Review: The Bermuda Ambassador Choir

June 3, 2019

[Written by Dale Butler]

The Bermuda Ambassador Choir chose the last day of Heritage Month to celebrate Bermudian excellence with a debut concert at the majestic St. Theresa’s Cathedral to an audience of over 150. Led by Clearwater Middle School music teacher Martin Pastor, a Bloomsburg University graduate with a lot of personality, the tone was set for a night of solos and a cappella that led to a well deserved standing ovation.

With a mission “to showcase with our community on island and abroad what a blended voice in Bermuda sounds like,” they are of to a great start and a foundation that can only produce the results they desire to perform in Europe, a long road of extremely high expectations with the first giant step taken at its debut.

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The easiest road to take is to ensure that the majority of the songs performed are popular. The director, however, diverted from that course to fulfill one of his university’s principal goals “to provide the opportunity for musical experience and provide artistic leadership to the university and the community.”

Usually solo and duo performances are integrated into the general ensemble list, but Director Pastor started with “Ave Maria- The Lady of the Lake” by Frantz Schubert with 15 year old Sarah Medeiros singing with great confidence a once popular song that only drummer and singer Ronnie Lopes retains in his repertoire. Sarah set the bar high and her delivery was followed by 15 year old Eliza Olander who seems to be totally committed to a music career because I have seen her perform several times.

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She performed “I Dream a Dream” by Claude-Michel Schonberg as though she had written it and allowed her maturing voice to take command. Commendations as she did it in a soft and subtle way that drew you right into the concert relieving all of your daily tribulations.

This opened the door for Kevina Santucci and Vernesha Symods to perform a song I was not familiar with “Jesus, You’re Beautiful” by CeCe Winans which took me a while to really get into it because there was no warm smothery rhythm in the song, but they sang solos before joining voices in a beautiful harmony. Lots of promise here.

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Director Pastor then left the piano and greeted the audience a second time in his formal tuxedo tails with a welcome and thank you and went on to inform us that he had had chosen songs with “meaning, purpose and love. If you are here tonight for love and prayer, you are in the right place.”

With five songs left for family and friends we were treated to a night of a cappella from the ensemble of 28 singers. With veteran Peter Nash in the bass section he only had new comer Glen Fubler to rely on but the two added the depth the choir needed proving it is not about numbers. This section will grow, of that I am sure.

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From the moment I learned that the late Dr. E.F. Gordon’s wife, Clara, was a graduate of Oberlin Conservative of Music, I have retained keen interest in its graduates. I was therefore very pleased to see that “Hear my Prayer,” arranged by 1979 graduate, the late Moses Hogan [1957-2003], was included.

He actually performed in Bermuda and served as the editor of the new Oxford Book of Spirituals. I have no doubt that future performances will rely on that volume especially the 1998 EMI collection with acclaimed Barbara Hendrick. The audience loved the rendition of this song.

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“Ubi Caritas” a hymn usually sung at “Eucharistic Adoration” was, in my opinion, the group’s greatest challenge. I did some Latin in school with the late Edwina Smith but I was not ready for “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi set” which is “Where charity and love are, God is there”. We were just told it was by Ola Gjeilo but the ensemble did not appear to miss a beat thus taking their performance to an even higher level and something expected should they go to Europe.

This was followed by “Nia” a rather sedate song by the late Oklahoma City composer Glenn Edward Burleigh. The choir showed its depth and harmony. Not one of my favourites but the audience loved it with key lyrics like “this is my purpose” it was obvious that Director Pastor was speaking to us.

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It was then left to Joseph Daos, Elca Maranzana and Janice Pearman to pick up the pace with “I Know I’ve Been Changed’ by David H. Hamon. They were excellent because you could really feel their passion; Elca sang like an angel, Janice with great promise and joy, and tenor Daos was so soulful and deep like he had walked out of a Baptist church, not an easy task for a Filipino singer but he removed that racial stereotype.

Just when we thought this was the climax, a read of the programme revealed that “Shut the Door” by Randy Stonehill featuring Janice again and Peter, was the last song. The soloists and ensemble made sure that we would never forget their debut as they completed a flawless night that even the famous and historic Bermuda Philharmonic would salute. The door was open to celebrations. It was a great night.

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Saying you are going to Europe is easy but getting there and representing Bermuda is not going to so. Adding “Bermuda is another World” in 4 languages representing those in the ensemble, moving from black and white dress to Bermuda shorts with a colourful paradise top designed by one of our creative artist, combined with a few more popular songs will be more than enough ammunition for Director Pastor to wear with pride as he accepts invitations from The Queen and maybe even his eminence the Pope.

Dreams start small, as they did at the debut of Bermuda Ambassador Choir, who gave us a night that we can be proud of. I salute the Director and all of the singers who looked and sounded professional. They have a great future now that they have taken their first footstep with a well deserved standing ovation. No doubt choir numbers will increase.

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