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Seretse Small on the other side of music

Published:Sunday | May 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Seretse Small, team leader at Avant Music School, St Andrew.-Photos by Paul Williams
The piano/keyboard room at Avant Music School.

Paul H. Williams, Contributor

For a few years now, internationally acclaimed guitarist Seretse Small has been announcing his retirement from paid performances. In 2012, there were even media stories about his exit from the stage. But Small is still strumming away in the departure lounge. "I still do performances, and still get paid performances," the music veteran of 35 years told Arts & Education recently.

"I just don't think of it as the means of feeding myself or as my primary activity. My primary activity is running the school and becoming a better business person so that I can effectively manage the resources to realise our dreams of an effective institution," said the man who is a graduate of Mona Prep School, Jamaica College, EXED Community College, Jamaica School of Music, Edna Manley College, and Berklee College of Music.

The school that he is running is Avant Music School, located at 66 Paddington Terrace, St Andrew. The first class was on September 30 last year. Avant is a word of French origin which means "being or employing the latest concepts, styles, or techniques".

Reason for name

"The name was chosen because our aim is to use the best techniques and methodologies to solve problems on behalf of our students. Though we want to teach music, we really want to identify and understand the dreams and aspirations of our students and help to remove the obstacles to achieving those dreams and aspirations," Small said.

But, Avant is not his first experience with music education as he had taught at Jamaica School of Music, EXED Community College, Jesse Ripoll Primary, American International School, and Jamaica Theological Seminary. This time around, he's on the administrative side of things as team leader of a school whose mission is "to be expert at identifying and meeting music education needs while preparing our learners for global opportunities and, at the same time, ensuring a rewarding return for all of our stakeholders".

Small said he had always wanted a school, so when the opportunity came for such an investment, he jumped at it. At the time he said, "Let's start a school that is based on two things, situational analysis and global opportunities. We will always seek to understand the situations that our teachers and students are experiencing both internally and externally, and we will seek to position our students as global citizens." To achieve these objectives, Avant offers one-on-one instructions in music performance. Students choose the time that is convenient to them.

high level of customisation

Avant Music School, Small said, is different from other schools "because of the high level of customisation and flexibility in content of music lessons and time scheduling". Classes are held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday. At present, there are 11 tutors, with more than one tutor for each instrument. This "allows the students to have options that fit their learning needs and styles". The main instruments taught are piano/keyboard, guitar, drums, and voice.

The challenges, so far, Small said, are related to the numbers. "Though we are growing rapidly, we are yet to reach the number of students to allow us to breathe easily. But we are breathing easier every term and I am confident that we will soon reach our goal," he said.

So, Small may not be regularly creating musical magic on stage, but music is still his business because, he said, "Music is important, and it is important to a wide cross section of Jamaicans. If we provide opportunities for Jamaicans to be all they can be in any area, we will have a really good quality of life in this our island paradise."