do people come to see and hear you?”

“Yeah, man, we get jobs from time to time, here and there, but basically, we enjoy playing together. So it’s not about gigs and jobs really. We just like to lime here.” (‘Liming’ is a Trinidadian slang, equivalent to the North American ‘hanging out.”)

“Well now, listen. How’d you like it if I could get you an audience of, say, 1000 people to listen to you? Would you like that?”

“What, Mr. Boos! Can you really do that? Where we could get so many people to listen to us?”

“O.K.”, I replied, “Well, if you’re interested, would you like me to show you where the venue is? And after you’ve seen it, we can talk, and I’ll explain what I have in mind. If you’re still interested, then we can go from there. But you’ll get a chance to make you minds yourselves.”

“That’s fine with us, Mr. Boos. But we’d like to see what you’re talking about first.”

“Well, great. Why don’t you put away your instruments and get into the car, and I’ll take you there right now. It’s only about 3 miles from the house.”

They piled into the car and I drove them over to the Assumption Church in Maraval. ”What! You want us to play our music in CHURCH, Mr. Boos? What will the priest say? What will people say? Guitars in Church? Are you sure we can do that?”

“Well, I said, “if you agree to play here, I will talk to the Parish Priest and ask him whether he will allow you to play for my brother’s First Mass in July. Because, he is coming to Trinidad to be ordained, and I want to make his First Mass a special event for him.”

They grouped together to discuss my suggestion, and then they said to me: “Mr. Boos, you have a deal. You get the permission and we’ll play”

“Wonderful, fellas! But of course, you will have to practice the songs I will select, and you’ll have to practice with a choir as well. I don’t have a choir as yet, but I’ll make one.

I next spoke to some of the young ladies who were students at St. Joseph’s Convent, and asked them if they would agree to help me with a choir I intended to form. “But”, I cautioned, “practices will have to be held in the Music Room at CIC and I will have to smuggle you into the College grounds.

With the added incentive of suspense and intrigue created by this warning, I quickly collected a small group of youngsters who agreed to join the “Choir”. Further, I was able to convince a number of boys from CIC to join the Choir, but really, the task was not difficult at all – especially when they heard that some Convent girls would be joining as well.

And so we began. Once a week, a few young ladies crept across Pembroke Street, the great divide between Convent and College, and the young men gathered together with them, under my supervision, to practice the songs I had selected for the First Mass. We had a wonderful time during these sessions. We joked, we sang, we strummed, we got to know one another, we . . . . melded. By the time the Big Day came, we were ready.

John was ordained by Abp. Pantin on July 12, 1970 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Port of Spain. The entire family was present, and he, together with 2 other young men, Peter Wayow C.S.Sp., and Garfield Rochard had the Archbishop’s hands laid on them and they were declared before God and men to be “priests forever, according to the order of Melchisedec.” We were so proud, so happy for him and for us all.

The following day, we met together again, at the Church of the Assumption, in Maraval. For the first time at Assumption Church, the sounds of guitars, drums and organ, playing together in harmony, and supporting the voices of 40-something singers, all teen-agers, filled the rafters of the church and brought joy to the assembled congregation.

The Assumption Folk Chorale was born!

The Original Cascadors
Cascadors 1L-R: Tim Stacey, Christian de Verteuil, Steven Pereira, Peter Stacey, Godfrey de Verteuil, Rusty Beston.

THE ASSUMPTION FOLK CHORALE

After we had sung at Fr. John’s first mass, I thanked all the choir and band members, and told them that I was very happy with their effort, but that all good things had to come to an end, and therefore I was bringing the Choir to an end.

But I hadn’t yet had to contend with one Alan Lyder, who protested (thankfully), and who suggested instead that we had a good thing going and that we should try to keep the choir going. Were it not for Alan’s insistence, the Assumption Folk Chorale might never have come into existence. Alan felt strongly, that our Parish could do with a real uplift, and perhaps a youth choir could be the answer, to bring many youngsters back to the church. Thank God for Alan.

And so it was that we agreed to continue with our choir. I visited Fr. Mark Connolly, the Parish Priest, and had a conversation with him, which went like this:

“Fr. Mark, I see that you do not have a resident Choir to sing at Assumption Church. Am I right?”

“Yes, Nigel. We do not have a Choir, and we have no immediate capability of forming one.”

“Well, Father. I have a group of young people, who have sung at my brother’s First Mass last week, and they are interested in continuing to sing each week at Assumption. Would you be willing to let us do this?”

“Yes, I would be very pleased with that. Will you lead them?”

“Yes, Father. I will be prepared to lead the young people, and we would also want to have the right to practice each week at the Church, with your permission. However, I must also point out that this Choir will not regard itself as tied to the Assumption Parish. We would want to be free to sing, without having to approach you, at different venues throughout the island, and in effect, the Choir will be mine. But we would like to offer our help to the Parish by singing each Saturday at the evening Mass. Can you accept that?”

“Let me think about your proposal and get back to you”.

A few days later, Fr. Connolly called me and said, “O.K. I accept the suggestion and your offer to sing at the Saturday evening Mass. And I accept that I will not be in control of the Choir, but rather you will do so. Thank you for your kind offer.”

We began practicing the following week, and slowly, the Parish community got accustomed to our presence and to the type of music we presented. It was not always easy, and there were indeed some who felt that guitars should not be allowed in Church. But 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 young people from Parishes far away from Maraval, coming to the Saturday evening Mass, and willing to take part in the singing. Youngsters from St. Ann’s, from San Fernando which was 35 miles distant, from Arima, Arouca, Sangre Grande, and from Moka, from Diego Martin, Petit Valley, Carenage and parts of Port of Spain. 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. I made no distinction between Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Scottish Protestants, Seventh Day Adventists, or whatever. I did not make distinctions based on colour, age or creed. I asked only that those who came, should enter into the spirit of prayer and respect the fact that they were in a Catholic Church, before the Blessed Sacrament, which we considered to be the Body of Jesus Christ himself.

We met every Saturday, and we enjoyed our Masses thoroughly. Partly, of course, this was due to the fact that our friends came from far and wide, from all across the country, each week, to be with us. 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 restaurant, or to the ice-cream shop (“Strawberry Alarm” on Long Circular Road), or to someone’s home, to “lime.”

I set up a schedule to be able to keep track of all that was going on. The schedule was as follows:

Monday: Write music.
Tuesday: Meet with guitarist to identify music chords.
Wednesday: Band Practice
Thursday: Choir Practice
Friday: Write a weekly 1 pg. newsletter for internal distribution
Saturday: Print sheets of words for selected music. Folk Mass at 6.00
Sunday: Typically, weddings, at which all members were invited to sing.

Rather full, eh? Yet, that is how it really was. We became known throughout the island, and we helped to form similar youth choirs in different parishes as well. According to my memory, we had over 200 members in the Choir at the peak of our activity.

We sang for weddings in many churches across Port of Spain, and the only recompense we ever received was an occasional case of Coca Cola, which was distributed to the members. Today, November 2007, I now live in Ajax, Ontario, I find it difficult to understand that it is almost impossible to find a choir willing and ready to sing at weddings. At Trina’s wedding last year, I had to do the singing myself, together with Carl Duhaney, Rich’s dad, at St. Bernadette’s Church. (Mind you, I think it was perfect!)

I organized a get-together at my parents’ home at #3 Maxwell-Phillip Street, in St. Clair. The idea was simply this – there was not any available and suitable music for Church use, to meet the specific needs of a particular Feast Day or Church function. We therefore felt the need to develop some music for ourselves. All across Trinidad, young people were writing songs and trying them out at their Parish levels, but they were not being disseminated across the island. I felt it was necessary to bring all the song-writers and choirs together in one place, on one day, to share what they had achieved. So the call went out.

On the day in question, we had about 60 young people turn up at Uncle Joe’s home, each carrying sheaves of paper and a brown-bag lunch, and many guitars. We started at 9.00 am. and gave ½ hour to each participating parish group, to tell us what they had developed, to distribute their prepared music sheets and to demonstrate, with guitar accompaniment, the new songs they had written. As they played, the other guitarists took up the rhythms, and joined in with the presenting group. When each group had finished their presentation, the next parish took over, and so it went. At 12.00 noon we stopped for lunch (I supplied the pop) and then we continued at 1.00 pm.

At 3.00 pm., we felt that we had heard it all, and we stopped. We voted on the songs that we felt we should continue to use in church, and, 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.

This exercise was extremely beneficial, in that it proved to be a great networking idea, and we, as young Catholics, got to know and to mix with others doing similar work across the island. Telephone numbers and addresses were exchanged, and wonderful personal contacts were made, many of which continued for years afterwards.
Assumption Folk Chorale and Friends - Reunion 2008Assumption Folk Chorale and Friends – Reunion 2008