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Music rhythm of Cortez’s life


Eric Smith

Music rhythm of Cortez’s life

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TODAY BARBADOS celebrates its 48th anniversary of nationhood and the words pride and industry will most likely be often repeated. These words adorn the country’s Coat Of Arms and truly reflect the Barbadian spirit. 

Cortez Callender lives it every day by his actions and the results.

Callender is typical of many Barbadians of his generation; he simply strives to be the very best at what he does, and is very proud of his accomplishments, without being a showboat. His calling has been music and the achievements are there for all to see and hear and even talk about.

“Music to me is the greatest profession. It touches everyone; it touches your soul and is universal,” he says.

Superintendent Callender is the new deputy director of music of the Royal Barbados Police Band. When you see his picture, perhaps you may pause and think, “I know him”. Yes, he is a very familiar face with the Barbados Festival Band, he was a former deputy leader of the Barbados Youth Orchestra, he is well known for providing classy music with a select group of musicians at various events, and he was once bandleader with the Untouchables and Bacchanal Time calypso tents. His appearances have also been in New York, Bermuda, London and other places the band has taken him.

Callender is a rather quiet and modest type of fellow. Yet, he stands out for his demand for the finer things in life; from his classic antique sports car to the melodious music he can provide whether it be a clarinet solo or soothing the soul with a piece on the cello or proudly playing the saxophone as you may have seen him either in person at an event or on television.

This musician has been at it for more than five decades. It started while he was a student at the then St Matthias Boys’ under Arthur Smith. He was given an opportunity to join the St Matthias Anglican Church choir, grasped the opportunity and made full use of that chance. He will forever be grateful to the late organist Neville King who was at that church at the time. He recognised Callender’s ability and guided him.

From that interaction with church music and his subsequent exposure in the police band, Callender developed certain character-building skills, most important of which was to give back to the society. The perfect opportunity arose when he taught music for many years part-time at a number of schools, Ellerslie Secondary being the longest. Then working and playing with the national youth orchestra capped it all.

“It was a really good experience working with and helping these young people. It was always heartening to see how they delivered on the nights of the concerts. You felt a sense of pride from the effort,” he said with a beam of satisfaction.

Some of those students he taught over the years have transitioned into full-time music, some even with the Police Band. But even if they have not take up music full time, Callender is assured  of the positive results. “Music helps to develop character and builds commitment. A number of students coming out of the youth orchestra  have gone on to do well academically.”

The idea of being focused and trying to excel is something Callender knows very well. The clarinet is his instrument of choice and over the years he has tried to perfect playing it. So he was able to move from playing 3rd clarinet to eventually becoming principal soloist. This is neither an easy task nor is it achieved overnight and he  had to apply the maxim “practice makes perfect” to his routine. Putting in five hours a day, not necessarily in non-stop sessions, became the norm for him.   

“It becomes part of you. There are various areas of the instrument that will not come overnight; but you get to like the instrument. I practised before and after other performances, as I wanted to fine-tune my work,” the bandsman proclaimed.

It was the same principle he applied to playing the cello. For those who don’t know, in the early days of the Police Band, which recently marked its 125th anniversary, it had a string section during the tenure of Captain Charles Raison and Callender remembers then Corporal Gordon Lovell playing the cello. This instrument was left in the music room virtually abandoned and Callender decided to make the best use of it even though it was a mere shell when he took it up.

“I practised at home, learning the basic techniques. I had no book for instruction, but persisted.” By mere good fortune  someone offered to sell him three books, including Bach Suites For The Cello. There were challenges, including that some of the material was in German, but there were illustrations. Callender overcame any difficulty through sheer  determination and dedication. It clearly paid off. He played the instrument with competence and confidence in both the youth orchestra and with the Symphonia.

Now that he has been elevated with a double promotion to the number two position in the Police Band, Callender will continue working closely with his long time friend and musical partner, the band’s director, Senior Superintendent Keith Ellis.

“I will give total support to the director. We were cadets in the band together and we have always enjoyed a great professional relationship. My disposition is such that I try to live happily with others.”

Callender is proud of the crop of youngsters joining the band, who come with a strong educational background and promises to listen to them and get their input. He, along with the other experienced bandsmen, will mentor and guide them, as was done to him and others, by those now retired. That is why he felt so proud and grateful to have many of them honoured and present during the special anniversary event held recently at the Hilton Barbados.

For someone around so long, Callender’s appearance defies his age. He credits his family, particularly his wife Serline and daughters Temisha and Linn, for much of his success, given their support and understanding of what he does and the demands it makes of him. He spends his spare time with his family and keeps abreast of international current affairs on television.

Tomorrow, you can look for him on parade at the Bridgetown Port. Top Cat, yes, that’s his nickname, along with the others in the band will be putting on a show.

Strike up the band and salute a real music man.

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