Sun | Sep 20, 2020

Strong classical band tradition lacking in JA - Mission in place to improve status of art form, social development

Published:Thursday | March 8, 2018 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew
Tubist Fraser Russell leads a class with students of the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica at St Jago High School.
Tubist Fraser Russell gives tips to Larenzo Henningham (left) of the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica.
Tubist Fraser Russell leads a class with students of the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica at St Jago High School.

Scotland-born tubist and specialist in brass instruments, Fraser Russell landed on the island last Monday night and headed straight into a tutoring session with the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica (NYOJ) the next day.

According to executive director, Karen Prentice, there is no classically trained tubist in Jamaica as such Fraser Russell's visit is all the more meaningful.

Only four tuba players are enrolled and it is taught by the trombone instructor.

Eight years, eight centres and 600 students between Port Antonio and Spanish Town, there is a need for more classical music practitioners like Russell, but he departs next weekend.

The tubist is here carrying out a mission as part of his training with the Global Leader's Program, a nine-month professional development and post graduate diploma in teaching artistry, social advocacy, and social entrepreneurship.

Through the Global Leader's Program, Darren Young, music director at NYOJ was introduced to Russell and both recently travelled to South-America to perform part of their missions.

Explaining the mission objectives, Young said with the NYOJ, Russell intends to generate an interest in playing the brass instruments especially the tuba, motivate the students to pursue a career in classical music and essentially through the use of music, promote social equality to further prevent violence.

"Jamaica has a strong popular band tradition but not a strong classical band one. This is going to inspire the youth to see that these instruments can be used practically as well as teaching those that are here the proper techniques to have a career as a classical brass player internationally," Young said.

The Global Leader's Program is certified by a combination of universities in the United States including Harvard, Duke, Georgetown, and John Hopkins in Maryland as well as the Youth Orchestra of the League of American Orchestras.

In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Russell said, "If I can use music even in a way to bring people to the same space to learn or watch a concert together then it is good."

Russell has already conducted classes at the NYOJ centres at the St Jago High School and Kingston College. He is also expected to be have sessions with students at the Edna Manley College in addition to a guest performance playing Heavy a piece composed by Scottish composer, Richard Greer.

He says that the use of new techniques such as improvisation that allows the young classical artists to compose their own piece helps with developing confidence in their playing.

"When you teach it is normal to say the same thing repetitively and often times it goes through one ear and through the other. Anyone involved in this mission will have to rely on a peer to provide advice or help with any issues as a means of opening the channel of communication," Russell said.

Communication he says is the main skill needed for the social development aspect and to play classical music at a high level next to breath control.

"It is not only about the music," said Young, "but empowering the children to express themselves. We have created a pseudo-family that encourages the students to address their tutors as 'uncle' and 'aunty'; this inevitably makes them have tighter bonds with them and each other."

Notably after five years actively involved in NYOJ, students also have the opportunity to earn a small stipend as tutors or receive scholarships to continue studies.

Prentice says the NYOJ looks towards having more long-term educators to become a part of the family and help with achieving its goals.