Students getting chance to make music

Emily Farren, right, leads clarinet students, from left, Theo Webb, Michael Grizzel and Nicole Scott through the song 'Hot Cross Buns.' - Photos: Mark Muckenfuss

Who knew there were hot cross elephants?

It came as a surprise to Michael Grizzel, Nicole Scott and Theo Webb as they worked their way through a traditional nursery rhyme song as part of their clarinet lesson. Here they were trying to hit the notes without producing a squeak, which was challenge enough. But now they were suddenly distracted by the idea of a pachyderm as a bakery product.

“What’s a hot cross elephant?” asked Michael, 10.

Music teacher Emily Farren, 28, laughed. She told him it was just a device to help the students learn a different time sequence in their playing, providing three beats instead of the single beat needed for “buns.”

The three George Town Primary students, who quickly saw the logic of the elephants in the song, are participating in a new program that is bringing free music lessons to students in the government schools.

Janine Stabler, founder of Musicians Limited, which has been providing music lessons in Cayman’s private schools for the past 17 years, said she saw a need for similar offerings in the government schools. Last year, the Cayman Arts Trust was established to meet that need – it also helps a few private school students with financial need – and in January it started up programs at three government schools. Besides George Town Primary, lessons are also being offered at East End Primary and Clifton Hunter High School.

Ms. Stabler said plans are to expand the program to all government schools, but more funding is needed. A fundraiser for the organization is planned for November.

“I have government schools knocking on my door,” she said. “We’re looking in the corporate world to get someone to come on board to sponsor the program. Hopefully, we’ll be able to expand and provide more teachers.”

Currently, the operation has a staff of eight people providing lessons in such areas as piano, guitar, woodwinds and voice. Musicians Limited also has a performance component for those interested in dance and musical theater. It also provides some scholarships to students studying overseas.

s. Farren, who teaches flute, clarinet and saxophone at George Town, said she thinks the government school students may have a slightly different outlook than their private school counterparts. Not only do they receive lessons once a week, but they are loaned a dedicated instrument that they can take home and practice on. Some students said they leave their instrument at school out of fear they may forget it at home or, worse, lose it somehow.

“I feel they appreciate it more,” Ms. Farren said of her George Town students. “The [private] schools, they’re privileged enough to afford it.”

She said bringing music into the schools is important.

“I think just the exposure to music, it really impacts their learning in a good way,” she said.

Jeton Bennett, 9, said he chose to learn the saxophone because of its sound.

“I like heavy objects because I know they’re going to make deep sounds,” he said.

But it’s not easy.

“For me, the hardest part is making sure the reed is in the right place,” Jeton said, noting that if he doesn’t get it right, he’ll end up producing an unpleasant squeal.

That may chase some people away, but Ms. Stabler does not think it will dissuade more students from wanting to participate. She hopes to accommodate them all, especially now that the program has been approved for the government schools. The process to make that happen was a long one, she said.

“Now that we’re in,” she said, “we need to expand the program quickly.”

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