Six years ago, Guadeloupean composer Alyssa Regent, made the move from her native land to settle in “The Big Apple” New York City. She is currently studying in the Music Department of the renowned Hunter College. On January 23rd of this year, I attended her graduation where she received her degree with distinction.

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In one of his columns Richard Châteauvert said, “The whole world loves New York… because New York contains the whole world.”  This sentence alone sums up my many walks in this sprawling city of five boroughs, located at the mouth of the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean. New York’s iconic skyscrapers, its immense Central Park, Times Square, and the Brooklyn Bridge make it one of the most popular destinations on the planet. Its extravagance and cosmopolitan flavor attract the most creative and passionate of people. This time, I visited the city through the eyes of Alyssa, who knows NYC like the back of her hand. She knows how to avoid the crowded subway (laughs), as well as the very best places to eat. I also discovered the fabled jazz clubs, which was a rare treat for an avid fan of jazz such as I am. Unfortunately, we were not able to go to any concerts together, but I remember passing by many clubs where those who wrote the history of jazz performed and thrilled their audiences.

Over the course of a few days, I immersed myself in Alyssa’s universe, starting with the discovery of her university: Hunter College. Located on the Upper East Side of New York City, Hunter College was founded in 1870. Initially an all-female college, it became co-ed in 1946. Now, it has grown to house 23,000 students studying in programs ranging from sociology to the arts. Alyssa has been studying in the Music Department for 4 years. 

“From a very young age, my parents recognized my artistic leanings and abilities in drawing, painting and writing. Music would inevitably and naturally complete this picture” Alyssa explains.

In fact, music holds a special place in her family. Almost everyone sings or plays an instrument. More than a love for music; it is a part of them. When she was younger, Alyssa used to listen to her father’s CDs in the car. Caribbean Jazz accompanied her on the road and when she reminisces about those times, the artist Alain Jean-Marie, whom she admires and to whom still listens today, immediately comes to mind. 

“I really started to get interested in Guadeloupean music when I first came to New York. Americans love to learn. They’re curious and they pushed me to find out more about my own culture. As a result, I came to appreciate that the rhythms of Gwo Ka are extraordinary, complex and, above all, new to American audiences.” 

Alyssa spends most of her time at Hunter, which features a fully working music department complete with an auditorium and private practice rooms suitable for any instrument. Here, Alyssa hones her craft and makes music with her peers, talented young people who share her passion for music and for whom music is their life blood.

Meeting them was truly inspiring because it confirmed a notion that I have always held. That is, the notion that you must love what you’re doing in order to excel in it. Maya Angelou has a mantra for success which I believe sums up perfectly what I saw in the eyes of Alyssa and the kindred spirits around her. That mantra is “Success is loving yourself, loving what you do and loving how you do it”.

“Whether the hall is full or not, the passion never falters. We perform our concerts and we’re happy with any and all results,” explains Alyssa after the two-hour show we saw with her parents who came in from Guadeloupe to encourage and congratulate her. I was never bored, even for a single second, during this show that had been prepared in just a two-week period. It was a revival of the theatrical work Edges: A Song Cycle by Pasek & Paul, which is a cycle of songs about maturity, growth and self-discovery. In this particular show, Alyssa was the assistant music director and was conducting that night. Together, Alyssa and her musician friend, and initiator of this project, Roberto Burgos, added new instruments to the scores. Their orchestration for Edges included piano, violin, cello, alto and baritone saxophone, oboe, bass guitar, and acoustic guitar. This monumental work was acclaimed by their musical peers who were in attendance.

In the future, Alyssa plans to produce more musical events at Hunter College and also in Guadeloupe. 

I cherished every moment I spent with the graduates.  After the speeches by school officials, some students were honored through their stories and their amazing journeys. Alyssa’s story also deserved to be heard. To leave Guadeloupe and embark on an American adventure is to show courage and determination. To compose music, to keep the Guadeloupean culture alive through her music, to blend musical genres…..indeed, to be so gifted simply deserves to be known. 

In August 2019, she participated in a piano festival in Portugal as a piano and composition student. For 2020, she has signed up for new programs in Los Angeles and Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

In May 2020, she will have her first chamber opera performed in New York.

As for me, I am leaving this musical experience with a sense of having grown personally. I have discovered an intense and exciting universe for those who live it every moment. I leave with a sense of accomplishment and of knowing the members of my larger family; the one I knew through the words of my grandmother. I leave with solid confirmation that Alyssa Régent, my talented artistic cousin, is a Guadeloupean who is already making a name for herself. 

Texte : Stécy Lancastre /Translated by Guidez de A à Z

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