Take ten talented women who sing and play myriad instruments and place them in a setting befitting their skills. Have them “vibe” off each other while they dip into the creative pot and dole out their musical wit to an appreciative audience. This is part of the essence of the Divine Echoes Orchestra, a musical group that came about in the latter 2000s with a mission and a message of inspiring positive change (especially in the social interactions among young people) through the use of music at the school and community level. The members of Divine Echoes consist of Moricia Cagan, Susan Wallace, Kensa Thomas, Janelle Xavier, Dorniel Paul, Josann John, Michelle Henry, Krystal Borris, Kadija Jeremiah and Elena Rawlins. For this interview, WomanWise caught up with a few members of the band, and got a feel for what being a Divine Echoes member is all about. If you’re curious to see them in action, don’t forget to look out for tentative community concerts commemorating the country’s 50th anniversary of Independence between August 11th and 22nd 2012 throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
To Moricia Cagan, Divine Echoes is 'everything'. She is also a past track and field athlete and comes from a small family. She admitted that it was a bit difficult at first being around such a large group every day. But being part of the team has made her learn patience and humility. “The launch of Divine Echoes was the start of something beautiful, the start of a family. I will always remember that moment,” she said. “I love them all. All of our shows had that special ‘Divine Echoes' touch. All of our performances express who we are musically.”
For Suzanne Wallace, being part of the Divine Echoes Orchestra has taught her grace, given her a chance to live independently and live up to her aspirations. “To be a leader you must first learn to be a servant,” said Wallace succinctly.
Divine Echoes means the world to Kensa Thomas, the lead trombonist and section leader of the brass section. She also does some vocal work, and organises rehearsals, while conducting and arranging music for the band.
It’s her place to work hard but at the same time, she plays hard. “It’s my first and dream job. I'm doing what I love. The most memorable time for me was the first time I conducted the band for TUCO's Calypso Awards in 2010. That was fun. I was a little scared at first, but after the first three songs things fell into place and it was good. To be conducting a band that size (32 members), have all their attention, plus make sure the band was together or didn't ‘buss’ when the performers went of course or forgot their words was a task, but boy, did I have fun keeping it together.”
Janelle Xavier may be one of the ‘younger’ members in the band but she has been playing the violin since she was eight years old. She is a postgraduate Scientist with five years of working experience in designing and implementing projects, monitoring and evaluation and stakeholder engagement. Xavier started with Divine Echoes about one and a half years ago and is an experienced violinist, violist and vocalist who has worked in Trinidad, Jamaica, the USA and the UK and is familiar with classical, jazz, soca, reggae, fusion, pop, gospel and African music. She also plays the viola, which she calls her “baby” and it has been in her life for almost three years. According to Xavier, no matter where you are, if you want a career in music, you need to take your progression into your own hands in a way that is unheard of in other industries. “Have a good manager, find as many mentors as you can, play wherever you can, ensure that you plan your financial life very well, practise constantly and be seen,” she advised. “Although it’s not a school, I would call it the best musical On-the-Job training anyone can receive in Trinidad. The being-seen part can be fun. You should go to lots of other gigs and lime strategically. Be friendly with everyone and always play your best, you never know where your next gig will come from. Be open. Some of these women and men (I meet) will be my friends and musical mentors for life.” She added that finding one’s voice comes with confidence and experience, and it is necessary to go out and experience life. By taking on opportunities that present themselves you will know what you like and don’t like. Apart from practice, a musician’s greatest asset is our ability to be emotionally sensitive and portray these different feelings through music. “You can’t do this until you’ve experienced things, good and bad...everything is fodder... think of the music of David Rudder and Adele.”
For Dorniel Paul (who joined Divine Echoes in November 2009), Divine Echoes means professional music and earning a living doing what she loves, which is music. Paul and her future plans are to keep learning and playing music.
“I learnt to actually read and play music with the band,” she said. “When I joined Divine Echoes I could only sing. Now I'm a team player.”
“As a trumpeter and musician, I have consistently sought the most efficient paths to facilitate my learning and development in the Entertainment industry,” said Josann John, a Divine Echoes member and university student who will be receiving her Diploma in Music from UTT in 2013 (specialising in the trumpet). “In my six years playing the instrument, I have visited Cuba and Barbados, played for diplomats at their residents, at the Summit of the Americas and CHOGM and Jazz and Music Festivals. I also placed 3rd in my category at Music Festival of Trinidad and Tobago after only two months of playing.” John believes that one should never forget where they came from and that anyone can achieve anything they want to do. Her future plans include having her own music school.
Borris started learning music at the tender age of five and is currently reading for her Master’s program in Music and finishing her degree in Musical Arts at the University of the West Indies. A driven woman, she believes that being part of the team one must have the ability to practice effective listening and communicate using the language of music. Krystal Borris finds that Divine Echoes is extraordinary. “Our belief in God and prayer is so strong that nothing is impossible,” she said proudly. “To have young musicians with different backgrounds come into a space to develop their full potential and create one sound is something out of the ordinary. This band has created opportunities beyond expectations and touched the lives of so many.”
The orchestra was Kadija Jeremiah’s first band that she has ever worked with and it was also her first job, so it is definitely something to cherish. In essence, she believes the women of the Divine Echoes Orchestra demonstrate that hard work, commitment and persistence can take you many places. “To ladies and young girls who want to be in our field, all I can say is go for it and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make it. Live your dream.”