Since Cayman Arts Festival began in 2004, it has brought great performances by visiting artists to the Cayman Islands.
Allied to this is a distinct element of education as relates to the younger generation of musicians, says co-festival director Glen Inanga.
“We get education through that interactive element; performers here in the Islands and from off island, so any opportunity the children get to work with visiting performers is fantastic,” he notes.
This began with a performance of Carmina Burana featuring 30 children from Cayman Prep and High School, plus Cayman National Choir and Glen plus Jennifer Inanga as a piano duo, he said. In 2006, there was a different setup – a ‘Top of the Pops opera’ featuring visiting singers and a local choir, too. That involved 60 singers from Cayman Prep and the Wesleyan Christian Academy.
“The first departure was in 2008 with the Garden Opera when we decided we would open it up and widen it to kids from different backgrounds. We had a very interesting feedback from those who came and said it was fantastic. Auditions were held and 32 kids were picked to represent the children, singing La Boheme.
“Workshops went on and it was an eye opener for us; we realised it was an opportunity for kids from different backgrounds to get together and sing. In 2010, it was the first time we had the youth group, Youth 2 Youth from Jamaica who brought 50 kids which we supplemented with about 25 from Cayman on woodwind and brass plus 30 singers. They were from a young age to people in their 20s,” he said.
Subsequently, the Cayman Youth Choir took a more solid shape. There was also a John Rutter Requiem in 2011, the choir’s first major performance alongside the University College of the Cayman Islands Choir.
“The climax was February 2012 when we had 300 kids from 14 or 15 different schools at the Big Song and Dance event. We had about 100 dancers and a wonderful cross-section at that performance. It was a wonderful development over the years and that’s just the singers.
“The Young Musician of the Year competition is where we are looking for people who want to excel and recognising that by giving them the opportunity to perform. The standard has always been quite high. In 2010, we had a Rising Stars event which featured past winners and finalists of the Young Musician competition. For the festival to be giving them an event on instruments was a wonderful thing for us which we hope to revisit for 2014,” Glen says.
He adds that there has been a growing interest in the competition and a growing feeling that the young stars have in playing a high standard of instrument, which bodes very well for the future.
Ultimately, he says, the hope is for the festival to continue to grow this and continue to play a part in helping standards rise and also give young people the all-important opportunity to perform in front of audiences.
“Performance opportunities are what they need the most – it is so important,” Glen says.
Another hope in the future is to be able to fund musicians to go to such things as youth camps. The Youth Choir, he explains, is partly funded by various Music on the Menu events. Money raised goes into such things as T-shirts and sheet music.
“We would like to be able to extend that so one day perhaps they could go on tour or put on events, or specialist choir training. That would be fantastic,” Glen notes.
Buying instruments that are not always available on Cayman such as a double bass is also an aim and that initiative, as well as in the future being able to send people on scholarships, are being discussed for the future.
Indeed, he adds, youngsters who have been in the audiences of previous concerts have gone on to have a “lightbulb moment” which has switched them on to their own interest in classical music, singing or playing an instrument.
That, says Glen, is a gratifying product of the Arts Festival’s involvement in the development of Cayman’s talented youngsters, as is the progression of youth development shown by the incremental increases of numbers in the choirs as the years have gone by. And it’s only the beginning.