Music saved my life - Former state ward strikes right chord to escape life of abuse
FLEEING AN abusive home, Daniel Richards spent the better part of his childhood in state care. It was at this refuge from constant beatings that he was introduced to what would later become a huge part of his life – music.
“My father was physically abusing me,” the young saxophonist and music coach told The Sunday Gleaner. “I was placed at Alpha Boys’ Home before it got shut down. I was then returned home, but my father was still beating me so a ran away back to Alpha, and I was placed at Maxfield Park Children’s Home.”
He said that at first, he was scared and uncomfortable, but he soon started to relax and settle in at the home.
“I got to love it when I started learning music,” said 21-year-old Richards, who first became a ward of the state at eight years old.
Richards said many persons are surprised when he reveals that he was brought up in state care.
“When I tell people, they then make the connection to Alpha because they are known for great musicians coming out of there – people like Don Drummond and Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore from The Skatalites band and many more,” Richards said.
Founded in 1880 as a school for unattached boys, Alpha Boys’ School also housed some 120 boys, but closed its doors to the residential programme in 2014. The music and education programmes still continue at the Kingston-based school.
“For me, it (learning to play the saxophone) was easy because I started out with the clarinet, which has the same fingerings. A next brother there taught me to play it. Most of the time, it was like I was paying him to teach me, where I had to give him my breakfast and dinner,” Richards reflected. “I thank God for it, though, because it changed my life.”
Still, Richards has big dreams.
“My dream and aspiration is to be the greatest saxophonist in the world. Right now, I play with Lion Ten Reggae Band and Blazing Genesis Band. I also freelance with other bands and groups,” he added.
Before the coronavirus disease pandemic forced suspension of physical classes at schools across the island, Richards was enjoying his tenure at Spanish Town High School as music and choir coach. He revealed that teaching the students and seeing their love for music bring him joy.
“Jeffrey Brown, who works at Food For The Poor, has a summer camp programme, which I was a part of for some time until I became an instructor. He pushed me to start teaching music to kids and after that, I got a job at Spanish Town High as the coach for the band and the choir,” Richards, who is yet to complete his continuing education music course at Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts, said of his foray into the classroom.
“It gives me great joy to teach music to children. At the end of my time, I want to know that I teach somebody and they get even better than me. The joy comes from helping other people because growing up in children’s home and Jeffery giving children things that they didn’t have have shown me that it is important to give back,” he added.
Richards is grateful for the opportunities he got from Alpha and all who supported him on his journey, and he wants to give back to the state care system in whatever way he can.
In this, Richards takes a lot of inspiration from Brown.
“He is also from Alpha, and when he was leaving, he didn’t get an instrument. He had to work for it. What he is doing now at Food For The Poor – get kids to come in teach them the music and give them the instrument at the end of the programme – is a joy for him and also for me, because at the end of every month, they come in and show that they have been practising,” Richards said.
“I would want to have concerts to help raise money for Maxfield Park Children’s Home or any children’s home. It’s a joy to even go there and the younger kids remember my name because a long time I leave (Do you mean ‘live’ instead of leave?) there. They always say they know me from seeing me on the TV or at CPFSA (Child Protection and Family Services Agency) events.”