Have music teachers become an endangered species? By Raschid Osman
Guyana Chronicle
June 27, 2004

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NOT too long from now, should things remain as they are, The Guyana Music Teachers Association might just fold up its tent and slip away into the night.

For the number of music teachers in the Co-operative Republic is dwindling alarmingly, and the species is clearly endangered.

"At the moment we have no teachers for voice, violin, guitar, woodwind nor brass, and the number of piano teachers we do have is dwindling," lamented a Guyana Music Teachers Association member in an interview last week.

The piano tuner is also an endangered species, and when the current complement disappears, well...

A piano teacher herself, Marilyn Dewar, the Association's secretary, explained that the organisation's mandate is to cover music teachers, assisting in procuring for them books and music and information of new things musical. And this is not always easy, she says, for Guyana is just a bit too far removed from classical music centres.

Music teachers here are affiliated to the Royal School of Music in London, and officials there are sometimes instrumental in facilitating music examinations and other programmes in Guyana.

Each year, music students here do theory and practical exams for the Royal School of Music, with examiners coming once a year for the practical examinations. He examines about 120 students annually, mostly piano students, ranging from Grade One to Eight.

The Royal School is aware of the problem of teachers here acquiring music books when they come out, and so the School allows books for examinations in one year to be used in the following year, allowing the books to reach Guyana and be studied by students for their exams.

"This means that books for the 2003 examinations, for instance, may be used for the 2004 examinations," Mrs. Dewar explains.

Academia is also playing a hand in removing students from music.

"We lose students as they move up in school," says Mrs. Dewar." Not too long after they start music lessons they have lessons in school, lessons for SSEE and then lessons for CXC and then A Levels and then off to University or some other time-consuming course. There are a few who would stay with the music, but too many really."

As for music in schools, this is more the exception rather than the rule. A few top schools such as Bishops' High, Queen's College and St. Joseph High offer music, along with a few private schools such as the Marian Academy and the New Guyana School.

"Many of our competent musicians live overseas and we try ever so often to get them to come home, even for a month or two to have classes, but we are hardly ever successful," says Mrs. Dewar.

Of course, the ideal would be to have a good music school here, and the general feeling is that if one is established, there would be enough students to make the project viable. And of course the school would attract teachers.

Mrs. Dewar recalls the not-so-long ago when music festivals were staged with performances by school children. The musical festival was a vehicle for identifying talent and many of Guyana's musicians came out this way. Pianist Ray Luck and baritone Frank Daniels come easily to mind, a considerable flowering that emerged from the Music Festival.

The Ministry of Culture Youth and Sport has plans to arouse some interest in the performing arts through a series of festivals planned over the next few months. There were three evenings of poetry reading recently and a festival of choral music is planned for July. This is commendable and could be a useful beginning.

But there is much more to be done. Training in music is vital to building talent and the music teacher is indispensable in this exercise. And of course the school is the best place to start.

It would be a pity if good music disappears from us, if our children stop making music and performing, if our steelbands slip into further mediocrity and our vocalists sing without the finesse that makes the exercise worthwhile.

Historians know fully well that it is our culture that enriches the spirit more than anything else, providing a panacea for the many ills that beset us.

If one is allowed to paraphrase the Bard, "My kingdom for a good music school."