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CURRICULAR AND extra-curricular music in schools in western Jamaica is still taking centrestage despite inadequate teachers, inappropriate facilities and a declining inventory of musical instruments.
"We currently have no music teacher on staff as the last teacher, who taught on a part-time basis, is away on study leave and a full-time position cannot be filled, because of certain constraints", said Dahlia Robinson, vice-principal for Montego Bay High School.
At Herbert Morrison Technical High the lack of funding to replace 20-year-old instruments has been a setback to that well recognised music programme. And according to music tutor, Carl Matthews, corporate sponsorship from the Montego Bay community has not been forthcoming.
"The Montego Bay branch of a leading corporation responded by informing us that they were already contributing to the Reggae Boyz football programme and couldn't be of assistance", he told Showtime.
Despite the lack of resources, school bands and choirs from the western part of Jamaica have been making their mark nationally, based on the successes of the various groups at the annual Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's (JCDC's) music festivals.
Montego Bay Community College had a haul of 15
trophies and six medals at various levels of last year's Festival competition. The school's choir recently performed at a tea party at the institution to rave review: "The pieces I heard of the choir were excellent," said Norma Foster, an organist at Calvary Baptist church. Mount Alvernia High School's award-winning choir and music programme, in general, have been under the guidance of outstanding musician, Margaret Vernon, now retired. It was her outstanding work with the 32-member choir and the 16-member orchestra that have inspired the girls towards excellence at the JCDC competitions.
New music teacher at Mount Alvernia High, Vinton Haughton, would like to see more classroom time allotted for the teaching of music. A graduate of the Sam Sharpe Teachers' College and Western Carolina University, Mr. Haughton recently started a concert band, and is continuing the school choir and ensemble chamber singers.
"I am indeed happy that our CXC programme is on stream because it can go a far way in changing the whole perception of music as an extra-curricular activity to that of an academic programme," he told Showtime.
"Even for the CXC programme, three to four hours per week is too little time for students to fully appreciate the fundamentals of music", he continued.
Meanwhile, self-taught musician, Montego Bay High School fifth former Sachoy Ellis has taken on the responsibility of training the school band in the absence of a specialised music teacher.
"I think we would have made far more progress if we had a formal music teacher and if we could get assistance in repairing or replacing the instruments which are not working," she told Showtime.
The group, having played at the recent Montego Bay G-15 summit, continues to perform at school functions and entertain guests at the Verney House hotel.
At Herbert Morrison Technical High, the music programme is in desperate need of financial support. But, the rich tradition of passing out excellent musicians to the local and international entertainment industry continues despite severe limitations.
"We have trained and graduated musicians of the calibre of singer/songwriter Benjy Myaz, Christopher Birch (one of the co-producers of Shaggy's 'Hot Shot' album), Paul Kastic of American reggae band Big Mountain and Richard Campbell, who plays for Maxi Priest and Big Mountain," boasts Carl Matthews.
The school's band programme, he said, has also turned out musicians for the hotel industry over the past 15 years and several members of hotel resident bands are past students of Herbert Morrison.
"Getting external financial support has not been successful, so the music programme is dependent on a group of dedicated teachers who make regular personal contributions. Indiana State University and Elmhurst College professor Judith Grimes also conducts workshops each year for the students of Montego Bay High schools," he continued.
Almost next door to Herbert Morrison High School is the Montego Bay Community College where there is a showcase of trophies and plaques won in last year's JCDC Festival of music. The more than 20 memorabilia indicate the seriousness of the institution's approach to music.
"All this accomplishment takes place in a situation where the college offers no course in music," said Ezmond Farquharson, assistant choir director.
"The 40-member college choir", he continued, "is a hobby for the students and is clearly an expression of the vast talents that abound in our young people. The school merely plays a facilitating role," he continued.
Leading teenage virtuoso, Nadia Halliburton and a number of past students assist in the training of the Montego Bay Community College choir.