The following is an edited version of a tribute to Mathias Mar Fan read out at the July 1 morning Mass. The three groups which Mar Fan direct – The St Joseph’s RC Choir, JoVoice and Alpha Pan Pioneers, paid tribute in song. JoVoice did ‘Wind beneath my Wings’; Imela, Alpha Pan Pioneers did ‘One Moment in Time’/ ‘Just the way You Are’ and the St Joseph’s RC Choir performed ‘How can I say Thanks’.
Words cannot fully express all that Mathias Mar Fan means to our parish, and especially to the members of the St Joseph RC Choir, with whom he has worked for almost 40 years.
It was in 1979 that this humble, self-taught musician moved with his young family to Tobago to take up a position in the health sector. Well-meaning colleagues in Trinidad had warned him: “Tobago have plenty obeah!” but he was undaunted.
In no time, he settled into Tobago life and offered his services as a guitarist for the fledgling choir at St Joseph’s. Back then, the choir consisted of a few faithful souls, with the main musical instrument being the organ, so the guitar was a most welcome addition.
In the years that followed, Mar Fan would make an indelible mark on the Music Ministry at St Joseph’s because of his passion for music, and his commitment to serving with excellence. The quality of worship at our weekend liturgies was greatly enhanced, as the choir’s repertoire and skill expanded and numbers increased.
Guitar classes he conducted produced guitarists, who today use their skill at liturgies in other communities. It is important to note, that in those early years, the Music Ministry and the Youth Ministry were really a single entity: The choir was the youth group and the youth group was the choir! As such, members were engaged in all sorts of activities in the parish.
They participated in music festivals, staged concerts, made monthly visits to the Home for the Aged at Mason Hall and the Geriatric Unit at the hospital, and regularly cleaned the church. But it was not all work and no play. They made time for socialising: there were beach limes, moonlight walks, and retreats, and on several occasions, there was overseas travel.
The choir/youth group ministry was not however, limited to the Scarborough community. Members made frequent trips to Castara, Patience Hill and other Catholic communities to sing at their liturgies, and they made guest appearances at cantatas and many other cultural events throughout the island.
Today, he can be justifiably proud of his legacy here at St Joseph’s. The Music Ministry has grown over the years and the parish now boasts of a junior choir, JoVoice, pioneered by Kevin Pascal, and our very own parish steel orchestra, Alpha Pan Pioneers, initiated by Marina Mar Fan. Both are now managed by Mathias, affording him the opportunity to continue his mentoring role to young musicians.
His children, following in his footsteps, play an integral part in our worship today and his wife Brenda is always at his side, supporting and giving him the freedom to do that which he loves. As manager of the Alpha Pan Pioneers, he has led them to the Music Festival where they performed with distinction. Earlier this year, they became the first church-based steel orchestra to qualify for the National Panorama Finals in the Small Band category.
Parishioners have now come to expect the pulsating rhythms of our national instrument, especially during our Christmas and Easter celebrations.
Under the leadership of Mar Fan, the St Joseph Choir continues to play an integral part in our worship, and to minister at wakes, funerals and weddings. Their social outreach continues, as they often make time to visit sick and aged parishioners to cheer them with their music.
Working with a choir necessarily involves long hours of practise and moments of frustration, but he takes it all in stride. He describes his years of service as fulfilling and rewarding, and I suspect, that he would probably do it all over again, if given the chance.
He would like to see more people getting involved in the Music Ministry as singers and musicians, and he dreams of one day having a vibrant Children’s Choir which will ensure continuity of the musical traditions in this parish.
Matthias Mar Fan, St Joseph’s parish salutes you for your visionary leadership, your dedicated service, and your pursuit of excellence in all things musical. May God continue to bless you and your family richly, for your selfless efforts on behalf of the Kingdom.