Friday, 1 May 2015

GOLD STANDARD: JCDC National Finals remains a terrific showcase of excellence in the arts

STARS OF THE SHOW: Young competitors vying for top honours in music at the Little Theatre recently.

Each year the most outstanding participants in the JCDC National Festival of the Arts, hailing from all 14 parishes, make their way into Kingston to compete for top honours in the National Finals. For four weeks the Little Theatre plays host to their performances in disciplines ranging from speech, dance and music to drama, drumming and the traditional folk forms. To say the least, the JCDC's organizing committee members have their work cut out for them in managing the large number of school delegations that come to take part - and running a tight programme for the benefit of all, including the judges who have to watch and adjudicate dozens of performances each day.

It's a gargantuan undertaking, and one can only imagine the weeks of detailed planning that go into making the National Finals the success it is each year. "It's very challenging work but while the work is being done it's a whole lot of fun. It's the performing arts, the best of the best, so you're enjoying the performances," explains Gregory Simms, the JCDC's music development specialist. As Simms tells it, some 7000 entries came in to the music competition alone this year. "In a good year, it's more like 10,000," he points out.

To guarantee first-class results, the production team has to be at its most highly organized, in keeping with the tradition of excellence. "We face a bit of administrative pressure because of the workload - mobilizing the right personnel for adjudication, thoroughly going through the mark sheets, and then selecting the most outstanding items for the National Finals," Simms explains. "It takes a well organized mechanism to get it done." That kind of approach applies across the board. Among the other disciplines, TALLAWAH learns, speech and drama are the most popular and keenly contested. 

"What helps is that the students and their teachers are very committed to Festival, so we don't have any major problems in terms of getting them to follow the rules and be on time," shares the JCDC's events specialist Michael Nicholson. "Organizing the National Finals takes a lot of work on our part, but the schools help make the process easier for us."

That's a fact made all the more pronounced when one takes into account the numerous challenges many of the schools, the rural-based ones in particular, experience in making the trip into Kingston. "They do have their challenges that we know of. A lot of them come to the Finals with very little financial support, and we appreciate the effort," Simms remarks. "Times are hard, so whatever we can do to help we do our best."  

Both Nicholson and Simms agree that when all is said and done the greatest source of pride for everyone involved in putting on the National Finals is being enveloped in the spirit of excellence that it promotes, how it compels everyone to raise their game that much higher. "Personally, I look forward to Finals mainly because of the high standard of the performances, the calibre of these youngsters who sometimes surpass our expectations," notes Simms, who directs the National Youth Chorale. "The Little Theatre stage is intimidating to a lot of the youngsters, but once they get the nervousness out of the way they hold their own." 

Long-serving coordinator for Speech/Drama and Literary Arts perhaps said it best when he tells TALLAWAH, "There is a striving for excellence that continues to grow, and that dynamic of development continues year after year."

> The 2015 staging of the National Finals runs from April 14 through May 14 at Kingston's Little Theatre.

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