Cayman Arts Festival makes appeal to expand music program

The students in the Cayman Arts Festival music program do not need to be convinced to stay behind after school to practice their instruments.

The gifted young people in this program enjoy putting in the extra time because it means they get to create music.

“I find that they absolutely love what they’re doing and they’re always here. You don’t have to nag them about missing rehearsals. They just come and they just love playing together. They really enjoy it,” said teacher Fran McConvey, subject leader of music at John Gray High School.

During an after-school practice for advanced violinists, violists and cellists, the enthusiasm of these students is clear. The 11- and 12-year-olds chatter and joke between songs, then snap back into form to practice sheet music for their upcoming holiday concert. Without the Cayman Arts Festival program, many of these students would not have had access to music lessons.

While the students have been selected for their promise as musicians, none participate in private lessons outside of the program, explained music teacher Naomi Allnutt.

“Obviously, many of the students cannot afford to have private instrumental lessons. In the U.K., parents would often pay for instrumental lessons one-on-one, every single week. Here, parents can’t afford that” she said.

“So to have this opportunity for musicmaking is inspiring, the fact that so many of them are touched by music. They touch our hearts every single week. They’re fantastic children … They’re funny. They’re witty. They’re talented. They’re musical. It’s just an absolute joy to work with them.”

The program depends on community support to keep instruments in the hands of these public and private school students from across Grand Cayman.

Funding from RBC Dominion Securities covers the costs of teacher salaries and other administrative needs. The instruments, however, come from individual donors, said festival director Marius Gaina.

“We buy violins for them and we give them those violins. They are ours but they can use them as long as they want to practice. If for their entire life they would like that violin, they can keep it,” he said.

“We are always in need of instruments. This is part of the public appeal we make all the time. If someone has something to donate, at home gathering dust and they want to give it to a child, this is an opportunity.”

The program has expanded greatly from its first year when just a handful of students started playing violin. It now incorporates around 100 children and interest continues to grow.

Teacher Naomi Allnutt helps students with their technique during after-school practice. – Photo: Kayla Young

With more instruments, Ms. McConvey said the program could reach more students. While the program reaches many schools, including John Gray and Clifton Hunter, it still has not been able to expand to East End or Bodden Town.

“Even though we are teaching a lot of students, we are only really touching the surface. There are so many kids out there who are gifted and talented but don’t have the opportunity. We’ve had parents who have contacted us and music teachers, but we just don’t have enough instruments or teachers to include everybody that we would like to,” Ms. McConvey said.

“So anything helps. There might be people who have got instruments siting in a cupboard at home or would like to give a few dollars to the program so we can help the kids.”

Mr. Gaina would like the community to remember that Cayman Arts Festival is not just for entertainment but also for education. The program organizes ensemble groups to ensure students play at least twice a week. It organizes guest concerts to inspire students and also sends select students to attend music courses in New York.

“One of CAF’s goals is to track our young musicians as they work their way through our education system – supporting them at every step of the way, providing bigger and better quality instruments as needed and providing opportunities to perform and extend themselves to reach their full potential,” Mr. Gaina said.

The nonprofit is currently making an appeal for cello donations, in particular.

For more information on the program’s needs and how to offer support, contact Mr. Gaina at [email protected]

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