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Thursday 22 March 2018

Glenda Collens – jazzing up the music scene

Glenda Collens has impressed people all over the world with her magnificent voice for many years and when tuberculosis threatened to cripple her career 11 years ago she faced the odds and fought back returning to the music scene even stronger than before.

“I lost my voice completely and people never expected me to recover and never expected me to sing again. It was devastating but it was definitely a rebirth,” she said.

In an interview at her Cascade home recently Collens recalled her childhood most of which was spent at Lady Young Road, Morvant with her Grenadian mother.

“My mother came to Trinidad in the 60s with a wave of immigrants and as a child living among immigrants I felt like I grew up in another island. Although I lived in Trinidad, I did not grow up in Trinidad. I did not eat Trinidad food, I grew up in a village of small islanders,” she said.

Collens’ passion for music started at an early age as she believes she came out of the womb singing.

Her first performance was at the age of 13 when as a member of her school choir she participated in the Vienna Music Festival in Austria. At 16, she had her first role at Queen’s Hall a production she participated in while at Holy Name Convent.

Her love for classical music was criticised by those around her.

“They used to say that I am this black child from Morvant and I am not supposed to be singing this music. Just tell me I cannot do it and I am going to go there. Yes I can because I have the ability to do it,” she said.

After school, she realised that she needed to leave Trinidad to pursue her dreams.

“Music was my life and if I wanted to get the next level I had to leave, there was no longer an environment in Trinidad that would nurture my aspiration, my singing, so I went to New York,” Collens said.

In New York, Collens auditioned for the Manhattan School of Music where she was accepted but did not know at the time that she needed to pay for her tuition.

“I asked them if we could have arranged something and they did. They put me in a special outreach programme which I was in for two years,” she said.

After, she was given a full four-year scholarship by the then president and now chancellor of the university, Jon Silber, to study voice at the School for the Arts with acclaimed American soprano Phylis Curtin of Boston University’s Opera Institute. She currently holds a BA in vocal performance.

Glenda has studied voice with Jocelyn Sealy, Lorna Mae Meyers, William Sharp, Noel Barker of Guildhall School of Music, London, Betty Allen of Columbia University and Harlem School for the Arts New York, Gail Blache Gill, New York. She also studied with Sharon Denials of the Opera Institute, Boston University and Vocal Pedagogy with Susan Ormont of Boston and New York.

She worked with conductor David Hoose when she sang the role of Ms Addie in the opera Regina at the Huntington Theatre, Boston. Glenda has also worked with conductors Ann Howard Jones and Bernard Shaw and performed in solo recitals in London, France, Italy and Hungary.

Glenda won the Cacique Award for best original music for the play Dance, staged at Queen’s Hall and the Chierri Drama Festival, Italy. She was nominated twice for the Cacique Award for best supporting actress for Last of the Red Hot Lovers and Shaggaround. Glenda was also nominated for another Cacique Award for best production for the play Waves of Hope which she produced with Bernard Hazell and Ricardo Nanton.

After her travels, Collens picked up jazz because when she came home there was no opera company.

“When I left, there was an opera company and when I came all of that was gone so I looked around and thought to myself what can I do and there was jazz. I like to do stuff that is intellectually challenging and stimulating,” she said.

In her performances the 45-year-old mother and wife pays homage to the songwriter by performing their works – but she does it in her own inimitable style.

“My interpretation comes from what I hear and what I feel, others call it jazz but I just think I am singing,” she said.

In her life, she says, she has had three mentors: her imagination, her mother and her last voice teacher.

“My imagination was my first, I just dreamed a lot, then my mother because of what she did, by leaving the cocoa plantations in Grenada because she knew there was another life somewhere and lastly my voice teacher who after my TB, nurtured me back to health because when I lost my voice it felt like I lost a limb and it takes a lot of mental focus to get back and not to give up and she was there for me,” she explained.

In November 2006 Glenda launched her production company MEDEA with the musical Swing Out Live! at the Little Carib Theatre in Trinidad. Glenda wrote, produced, directed and performed in the musical, which was nominated for six Cacique Awards.

Her plan for the future is to put on a musical every year so she can introduce music that is not here anymore.

In her most recent project, Glenda was the choral arranger/director for a choir of 30 back-up singers on stage in 3Canal’s 2008 musical production SHINE and also performed her familiar role of Diva.

She describes herself as driven because there is a fire inside that would not be quenched.

“When I get dismissals, when I get negatives, it is like a fuel. All I really want to do is sing, I will be very happy to be in my house and sing all day long,” she said.


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