edge

The Slim Lady Sings

Pictures courtesy Mark Lyndersay

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMy name is Glenda Collens and I am a vocal coach.

I didn’t know I was a Trinidadian till I went to high school and met Trinidadians for the first time. I come from a Grenadian village on Lady Young Road, Morvant. I’m first generation Trinidadian, conceived in Grenada. My mother was four months pregnant with me when she came to Trinidad. My entire life before Boston University was up in Morvant. I left home for college. I now live in Cascade with my husband, Shane, my son Christopher Bolandz, my pride and joy, two rescued cats and one rescued dog.

When it was time to settle down, Shane was it. I would see this guy running around the Savannah and had no idea who he was but thought he was hot! Someone suggested him as a guitarist for my musical. I gave him my numbers in the corner store and that was it.

In the village where I grew up, there was only one Trinidadian family. I didn’t know that there was a difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ until high school, [when] I was made aware of the difference by ‘them’. My mother would remind me to not let anyone know where my family was from for fear of the label of ‘small islander come here to thief native’s jobs’.

On the wave of Independence and the promise of the Federation in 1963, Prime Minister Eric Williams promised the ‘small islanders’ their own land and a better life in return for their votes. He put them in the thicket hills of Laventille, Morvant, Barataria, Diego Martin and Carenage. Cow-itch, stinging nettle, gru-gru bef trees and endless snakes. Hence today the generational vote is guaranteed, no matter the condition of their lives.

In 2010, I lost my mother Joyce, my guiding light. Her death left a huge void. She was also the glue who held the family together. When she died, [the family I came from] died.

I’m grateful to a mother who appears to have been smarter than most, perhaps because of the people she worked for. She quickly learned how to assimilate, got rid of her Grenadian accent and made sure her children never developed one. Back then being a ‘small islander’ , the name calling was real, being shunned was real. She didn’t want that for her children.

I grew up eating only Grenadian dishes and knew more about Grenada than Trinidad. But in 50-odd years my mother travelled back to Grenada once. Twice a year, she went to the wharf for a box of spices and foods she could not get here.

At high school, I met a St Lucian who became my best friend to this day. She lived in Sea Lots, in a village of St Lucians.

I was raised Catholic, christened, baptised and communed, but none of it stuck. If there is a God, I’m not impressed. If this is the best the omnipotent maker can do, I have a lot of questions as to his intent. If he exists, he is having a belly laugh at our expense.

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMany bad people live sometimes very long lives we view as beautiful, unlimited wealth, good health. Having amassed generational wealth selling the idea of “the afterlife” to the poor and disenfranchised.

If believing in a God makes people behave decently toward other humans, I’m all for them. I don’t see that happening with too many of the God-fearing though. So I can’t believe their belief is good. I am totally indifferent whether people call me atheist or agnostic. I don’t care for labels.

I don’t do anything special to relax because I think I’m relaxed all the time. But my son or husband will probably have a different answer.

I love ending the day looking at the sun go down. It used to be with a glass of something white but I’m a teetotaller now and won't self-medicate with a vodka neat at the end of the day anymore. So I have to deal with my anxiety and depression cold turkey. I do not miss drinking. I haven’t given up Guinness though. I have a couple of those on the weekend. I never thought I’d be able to give it up my five cups at least of coffee a day, black no sugar. But, since New Year’s Day, I have not given it another thought.

I read Dorian Gray for the first time when I was nine and I’ve been re-reading it ever since and every time I get a different perspective. Even ending the way it does, it gives me hope there can be total freedom without some form of consequence.

The ‘change of life’ started in my 48th year so it’s been ten years of EXTREME difficulty. I’ve had to change into a semi-retirement state of being. My energy level is under half what it was. I have these sweats every hour on the hour, sometimes more than one, and it leaves me lifeless. Moving about is like running a marathon. [Twice] each day. It’s exhausting. It has no mercy.

The colour blue energises me but only to look at. Put a drink in a blue glass and I get depressed.

Carnival is life. Since the advent of ‘the rope’ culture, I storm bands to see how long it will take before they toss me out. Shane thinks it’s hysterical because they never do. He chips along on the outside rope while I way-lay-way-lay meh body with each band.

I’ve stayed what BC Pires calls ‘gorgeous’ because I’ve always been too poor to afford the best chocolates. And I’ve stayed slim eating my favourite dish, dumpling and stew beef, for the same reason. I’ve always been to poor to eat out and have never eaten store-bought food, junk food or fast foods. I’m also very vain. I was born with a great starter kit, I love it and I’m keeping it.

Men are ALWAYS rude to me on the street. I had to learn at an early age how to deal with it.

The doctors said I came out screaming but my mother would tell you I came out the womb singing. Because I made a very dramatic entrance, I will say I was also born an actor. My first public performance was on the Auntie Kay show, age seven.

I don’t consider myself a teacher but a coach. I may introduce new techniques but I assume they already can sing and work with what they come with.

I’d never thought of my voice as extraordinary, until recently and only in retrospect. It’s always just been my voice. I really do love singing and it’s the one thing I’m really very good at. In form five, just a teenager, I was plucked out of the Holy Name chorus by the British conductor and composer Havelock Nelson to cover the lead in an opera. I knew that was something special, [but] not that my sound was extraordinary, just that I sang really well and was a quick study and thought everyone got those opportunities. I know now what a big deal it was.

I sang a lead role in Waves of Hope at the Old Fire Station Theatre and Derek Walcott wanted to meet me because he did not believe I was actually singing. “Great show,” he said to the producers, Bernard Hazell and Ricardo Nanton, “but why did you have that girl miming to a recording?” I honestly can’t remember that I felt anything but amused that this man – I didn’t know who he was – thought I was not singing. Seemed the silliest thing to me. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

After the initial surprise that I did not recognise him, I think Derek found it refreshing to meet someone who was not in awe of his Godlike character. There would be a hollering and a bellowing of my name if I left the room and he missed me for an instant. Being a Muse was a different kind of life and another story.

I was 24 and ran away to NYC with my ‘stipend’ from the bank because I’d heard from that song that, if you can make it there you can make it anywhere. I believed it. And I did. I auditioned for the right people, got noticed right away and got to study with Ms Betty Allen at the Manhattan School of Music and The Harlem School of the Arts with funding from patrons of the arts I did not know, who wanted nothing in return but to have the talent nurtured.

New York City was extraordinary. To be in a place where no one was minding your business was the first shock. To be in a place where people opened the door to talent without a question [was the big shock]. And then treated that talent like something rare. It was the same wherever I sang outside of Trinidad. [At home,] until Bernard Hazel and Ricardo Nanton, no one had ever told me how special my sound was. They told me so everyday.

I’m working with a really gifted 17-year-old right now, who featured in my show at Fiesta Plaza last month. She has no idea of the strength of her instrument the same way I suspect I had no idea when I was her age. I was understudying Juliet Eckel and Fritz Nothnagel-Gurley and singing duets with Maurice Brash at the age of 16 in the Trinidad Opera Company.

I studied Medea as a college elective because I was intrigued by Greek myth, believe it or not, because of childhood Anansi stories. Medea was tremendously strong and, when pressed, did not hesitate to act on her difficult choices, right or wrong. When I came home and wanted to [name] my company I decided on my alter-ego, Medea.

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayI have no regrets. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And take no prisoners. And, hell, no, BC Pires, I should not have taken that bank teller gig!

My 21-year-old son recently told me to stop investing and believing in the potential of people when they are unable to live up to what I see in them. I am compelled to help. My prime directive is, take little to live long. I take only the jobs that I know will make me happy and not necessarily the job that pays the big money.

It’s been a great advantage that the thing I love to do most, I’m actually really good at – I’d even say I’m gifted – [and it] has been able to sustain me all my professional life. I could not think of another thing I could be doing that I have not been able to do through music. It’s afforded me the ability to live my life exactly as I like.

If BC Pires says there must be a picture of me and Shane in our attic, withering, I say, “We’re not telling."

Mango should be eaten straight from the tree, with the juice squirting down the back of your throat. And not messed with, like in chow. All that salt and pepper makes me want to slap someone. I gag at the thought of mango pepper chocolate.

Being able to see the world with the power of song was awesome and I don’t think there were any standout moments on stage because they were all stand out moments… But my last role as an opera singer and a standing ovation for a couple minutes was pretty amazing. Huntington theatre in the role of Ms Addie in Marc Blitzstein’s opera “Regina”. The role was already cast but I wanted it so bad, I convinced the auditioning panel to listen to me at the end of a long day for them. They were already packing up. I killed the audition, got the role, sang my ass off and got lots of kudos.

I’ve turned down many contracts for money. I’ve always been suspicious of large sums of money for my talent. It’s been a natural state of thinking for me that those large sums of money [had] hidden traps. I’ve been around too many famous people to know all about all that glitters not being gold.

Over 15 years, I find myself being the best kept secret of vocal coaching. It was once a thing of pride to say who you studied voice with, not so much these days. Singers really want everyone to think they were born equipped with great technique. I don’t talk about the people I coach because they don’t publicly mention my name. I’ve coached many singers into broadway musicals. One even made it into Hamilton the musical.

Take it as a fact that the more talented are less grateful.

I’m sick to death of violence by males with fragile egos who think women are to be owned. I’ve been working with abused women, helping women find their voice again. Women who have been raped, who had their throats squeezed to stop them from making a sound. I once tried to get funding to do a workshop for more than just the few each year I can manage to coach for free but it’s such an undertaking. The politics and red tape of getting connected with the right groups and having to deal with the personalities to get anything done defeats me. So I manage to be satisfied with the little I’m doing.

Since the question is “What is a Trini” and not “Who is a Trini”? I’m interpreting that to mean what a Trini does. So a Trini is a bringer of true joy to the world with our culture, food and music.

Today Trinidad means to me all things bright and beautiful.

The Slim Lady Sings

Pictures courtesy Mark Lyndersay

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMy name is Glenda Collens and I am a vocal coach.

I didn’t know I was a Trinidadian till I went to high school and met Trinidadians for the first time. I come from a Grenadian village on Lady Young Road, Morvant. I’m first generation Trinidadian, conceived in Grenada. My mother was four months pregnant with me when she came to Trinidad. My entire life before Boston University was up in Morvant. I left home for college. I now live in Cascade with my husband, Shane, my son Christopher Bolandz, my pride and joy, two rescued cats and one rescued dog.

When it was time to settle down, Shane was it. I would see this guy running around the Savannah and had no idea who he was but thought he was hot! Someone suggested him as a guitarist for my musical. I gave him my numbers in the corner store and that was it.

In the village where I grew up, there was only one Trinidadian family. I didn’t know that there was a difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ until high school, [when] I was made aware of the difference by ‘them’. My mother would remind me to not let anyone know where my family was from for fear of the label of ‘small islander come here to thief native’s jobs’.

On the wave of Independence and the promise of the Federation in 1963, Prime Minister Eric Williams promised the ‘small islanders’ their own land and a better life in return for their votes. He put them in the thicket hills of Laventille, Morvant, Barataria, Diego Martin and Carenage. Cow-itch, stinging nettle, gru-gru bef trees and endless snakes. Hence today the generational vote is guaranteed, no matter the condition of their lives.

In 2010, I lost my mother Joyce, my guiding light. Her death left a huge void. She was also the glue who held the family together. When she died, [the family I came from] died.

I’m grateful to a mother who appears to have been smarter than most, perhaps because of the people she worked for. She quickly learned how to assimilate, got rid of her Grenadian accent and made sure her children never developed one. Back then being a ‘small islander’ , the name calling was real, being shunned was real. She didn’t want that for her children.

I grew up eating only Grenadian dishes and knew more about Grenada than Trinidad. But in 50-odd years my mother travelled back to Grenada once. Twice a year, she went to the wharf for a box of spices and foods she could not get here.

At high school, I met a St Lucian who became my best friend to this day. She lived in Sea Lots, in a village of St Lucians.

I was raised Catholic, christened, baptised and communed, but none of it stuck. If there is a God, I’m not impressed. If this is the best the omnipotent maker can do, I have a lot of questions as to his intent. If he exists, he is having a belly laugh at our expense.

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMany bad people live sometimes very long lives we view as beautiful, unlimited wealth, good health. Having amassed generational wealth selling the idea of “the afterlife” to the poor and disenfranchised.

If believing in a God makes people behave decently toward other humans, I’m all for them. I don’t see that happening with too many of the God-fearing though. So I can’t believe their belief is good. I am totally indifferent whether people call me atheist or agnostic. I don’t care for labels.

I don’t do anything special to relax because I think I’m relaxed all the time. But my son or husband will probably have a different answer.

I love ending the day looking at the sun go down. It used to be with a glass of something white but I’m a teetotaller now and won't self-medicate with a vodka neat at the end of the day anymore. So I have to deal with my anxiety and depression cold turkey. I do not miss drinking. I haven’t given up Guinness though. I have a couple of those on the weekend. I never thought I’d be able to give it up my five cups at least of coffee a day, black no sugar. But, since New Year’s Day, I have not given it another thought.

I read Dorian Gray for the first time when I was nine and I’ve been re-reading it ever since and every time I get a different perspective. Even ending the way it does, it gives me hope there can be total freedom without some form of consequence.

The ‘change of life’ started in my 48th year so it’s been ten years of EXTREME difficulty. I’ve had to change into a semi-retirement state of being. My energy level is under half what it was. I have these sweats every hour on the hour, sometimes more than one, and it leaves me lifeless. Moving about is like running a marathon. [Twice] each day. It’s exhausting. It has no mercy.

The colour blue energises me but only to look at. Put a drink in a blue glass and I get depressed.

Carnival is life. Since the advent of ‘the rope’ culture, I storm bands to see how long it will take before they toss me out. Shane thinks it’s hysterical because they never do. He chips along on the outside rope while I way-lay-way-lay meh body with each band.

I’ve stayed what BC Pires calls ‘gorgeous’ because I’ve always been too poor to afford the best chocolates. And I’ve stayed slim eating my favourite dish, dumpling and stew beef, for the same reason. I’ve always been to poor to eat out and have never eaten store-bought food, junk food or fast foods. I’m also very vain. I was born with a great starter kit, I love it and I’m keeping it.

Men are ALWAYS rude to me on the street. I had to learn at an early age how to deal with it.

The doctors said I came out screaming but my mother would tell you I came out the womb singing. Because I made a very dramatic entrance, I will say I was also born an actor. My first public performance was on the Auntie Kay show, age seven.

I don’t consider myself a teacher but a coach. I may introduce new techniques but I assume they already can sing and work with what they come with.

I’d never thought of my voice as extraordinary, until recently and only in retrospect. It’s always just been my voice. I really do love singing and it’s the one thing I’m really very good at. In form five, just a teenager, I was plucked out of the Holy Name chorus by the British conductor and composer Havelock Nelson to cover the lead in an opera. I knew that was something special, [but] not that my sound was extraordinary, just that I sang really well and was a quick study and thought everyone got those opportunities. I know now what a big deal it was.

I sang a lead role in Waves of Hope at the Old Fire Station Theatre and Derek Walcott wanted to meet me because he did not believe I was actually singing. “Great show,” he said to the producers, Bernard Hazell and Ricardo Nanton, “but why did you have that girl miming to a recording?” I honestly can’t remember that I felt anything but amused that this man – I didn’t know who he was – thought I was not singing. Seemed the silliest thing to me. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

After the initial surprise that I did not recognise him, I think Derek found it refreshing to meet someone who was not in awe of his Godlike character. There would be a hollering and a bellowing of my name if I left the room and he missed me for an instant. Being a Muse was a different kind of life and another story.

I was 24 and ran away to NYC with my ‘stipend’ from the bank because I’d heard from that song that, if you can make it there you can make it anywhere. I believed it. And I did. I auditioned for the right people, got noticed right away and got to study with Ms Betty Allen at the Manhattan School of Music and The Harlem School of the Arts with funding from patrons of the arts I did not know, who wanted nothing in return but to have the talent nurtured.

New York City was extraordinary. To be in a place where no one was minding your business was the first shock. To be in a place where people opened the door to talent without a question [was the big shock]. And then treated that talent like something rare. It was the same wherever I sang outside of Trinidad. [At home,] until Bernard Hazel and Ricardo Nanton, no one had ever told me how special my sound was. They told me so everyday.

I’m working with a really gifted 17-year-old right now, who featured in my show at Fiesta Plaza last month. She has no idea of the strength of her instrument the same way I suspect I had no idea when I was her age. I was understudying Juliet Eckel and Fritz Nothnagel-Gurley and singing duets with Maurice Brash at the age of 16 in the Trinidad Opera Company.

I studied Medea as a college elective because I was intrigued by Greek myth, believe it or not, because of childhood Anansi stories. Medea was tremendously strong and, when pressed, did not hesitate to act on her difficult choices, right or wrong. When I came home and wanted to [name] my company I decided on my alter-ego, Medea.

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayI have no regrets. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And take no prisoners. And, hell, no, BC Pires, I should not have taken that bank teller gig!

My 21-year-old son recently told me to stop investing and believing in the potential of people when they are unable to live up to what I see in them. I am compelled to help. My prime directive is, take little to live long. I take only the jobs that I know will make me happy and not necessarily the job that pays the big money.

It’s been a great advantage that the thing I love to do most, I’m actually really good at – I’d even say I’m gifted – [and it] has been able to sustain me all my professional life. I could not think of another thing I could be doing that I have not been able to do through music. It’s afforded me the ability to live my life exactly as I like.

If BC Pires says there must be a picture of me and Shane in our attic, withering, I say, “We’re not telling."

Mango should be eaten straight from the tree, with the juice squirting down the back of your throat. And not messed with, like in chow. All that salt and pepper makes me want to slap someone. I gag at the thought of mango pepper chocolate.

Being able to see the world with the power of song was awesome and I don’t think there were any standout moments on stage because they were all stand out moments… But my last role as an opera singer and a standing ovation for a couple minutes was pretty amazing. Huntington theatre in the role of Ms Addie in Marc Blitzstein’s opera “Regina”. The role was already cast but I wanted it so bad, I convinced the auditioning panel to listen to me at the end of a long day for them. They were already packing up. I killed the audition, got the role, sang my ass off and got lots of kudos.

I’ve turned down many contracts for money. I’ve always been suspicious of large sums of money for my talent. It’s been a natural state of thinking for me that those large sums of money [had] hidden traps. I’ve been around too many famous people to know all about all that glitters not being gold.

Over 15 years, I find myself being the best kept secret of vocal coaching. It was once a thing of pride to say who you studied voice with, not so much these days. Singers really want everyone to think they were born equipped with great technique. I don’t talk about the people I coach because they don’t publicly mention my name. I’ve coached many singers into broadway musicals. One even made it into Hamilton the musical.

Take it as a fact that the more talented are less grateful.

I’m sick to death of violence by males with fragile egos who think women are to be owned. I’ve been working with abused women, helping women find their voice again. Women who have been raped, who had their throats squeezed to stop them from making a sound. I once tried to get funding to do a workshop for more than just the few each year I can manage to coach for free but it’s such an undertaking. The politics and red tape of getting connected with the right groups and having to deal with the personalities to get anything done defeats me. So I manage to be satisfied with the little I’m doing.

Since the question is “What is a Trini” and not “Who is a Trini”? I’m interpreting that to mean what a Trini does. So a Trini is a bringer of true joy to the world with our culture, food and music.

Today Trinidad means to me all things bright and beautiful.