Elmhurst College: Students Host Music Festival in Jamaica

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Students Host Music Festival in Jamaica

In western Jamaica, a place where most admit that nothing comes easy, more than 150 children came from far and wide, some taking hourlong taxi rides, some walking for miles, all clutching heavy musical instruments but sporting big smiles, to take part in a music festival organized by Elmhurst College students.

The West Jamaica International Music Festival, held on January 16, 2010, at Montego Bay’s Verney House Hotel, featured private lessons, performances and collaborative concerts involving not only the local schoolchildren, but also their music teachers and 27 members of the Elmhurst College music program.

The effort was led by music professor and concert band director Judith Grimes, who in January marked her 67th teaching trip to Jamaica.

Hours of intensive private lessons and workshops at the festival culminated in a collaborative concert of celebrated songs from both the United States and Jamaica, including, “ Jamaican Farewell,” “Yellow Bird,” “ Hey Baby,” and the Flintstones’ theme song.

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“We could just see the excitement on the kids’ faces,” Grimes said. “And to hear how well they play, all while having so little training, is amazing.”

The festival is a highlight of the two-week long “Educational Experiences in Jamaica” class taught by Grimes. While most of the Elmhurst College students who take the class are music majors, the class is open to students from all fields of study, and this trip includes students majoring in education, psychology and business.

Grimes, who has been teaching in and assisting elementary and high schools in Jamaica for nearly 40 years, is responsible for initiating the musical instrument programs at the schools that took part in the festival.

“Professor Grimes and her students have truly given life to this community,” said Maurice Clarke, a music teacher at Montego Bay High School who first participated in the festival in 1994 as an 8th-grade student of Grimes’.

According to Clarke, while most schools in Jamaica traditionally have some form of choral music programming, band programs are another story. Much of the difficulty is due to the crushing cost of both purchasing and maintaining musical instruments on the island.

The only music store in Jamaica is in Kingston, Grimes said. A five-hour drive from Montego Bay, the store sells a limited selection of much-needed supplies such as reeds for woodwind instruments.

A vast majority of the instruments played by students in Montego Bay’s school bands were brought to the island through the efforts of Elmhurst College students and community friends.

Grimes estimates that to date, thousands of musical instruments have been provided to the children of Montego Bay through the program, as well as school supplies, sheet music, music stands and other equipment.

For more about the Elmhurst College music program click here.

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