Trinity Fest 2021: Celebrating the Virtual Stage

One of the most rewarding aspects of the first Trinity Fest in 2018 was the coming together of musicians of every age and kind, from teachers and students to professional performers and amateur music-lovers, across the country. Three years later, in a drastically changed world, the Fest was back, but in a very different environment – the virtual stage. Yet, the essentials remained unchanged – the joy of collaborative music-making, the thrill of performance, the communication of the most expressive (in our pardonably biased opinion!) of all arts to a responsive audience. The message came through, ringingly clear: times change, circumstances alter, music continues to work its magic of touching the soul and refreshing the spirit.

When the Academic Support Team for music began planning the Fest, we aimed at making it a fitting tribute to the memory of the iconic Mr H C Das, known to the Trinity community as the ‘father’ of Trinity in India. Loved and greatly respected by all who knew him and knew of him, his gentle but powerful influence was a guiding light that has remained undimmed after his passing away in 2020. The Fest, therefore, had to do justice to this remarkable man and his many achievements.

In designing the structure of the week-long event, our vision was equally clear – this was how we would provide a performance platform for all music-lovers, with the addition of pooling and exchanging our knowledge and expertise on a variety of music-related areas. Participation, performance, communication and collaboration were to be the defining features of this Fest. Being teachers and performers ourselves, we knew through experience, that the cancellation of concerts and shows, the difficulties in accessing instruments, the adapting to the unfamiliar medium of online teaching and learning, had resulted in a sense of professional isolation and of being out of our collective depths. We hoped, through the Fest, to redress, to some degree, some of these issues. The way forward, we decided, was to have performance as the underlying theme of the Fest, and invited the national community of music lovers to participate by sending in performances of specified pieces and songs for a variety of instruments. Given the time constraints, we would have a selection process from among the entries, and add value to the ‘mini concerts’ by providing useful contextual and teaching information and tips. Given the overwhelming response and the high standards in the performances sent in, we were pretty much spoilt for choice. And so it began…

Day 1 – Crossover

Fusion and crossover artistes are a prominent part of the global music scene, with boundaries between classical and popular, traditional and avant garde, blurred to create new idioms. Running with this trend, pieces from Trinity’s classical music and Rock&Pop syllabi were selected and arranged so that they visited each other to interesting effect. The instrumental version, for strings, of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit proved such a hit with the audience that, by popular demand, it was replayed on the final day!

Day 2 – The New ‘Young’ Piano syllabus

Launched this year, the new syllabus offers the widest repertoire choice yet, through all the grades. One particularly interesting feature is the outcome of the Young Composer’s Competition – one piece per grade of the winners finds a place in the syllabus. The youngest composer to be featured is Matthew Pitarello, under 10! His character piece Viking Village ( grade 1) is a little gem, full of a child’s vivid imagination, skilfully harnessed to musical expression. Composers from across the globe have contributed their unique voice, through their cultures and their influences, while retaining the formal structures of composition in harmony and form. These pieces were interpreted by the selected performers of all ages, with great facility and evident engagement.

Day 3 – Jazz it Up!

The session was given to the performance and discussion of the many styles of jazz in every instrument in the graded syllabus. From iconic jazz standards and the New Orleans sound, to fusion and 21st century style blues, jazz aficionados found much to incorporate into their repertoire. The academic team ‘walked’ the audience through jazz pieces well and not so well known – the universally known Little Brown Jug, Gershwin’s jazz staple Summertime (on Electronic Keyboard, an instrument that is so well suited to projecting jazz instruments and rhythms), Django Reinhardt’s manouche jazz, Minor Swing (guitar),the hybrid jazz number Caravan with its buzzing Afro-Cuban and Latino beats (drums), the intensely expressive Mr Cellophane from Chicago, full of humour and pathos ( voice) modern American composer Ross Petot’s elegant Please Count (piano), and, conveying the swing feeling tellingly, Swingin’Strings (violin). With this varied fare, the spontaneous yet complex jazz styles were projected through some lively performances.

Day 4 – Easy Pickin’

Perhaps the most popular of all instruments, certainly among young players world-wide, the versatile guitar was given a new look and sound. Easy Pickin’ demonstrated some not only pretty nifty guitar picking but also the elements of melody and harmony and the process that goes into the arrangement of a song in an instrumental ensemble format. The song arrangements combined the different strands of tune, chords, rhythm, beat and  expression and wove them into a single entity, involving, naturally, multiple considerations to be taken into account. The result was a convincing display of one of the most rewarding and joyous aspects of performance, and that is making music as a group.

Day 5 – Pitching it Right!

Using a choice of songs from Trinity’s Singing and Vocals syllabi, enabled the inclusion of a number of vocal techniques, since between these two syllabi of classical and contemporary popular music, can be found opera, oratorio, folk songs, lieder, pop, rock, blues and country music songs – and counting! Through featured performances of songs such as the pretty little, but vocally challenging, Edelweiss, Faure’s complex Pie Jesu and Maroon 5’s Sunday Morning, the elements of tone production and projection, accuracy in pitching, the importance of breathing were explained and demonstrated. To round off the session, the application of vocal techniques (given that the voice is, after all, the ‘first’ melodic instrument) to instrumental playing was talked about. The word ‘cantabile’, we need hardly say, was given due importance here!

Day 6 – Score with Improv

If improvisation in music is all about creative freedom, then can it be taught? A question often put by teachers and students alike. In this session the idea was to show that creativity in any medium needs to be anchored in essential knowledge and understanding of that medium. In this case, knowing how harmonies work with chord progressions, how sequences and registral changes can bring about a fresh new sound to a melody, how phrases can be elaborated on, all go towards making a cohesive, yet free-wheeling, performance. Away from the written ‘score’, yet using the framework to make an improvisation really score!

Day 7 – Teamwork Works!

For the finale, the academic team put on their performers’ hats to come together in a collaborative concert. To encourage ensemble playing from a young age, the Trinity syllabuses feature duets in the foundation grades. We took a sampling, for violin and for piano, and expanded them, from four hands to quite a few more! The point was to show one way of using the music familiar (through exam preparation) available and explore the creative options in the pieces. One of the most beautiful works in polyphony, Bach’s Fugue in E major from his monumental keyboard work, The Well-tempered Clavier, was translated effectively for the four voices featured – soprano, alto, tenor and bass, to give an idea of how to use different mediums in music. And we wound up with something guaranteed to lift the spirits and celebrate the gift of music – our arrangement of an extract of Beethoven’s iconic Ode to Joy from his 9th symphony, and ABBA’s aptly titled Thank you for the music…

As Trinity General Manager-India, Sachin Das summed up:

“Over this week we have been treated to an amazing array of talent from all over our country, which has justifiably received an overwhelmingly appreciative response… we are all enduringly grateful for the music that enriches our lives.”