Dominica’s Sixth Form Sisserou Singers Celebrate 20 Years of Sensational Sounds!*

The Sixth Form Sisserou Singers always put on a highly anticipated annual concert, which is staged in Roseau and Portsmouth. Photo courtesy of DAME.

The Sixth Form Sisserou Singers always put on a highly anticipated annual concert, which is staged in Roseau and Portsmouth. Photo courtesy of DAME.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of attending a performance of Dominica’s Sixth Form Sisserou Singers (SFSS), then  you’d better be sure to go to the next one if you  live here!  And if you happen to be visiting the Nature Island when they are having a concert, do put that guaranteed-to-be-wonderful evening on your list of things to do!

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to hear this melodious group of young choristers many times.  They are a constant delight.  And I am not the only one to say that.  Their consistently sold-out concerts confirm the positive results of their collective dedication, polished renditions and capacity for entertainment.  Thanks to the inspired guidance of their director, renowned musician and retired cultural officer Pearle Christian, they have maintained high standards and have really ‘raised the bar’ for choral music in Dominica.

In 2014, the SFSS celebrated 20 years as a choir in Dominica.  Here is a little glimpse into the group’s history and a few insights that Ms. Christian has happily shared:

Pearle Christian, Director of the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers (SFSS) has repeatedly said that “anything worth doing is doing well,” which is also  the choir`s official motto. Over 20 years, numerous young people have had the honour and pleasure of singing under Ms. Christian’s ‘baton’. As well, hundreds of loyal fans and eager concert-goers have received tremendous pleasure from the group’s annual musical endeavors. The enduring popularity of the SFSS is a testament to its well-earned reputation for excellence!

It all started when Pearle conducted a choral workshop for a few senior students at the Convent High School in 1993. The participants were determined to continue once they were in their sixth form. Pearle worked with their serious interest and the first 22 choristers enthusiastically performed at the (now-named) Dominica State College’s graduation ceremony in 1994.

After that first success, Pearle’s vision of the SFSS evolved so that the weekly rehearsals and special performances were only part of her ‘hidden agenda’. Her dream of enhancing character development, along with musical skills was subtly realized when the group organized an executive body and created objectives. This initiative enabled the singers to apply some of their other abilities, build confidence and take on external leadership roles.

'Aunty Pearle' directs in the shadows while the singers have the spotlight under her direction.

‘Aunty Pearle’ directs in the shadows while the singers have the spotlight.

Colourful costumes and beautiful vocal sounds are appealing to the eye and ear.

Colourful costumes and beautiful vocal sounds are appealing to the eye and ear.

The choristers have always enjoyed performing a diverse and varied repertoire of musical styles, including classical genres, Negro Spirituals, gospel, and jazz, among others. They also offer a medley of Caribbean folk songs with scripted narrations at their annual concerts.

It's real teamwork that results in great entertainment. The choir choreographs their very popular Caribbean folk song medleys.

It’s real teamwork that results in great entertainment. The choir choreographs their very popular Caribbean folk song medleys.

Every member is given an opportunity to recite one of the verses, thereby proactively contributing to the show`s success.

The SFSS sometime perform in less formal venues.  ON this occasion they were performing at a casual outdoor concert at Springfield, in the mountains of Dominica!

The SFSS sometimes perform in less formal venues. On this occasion, they were part of a casual outdoor concert at Springfield, in the mountains of Dominica!

SFSS Director Pearle Christian (2nd from right) describes the journey of the choir over the past 20 years at the Nature Island Literary Festival in August 2014.

SFSS Director Pearle Christian (2nd from right) described the journey of the choir over the past 20 years at the Nature Island Literary Festival in August 2014.

Although many choristers have come and gone over 20 years, “Aunty Pearle,” as she is affectionately known derives great pleasure from following their career paths and life events. Admittedly, she has devoted phenomenal amounts of time and energy into enhancing the talents of these fortunate young people. But she insists that if she had to live her life over, she would not hesitate to ‘pick up the baton’ again for the sheer joy of directing the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers.

*This article first appeared in the Dominica Association of Music Educators (DAME) November 2014 Newsletter.  Content for the piece was submitted by Ms. Christian and then edited by Gwendominica.  It appears here with the kind permission of DAME.

** Updates on the SFSS can be found on their Face Book page by clicking here.

A Christmas 2013 Memoir from Roseau Dominica: Part 2

This beautiful rainbow appeared over Roseau at about midday on Saturday January 11, 2014. Since then, the weather has been brighter and drier (fingers crossed!).

This beautiful rainbow appeared over Roseau at about midday on Saturday January 11, 2014. Since then, the weather has been generally brighter and drier (fingers crossed!).

Happy New Year to one and all!

Although the holiday season may by now seem to most people a distant memory, I only just finished celebrating last night! As you know from Part 1 of this memoir, Dominica was one of a number of islands in the  southern end of the eastern Caribbean severely pummeled by an intense rain storm on the morning of Christmas Eve.  In case you missed my descriptions from the day after (Christmas, in fact), you can read about them here.

Since then, there has been much discussion internationally about the apparent  adverse impact of climate change on small tropical islands.  Two thought-provoking and informative articles were written on this subject recently by Sir Ronald Sanders, a former Caribbean diplomat and Senior Research Fellow at London University .  You can review his insightful commentaries at: www.sirronaldsanders.com. 

While I remained storm-stayed for a few days over Christmas, my French conversation class had Christmas lunch with me on Friday December 27th.  While fresh vegetables were in short supply, I was reminded of winter days in my Canadian childhood when one “made do” with whatever was in the larder.  Fortunately, I was well stocked with other provisions.  As I had planned the menu in advance, I did not panic without salad greens at hand.  In fact, my offerings added to the authenticity of my festive Canadian meal – which emphasized both traditional English and French specialties that had been served up by my parents to family and guests  in days gone by.

My French conversation class was small, but we the amount we learned was very large!  Fom left: Gijs, Georgie, Carole (Director) and Gildas (instructor).

My French conversation class was small, but we the amount we learned was very large! From left: Gijs, Georgie, Carole (Director) and Gildas(Instructor).

The ‘plat du jour,‘ which was a curiosity to my European/Caribbean classmates had been previously described and  discussed.  Now it was time to sample it: La Tourtiere!  (French Canadian meat pie).  This savory mixture of pork and beef, with vegetables and seasonings was always served up on Christmas Eve at my childhood home.  I continue to do it here on the Nature Island and my brother Marc and family do the same thing ‘up north.’  I guess we really do love it and I am glad my niece and nephew are experiencing this tradition – even if they do live in an English-speaking part of Canada.  (But they do go to French immersion schools – so the meal complemented their studies too!).

Although I am always worried about how my dishes would be received, I was definitely reassured when Gildas (French) and Gijs (Dutch) went back for second helpings of the

My French teachers from Alliance Francaise de la Dominique are ready to taste the Christmas tourtiere (French Canadian meat pie).

My French teachers from Alliance Francaise de la Dominique (Carole and Gildas) are ready to taste the Christmas tourtiere (French Canadian meat pie).

Tourtiere.

From that moment on, I relaxed completely into the joie de vivre of Christmas 2013, even if it was a bit delayed!  So while we ate and enjoyed the view of Roseau from my porch on a momentarily fine day, we discussed climate change, and odd weather patterns in North America, Europe and the Caribbean, among other things.  But we didn’t speak much French.  Instead, our instructors Carole and Gildas freely spoke English.  They didn’t really mind, as they will be relocating from Paris to New York City in about a year’s time!  Unfortunately, Carole’s term  as Directrice at Alliance Francaise was up and they would be returning to France for a while.  There’s much more to the adventures of my exceptional young French teachers – and I’ll explain it all in an upcoming post!

Gwendominica describes the plate of sweets as serves up Canadian Christmas cakes made according to her late mother's recipes. Photo taken by Gijs.

Gwendominica describes the plate of sweets as she serves up Christmas cakes made according to Canadian/family recipes. Photo taken by Gijs.

When we got to dessert, I presented my Canadian-inspired assemblage of sweets – most of which were prepared according to my mother’s recipes and  her added annotations to make them taste the best.

Then we got a very special present from Gildas.

Gildas pours a very special drink for a very festive occasion.

Gildas pours a very special drink for a very festive occasion. Photo taken by Gijs.

He had recently returned from job interviews in France and he brought back champagne!!!  We toasted to health, happiness and a hopeful new year, with many good things to come in 2014.

By now, my Christmas celebrations were in high gear!  Even though I was not able to hike, I put on my boots and walked on slick roads, while negotiating broken pavements, muddy walkways and persistent puddles.  While infrastructure in my neighbourhood is presently being assessed for damages and (hopefully) repairs, I limit my drives to roads that are free of landslides and have only a few potholes!

The 'In A Chord' vocal ensemble 2014. From back left: Leng (Director/Accompanist), Caren, Celia. Front: Daria, Gwendominica

The ‘In A Chord’ vocal ensemble 2014. From back left: Leng (Director/Accompanist), Caren, Celia. Front: Daria, Gwendominica. Photo taken by Christopher.

Of course, wonderful music continued towards the close of the Yuletide season, culminating with a communal concert at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Goodwill ( a northern ‘suburb’ of Roseau) on Sunday January 5th.  Choirs, ensembles, soloists, instrumentalists and even some dancers came together to acknowledge Epiphany (that is actually January 6th, the 12th day of Christmas when the Wise Men brought their gifts to the Christ child).  As a member of the In A Chord vocal ensemble, I and my colleagues gave thanks through our gift of song  for this wondrous occasion.

With help from friends, I was able to attend other congenial feasts and good times – some  in homes in mountainous areas that had endured various hardships due to that now infamous storm.

I sincerely hope that you felt the  seasonal spirit of peace and goodwill as much as I did, despite the challenges imposed by Mother Nature in many parts of the world.

Thanks to my friends, neighbours and colleagues for making Christmas 2013 the most memorable one I have ever experienced in Dominica – regardless of the weather!