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Ambassador with a bow - Gabriel Walters' violin skills lead to world stage

Published:Wednesday | August 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Violinist Gabriel Walters. - Contributed
A Jamaican flag is displayed proudly during the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica and YOA concert at Church on the Rock, St Andrew, on July 24. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
Violinist Gabriel Walters proudly displays the Jamaican flag after performing with the Youth Ochestra of the Americas (YOA) at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, St James, recently.
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Shereita Grizzle, Gleaner Writer

At 18 years old, Gabriel Walters has established himself as one of Jamaica's promising violinists.

Although a career in music wasn't his first choice, Walters admitted that it has become important to him. "Music wasn't always my first choice as a career path," he said. "In the beginning, it was just a normal extra-curricular activity, but over time, I began enjoying music more, and it eventually became an integral part of my life."

Walters has been playing the violin for nearly a decade and says his talent has allowed him to meet people from different countries. It also landed him the opportunity to perform for members of the British Royal family. "Playing the violin has allowed me touch other people's lives in ways that I could not have imagined," he explained.

Among his many accomplishments as a young musician, Walters singled out his recent performance at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, St James. "It was amazing on so many different levels. The members of the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica (NYOJ) seemed to really appreciate and respect the fact that a Jamaican was in the Youth Orchestra of the Americas (YOA)," he said. Walters is the only Jamaican in the 90-member orchestra, which visited the island recently.

In an interview with The Gleaner, Walters revealed his pride at the opportunity to represent his country on a world stage. "It's wonderful. It makes me feel like Yohan Blake or one of our athletes at the Olympics. I feel good to know that I am there to show the potential that our island has. It is an honour to receive the Jamaican flag before the start of the tour and, at the end of each concert, I would wear it back to the hotel to show off Jamaica to the world," he said.

Little support

Although he is happy to be an ambassador for his country, Walters is saddened by the country's lack of support for classical music. The musician, who is now a student at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, where he is pursuing a first degree in Marine Biology, said that support can be measured by how much something is spoken of outside the country.

"You can always tell if there is enough support for something if it is talked about regionally, if not internationally. I can tell from my experiences with the YOA, and elsewhere, that classical music is not supported enough in Jamaica," he said. "When you go elsewhere in the world and say you're from Jamaica they respond by humming one of Bob Marley's tunes, or they want a picture with Usain Bolt arranged. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with Bob Marley or Bolt, but it would be really great if we could have our own classical icon."

The young violinist offered solutions to raising the island's level of support for classical music. "The best way to improve our classical appeal is, for example, via implementing classical programmes in our secondary schools, such as chamber groups, or even sponsorships for better instruments."

Walters hopes his achievements will inspire more youth to embrace the classical art forms as a career, despite the lack of support. He also had words of encouragement for young people who want to choose music, but are afraid to make the leap. "I know you're at a crossroads now and it's a difficult decision, but choose music. You won't regret it. The benefits of a music career outweigh all the sacrifices you are encountering now," Walters said.