When I arrived at La Petite’s 50th Anniversary I knew I was in for a great evening. I was greeted by two gentlemen in tux and top hats, who opened the door with a bow, and welcomed me to what turned out to be an evening that I will remember for a very long time.
Last Sunday La Petite Musicale of Toronto celebrated its 50th anniversary, which happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the death of Miss Olive Walke, the founder of the original La Petite Musicale in Trinidad. Miss Walke’s seminal folk creation inspired many La Petite choirs around the world, with the Toronto chapter outlasting all of its sister chorales.
Among other reasons for La Petite’s staying power, I believe the primary one is that it took root in Toronto, a city where Caribbean culture thrives like nowhere else. That thriving culture provided La Petite with a rich array of talent from all around the Caribbean, making La Petite not only a superb folk choir, but a splendid Caribbean-Canadian chorale.
But excellent choirs do not excel without an excellent choirmaster; and they had one for the last 44 years in Lindy Burgess, who joined the group “fresh off the boat” from Trinidad. He took the reins of the fledgling group and made it into a diamond that brings great pride to the Caribbean community in Canada.
The evening started with a delicious meal served to the rhythms of the Caribbean, and to a packed house of well-wishers. And within 10 minutes of dessert the true main course was served, the music and voices of La Petite Musical of Toronto.
The show made direct reference to the roots of the Caribbean by leading off with Tassa drums, representing the Southeast Asian Caribbean community; then African drums filled the room creating a great “Dougla” atmosphere as the dancers came from the front of the hall singing a joyous song and dancing till they got to the front; then to the stage. By that time the audience, already filled with the best of cuisine, was ready to be filled with music.
As part of the evening’s celebration, Lindy Burgess told the capacity audience that he was extremely blessed to have the support of the members of the organization. But he singled out, Kathleen Mills-Reese and Sam Springer, two members who have been active for over 40 years. They were both presented with certificates of recognition for their long service to La Petite.
Then Ms Cherrone Mohund, the acting Consul General in Toronto of the government of Trinidad and Tobago, Ministry of Community development Culture and the Arts, thanked the chorale for all that it has done over the years to promote the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, and presented a plaque to the artistic director Lindy Burgess.
But anyone who has ever attended a La Petite concert knows that La Petite always tells a story. And the narrator said: “Folk music is storytelling, a tradition that is from Africa. Calypso’s current event, the common trees set to music that is storytelling; it is the newspaper of the people molded and shaped into its current form right there in the Caribbean”. She added that Burgess came from to the Desmond Weight Calypso Coral in Trinidad that performed at the biannual Folk Festival in Trinbago; so it was inevitable that calypso would become a staple of La Petite musical repertoire. So calypso was infused with some folk vibes and introduced to La Petite in 1975, creating a flavor all of its own.
That was also the introduction to a David Rudder medley of calypsos starting with De Hammer, Bahia Girl, High Mas and ending with Calypso Music. Then, in bowing to the demands of the audience, they ended with a stirring rendition of Trinidad Taxi. The audience rose, joined as one in song, and sent La Petite into its next 50 years.