Sharing – The idea of life
Andrew Lokey went to St Leonard’s Boys’ School as a one-term stand-in Spanish teacher, but today finds himself at the apex of a musical sensation within the island’s education system, spreading awe across the land.
His years of corralling hundreds of boys, and working them into a harmonious music machine performing at events on island and abroad for spellbound audiences has earned him a Barbados Service Medal on the occasion of Barbados’ 48th Independence anniversary.
Though for seven years at the helm of this group of youngsters singing as one in ensembles sometimes as large as 120, Lokey’s story with St Leonard’s began 15 years ago.
“I came to the school to teach Spanish, and it was only to last for a term, but after that term –– I would assume that they were impressed with me –– someone else [a teacher] went out, and I taught maths and English,” Lokey told Barbados TODAY, sitting in sweat attire in the Spanish classroom after a game of school basketball.
“It’s only in 2007 I started teaching music. So for me, what was supposed to be only a term ended up being 15 years, and going on.”
That’s his classroom, because he still teaches Spanish while moulding boys from disparate backgrounds into the virtuosos who pop up nattily dressed on Barbados stages.
Questioned on why he shares music, Lokey retorted: “Why do I share anything? That’s the whole idea of life.”
Explaining that he was taught by his parents “it’s more blessed to give”, he surveyed the classroom and said: “I spent a lot of money and time trying to make this class a home environment for the children in my class. You never know what children have at home, you never take it for granted, and I spend a lot of time ensuring that the children whom I come into contact with that they have [something], because giving makes you feel alive and really good about life and living.
“It’s what we are called to do, and something that we have to take very seriously. I feel really good when anybody around me is happy.”
That disposition fits well with teaching music.
“I equate music with so many things. Music makes you feel all kinds of emotions. It is therapeutic.
“I often tell students that we live in a world where music is so important. Can you think of any function where you go and you don’t hear music? . . . . With the music you feel alive and it has a way of seeping into your system.
“I speak to the boys of the school of this idea of the measure of the didacticism. What you sing or what you put into your system should come out of you and should inspire people to do great things.”
Such instructions come from the core of his upbringing.
“Music got into me. I was born into a family where my mother sang, my uncle sang; practically all the members of my family sang. I don’t know if I can say sang well, but they sang.”
Following a passage through church singing groups, he ran into outstanding music coach Doris Provencal and got lucky.
“At the age of 17 or 18 I met Doris Provencal, and I think the kind of singing that I know I was capable of started coming to the fore. I went to her home because I was going to sign up for voice training classes, and while I was there it so happened that one of the tenors in the Cecilian Singers was retiring.”
Lokey fell into the space left by the retiring singer, and blossomed at the late Provencal’s feet.
“From her you got the sense that it is not just being able to sing well, but oft-times seeking to get better. And to get better you’ve got to look and see what is the standard put there. I owe so much to Doris for that legacy.”
This he is passing on to the boys of St Leonard’s.
“I’ve tried very hard to convey this to the St Leonard’s Boys’ Choir so that as they sing they recognise that the words and the music collectively have to penetrate people, in a way that it causes them to feel something, whether it be sadness, whether it be joy or elation, something.
“It is to inspire. Music is to inspire.”
Naturally the high point for Lokey has been the success of the choir, with a remarkable standout being a trip to Britain four years ago.
“This choir was able to go to England in 2010 and there we received thunderous applause and standing ovations. Interestingly enough we were asked to go to inspire young men like ourselves to sing and perform at a high level.”
Currently at 120, the number of boys in the choir fluctuates, but there are still some in the group reaching back to 2008.
Lokey speaks with satisfaction of the choir’s influence on what he sees as a resurgence of boys’ choirs across the island.
“There are some who started with the choir and have their own or are conducting their own boys’ choirs. This choir [St Leonard’s] has influenced a number of other boys’ choirs to resurface. I say resurface because I know that for many years this was a tradition in Barbados.
“Right now I know of St Peter’s, they have rekindled there. St Cyprian’s Boys’ have. I know that St Gabriel’s is starting one, and there is a group out there called Cloud Nine.”
“It is as a result of this confidence that St Leonard’s Boys’ Choir has given them.”
He said this confidence in the boys was crucial in helping them understand that they didn’t have to engage in certain sports only to prove their manhood and to “achieve”.
“That is a challenge we have right now, that our boys seem to think that they are only to do certain things. One of the things that they seem not to be able to agree on is on this whole idea of reading. They think that only girls are supposed to read, and boys naturally don’t like it.
“We got to revisit what we are saying to our boys that causes them not to like it . . . . We are having too many boys falling to all devices of the system.”
He said that contrary to the trending belief, being in the choir is hard work for the boys.
“I quarrel a lot with the choir. I’m always trying to get them to reach another level. It’s a herculean and almost miraculous job that we. Not Andrew Lokey alone; Pernell Farley, Sheena Hurdle, Andrew Altman, and some other young men who come.
“They are doing a wonderful job here, but we are never satisfied. We think we can always achieve more, and we are seeking to do that.”