Friday, 6 June 2014

PITCH PERFECT: Incredibly passionate and poised, soprano Althea McKenzie finds her voice

TRUE COLOURS: “I’m very grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me to reach people.”

That it moulds its choristers into first-class talents who can robustly compete with the crème de la crème remains one of the distinguishing traits of the University Singers. 

Performance-wise, it’s arguably the most outstanding choral group Jamaica has produced, and today Althea McKenzie easily ranks among its most powerful (read: lavishly talented) soloists. “The sound that I have now is totally different from when I just joined the University Singers,” the plump and immensely likeable mezzo-soprano admits. “I’ve grown tremendously and a lot of that has to do with the training I’ve received in the choir from particularly [Artistic Director Noel] Dexter and other persons that have been brought in to share their talents with us from time to time.” 

When it comes to caring for her crowd-pleasing pipes known to bring audiences to their feet (her renditions of “Oh Holy Night” and “My Soul’s Been Anchored” are particularly spectacular), McKenzie could very well wear a label on her throat that reads ‘Handle with Care.’ “It takes daily exercises and a lot of vocal warm-ups because I’m using my voice all the time,” the 45-year-old wife and mom of a 15-year-old daughter says. “It is critical that you maintain it. It really is your instrument; you have to take care of it.” 

Regular listeners of local daytime radio have grown accustomed to McKenzie’s refined diction and expressiveness as she hosts Independent Talk on Power 106, a day job that often whisks her around the island for outside broadcasts. Even so, the committed and disciplined songstress (who, though not formally trained, has over 20 years of experience in broadcast journalism) will not miss a Singers rehearsal or performance. “For me it’s all or nothing, so I’m totally dedicated to my family, dedicated to my job, and dedicated to the University Singers,” explains the former Knox College English teacher and Bethlehem Teachers’ College alumna, who, as it turns out, is currently pursuing a Master’s in Adult and Continuing Education. 

Also a talented seamstress in her own right, McKenzie is in the throes of broadening her horizons – even as she looks forward to yet another stellar concert season. What accounts for the choir’s timeless appeal? I wanted to know. “I think the appeal has to do with us continually trying to raise that musical bar. And in trying to please our audiences, we offer something for everyone,” McKenzie says with noticeable emphasis. And placing her own life and success in proper perspective, she tells TALLAWAH, “I’m very grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me to reach people in ways that I never anticipated. I feel blessed.” 

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