Love of music drives Joslynne Carr-Sealey
August 10, 2017
Were it not for Trinidad & Tobago’s first Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams intervention, Joslynne Carr-Sealey wouldn’t have attended a Canadian university and become a musical legend in the twin-island republic.
The winner of the first operatic category in the T & T music festival in 1968 seized the moment to ask Williams, who made the award presentation, if she could make an appointment to see him.
Carr-Sealey wanted a government scholarship for at least a year to pursue music studies.
Williams, who along with Carr’s late father Andrew Carr were founding members of the People’s National Movement (PNM) party, acceded to the request.
“I got cold feet and didn’t go, but his secretary called to remind me about the appointment,” she said.
Williams referred Carr-Sealey to the Ministry of Education, which after two years, said they were unable to grant the request.
“I wrote a letter thanking Dr. Williams for his interest and told him that I was turned down,” she said. “He was furious and took the matter to parliament.”
In 1970, Carr-Sealey was awarded a five-year government scholarship and she chose McGill University in Montreal.
“That was probably the best five years of my life,” she said. “I was among a community of musicians and that was exciting and stimulating. I was 35 years at the time and had to learn French and German. That was challenging, but I made the Dean’s Honours List and graduated with distinction. That experience changed my life completely.”
Fifteen years earlier, Carr-Sealey – who also secured a diploma in music education from McGill -- returned home with a two-year-old daughter – Alicia Sealey -- from Vancouver, where she had spent six years and endured a failed marriage.
This time, she left Canada full of hope and optimism at the possibilities that lay ahead.
Carr-Sealey joined the T & T Music Festival Association and the Opera Company and toured with the Catelli All-Stars steel orchestra that performed at the Commonwealth Arts Festival in England. She has also judged the Prime Minister’s Best Village and panorama competitions for the last 20 and 32 years respectively.
The love of music was inherited from her parents.
“My mother (Lucille) was a musician and my dad was a folklorist,” said the former Trinidad Opera Company principal singer and well known vocal coach. “He brought home drummers and Beryl McBurnie who dedicated her life to dance. My mom also played a lot of classical music like Chopin and Bach. When I got to McGill and they showed me the listening list, I was familiar with more than half of it because that music was played in our home on Sundays.”
Whenever Carr-Sealey is in Toronto in the summer to visit her daughter, she is called on to judge the Toronto Caribbean Carnival Pan Alive steelpan competition and conduct workshops for arrangers and pannists.
“The judges’ expectation is that bands will have well-tuned pans and the players will be technically efficient,” she said. “We look at the content of what you are playing and your creativity. When it comes to the jam session, the use of new musical ideas, fragments of the calypso chorus and things like that are what we look for. We are also very interested in bands’ innovative ideas using the cellos to carry the melody instead of only the tenors and the base so they don’t have different instrumentation. I also look to see if everybody is well rehearsed and fitting together in everything that they do and if they are going to modulate into a new key. When you take the tune and suddenly play it in the minor, it is a beautiful song. Judges also look for the use of all these musical devices to make the arrangement interesting and sound. We give marks for what we hear.”
Though her father spent just a year at St. Mary’s College, he was well-read, a household name in the twin-island republic and a man of many interests.
Nearly 35 years after he passed away at age 74 in 1976, his daughter captured his rich public life in a book, ‘He Served his Fellow Man: The Life & Work of Andrew Thomas Carr’.
“My dad was a shining light and such a wonderful example of how to treat people,” said Carr-Sealey, the third of four children. “After he died, the national archives brought 11 boxes of his papers to our home. I was amazed at the many things he did without neglecting his family.”
The family patriarch worked with the Trinidad Building & Loan Association for 46 years, rising to become secretary-treasurer before retiring in 1967. It was however his work in the arts community and the tourism sector that garnered him widespread attention and respect.
He co-founded the T & T Ethnographic Society dedicated to the study of the twin-island republic’s folklore, the Trinidad Art Society, the Zoological Society and the Carnival Development Committee and served as the country’s Historical Sites sub-committee chair and a T & T Tourist Board consultant.
In addition, the Woodbrook resident wrote ‘The Cultural Personality of Trinidad & Tobago: The United Nations in Miniature’ that appeared in France’s La Monde Diplomatique in 1963 and the humorous and informative ‘Pierre Grenade’ (A French patois speech form) that was published in the University of the West Indies’ quarterly magazine.
In 1953, he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study folklore at Northwestern University in Illinois.
The recipient of the Hummingbird Gold Medal for Culture and the Norma Callender Award for Women in Pan, Carr-Sealey also authored ‘Family Connections’ which is a history of her family.
“Just after my dad died, I found a small tin in his study with a will of my earliest known African ancestor dated 1853 and he owned land on Belmont Village Road,” she said. “That was what triggered my first book.”