Sunday, September 23, 2012

News Feature: Striking the Right Chord

Published in The Sunday Gleaner on September 23:

"Music and children are my passion," says Andrea Curtis, a visionary whose dream is to operate an early-childhood institution where children learn about music. While that dream is yet to be realised, Curtis set wheels in motion with the establishment in 2003 of Pianoprep.

Curtis said, "The reason Pianoprep was birthed was so that talented children from all echelons of society could be given exposure to playing an instrument, voice training, understanding the art of music and where it is coming from." She believes that the empowerment children get from Pianoprep enables them to have "big power" to be the change they want to see, and even help with the realisation of Jamaica's Vision 2030.


"At heart, I'm a Jamaican girl," quips Curtis with a smile. "And I believe that every child is a musician, especially in Jamaica. We are naturally rhythmical - look at even the way we sing the multiplication tables. Music is just part of us."

Through Pianoprep, she teaches children how to play the piano, preparing them for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) examinations and, in the process, instilling within them a deep love and passion for music, country and self.

As a requirement of the programme, every child must learn to play the Jamaican anthem.

And, putting a little fun in the mix, she has developed a "last lick" culture, where children had better learn to outrun her before she plants one of her famous last licks on them when they are leaving her home, which also doubles as her teaching studio.

Her reason for doing this, Curtis says, is to help with the continuation of some time-honoured Jamaican traditions. She says many of the children she has tutored over her years were unaware of what a "last lick" was before they met her.

And does it make a difference?

"We still do the last lick," says Kevah Lyn, a Trinidadian-Canadian mother of two who now resides in Jamaica. Both her children attended Pianoprep: Victoria began when she was six years old and Nicholas at five. "Andrea does more than music, she also feeds the soul. She brings herself down to the kids' level and is playful ... it's real good."

Gregory Gordon, whose two children - Aimi (five) and Zuri (six) - attended this year's Pianoprep Summer Camp, agrees. "I thought it was a well-run camp. I like the idea of instruments that they used with their hands, the creativity, the 'oboephone' - the combination of the saxophone and the oboe. I like that they used boxes to think outside the box, the rewards system, the 'last lick' culture. It was quite fun, full, substantial."

He mentioned that Zuri cried after her first day of camp, when she had a difficult time learning to play the guitar, but "she went back and she got it. She played and sang at the closing recital. That was a proud daddy moment for me".

Josiah Rainford, one of Curtis' first students, had this to say to his 'Auntie Andrea': "You made me like piano, leading to guitar and drums. Thanks to you, I now play piano in church." He also did the ABRSM Grade One exam and passed with a merit.

An important aspect of Curtis' programme is self-development. Some of the highlights of her Pianoprep journey this year include: a two-year-old who still sings the Japanese song taught at camp, watching one of her youth helpers transform from being stern and lackadaisical to industrious, helpful and playful.

Curtis has her own share of challenges - financial support for her summer camps being the major obstacle.

But this is not going to stop her. "Not possible," the god-fearing Christian replies. "Pianoprep will be able to go through and grow through with a perpetual relevance despite the inevitable changes, while solidly holding to its core values, which makes it Pianoprep."

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