From 23-25 June, 1977, special concerts were put on at George Town’s Town Hall to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.
The programme included selections from Saint-Saens, Rogers and Hammerstein and Beethoven alongside Anglocentric numbers including Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory. The concerts were also notable as the first ever performances of Cayman National Choir, which is still going strong 35 years later.
Then-Governor Thomas Russell acknowledged that there were already existing talented voices in the Cayman Islands and said that the newly-formed choir would enhance the tradition.
“[T]he country is well-endowed with talented soloists, many of them professionally trained,” he wrote in his notes for the official programme.
The choir had its genesis in the Cayman Crusade Choir, under the tutelage of Dr. E. Mel McCoy. After that concert, according to the jubilee programme, “the choir received a very strong applause from the Cayman Free Press Editor”. The challenged was laid down to develop into a national choir and Dr. McCoy did just that.
Zeta Bodden was a founder member of the choir, which rehearsed at Elmslie on Sunday afternoons from 3 to 5pm. Ms. Bodden has good memories of that debut concert.
“We sang great and people applauded very loud. A lady stood up and said ‘keep on singing’ and then the Governor declared us as the Cayman National Choir.
“Being a part of Cayman National Choir was a privilege and I cherished the opportunity to sing and be a founding member. Dr. McCoy referred to me and Cayman Song Bird and Cayman National Choir youngest member. It offered us the opportunity to travel overseas and sing with larger choirs and perform to huge audiences,” she tells Weekender.
There were many memorable moments and special performances plus bringing in overseas musicians in the days before the choir had its own orchestra, and some bad times too such as singing at funerals, she continues. One particular moment was the resignation of an exasperated Dr. McCoy in 1989 and the subsequent rash of directors and conductors. At the time, the director and conductor told the Compass that financial issues were a factor, that the nation ‘did not care about’ the choir and that numbers had dwindled from 80 to only 30 members.
“I was very upset [when Dr. McCoy later passed away] as I thought of him as a family member and I know he was sad not to be with the choir,” says Ms. Bodden.
Katie Moore remembers being a part of Cayman Singers, a pre-national choir group that was in existence at least since 1972, when she came to the island.
“A breathtaking moment for me personally was the opening of the Botanic Park by the Queen in 1994. The choir was singing God Save the Queen in her actual presence – and I was playing the keyboard as Stephanie Williams (our usual accompanist) was busy in North Side with a children’s choir.
“It felt surreal to be playing the National Anthem with the Queen actually in attendance,” says Katie.
Another huge moment – of course – was the intervention of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Some members, including Zeta Bodden and conductor Sue Horrocks, had suffered terrible damage but decided to press ahead with Christmas concert plans, continues Katie.
“The evening of the first concert, as Sue and Co were setting up Elmslie Church for the concert, an earthquake magnitude well over 6 on the Richter scale, occurred. Sue said the lights in the church swung almost to the roof with the shake, and everyone was shocked.
“I was in the kitchen of the place we’d rented and thought I was feeling dizzy at first – then realised what it was. Thankfully, despite the magnitude, there was no overt damage, but we did wonder if there would be an audience. In the event, we had a big, appreciative audience, thankful that not only had they survived a Cat 5 hurricane, but also a strong earthquake in a matter of 3 and a half months! And we were so glad we’d gone ahead with the concerts.”
Indeed, since 1998 Sue Horrocks has played a central part in matters, the director’s boundless energy a constant driving force, according to current member Neil Rooney.
“Steadfast, unflappable, professional, creative, witty and absolutely committed – all you can only hope for from a leader is what she brings to the task week in and week out. This venerable institution owes its longevity, the quality of its sound and its polish to the one person who always turns up first,” says Neil.
Marius Sabin Gaina is president of the choir and he says that the outfit plays an important part in Cayman life.
“Some people, after watching us may be a little hesitant to join us because they think that they cannot handle the level at which we perform. This is fortunately not true – it is a false impression. We are just a group of enthusiastic music lovers who strive to achieve the best that we can. For many of us, the choir is a great environment to help reduce our daily stress.
Over the years, the choir has gone from strength to strength, however we would not have been able to achieve all that we have without our exceptionally talented and devoted director, Sue Horrocks, who continues to successfully lead and develop this diverse group of people around her.
“Our success is also attributable to the commitment and dedication of our members who faithfully attend choir practice every Monday evening and of course, to the loyal public who have been very supportive. This winning combination of a driven director, committed members, and a wonderful public is the key to our success and our longevity. In conclusion, we have a short message for your readers. If you like to sing, please do not hesitate to join us. We promise that we will not disappoint you.”
For more about the choir e-mail [email protected]