Poised to fulfil its mandate

The Guyana Music Teachers Association
By Cecilia McAlmont
Guyana Chronicle
April 30, 2000

ON WEDNESDAY, April 19, 2000, the Guyana Music Teachers Association held its 52nd Annual General Meeting only weeks after the death of its long-standing president and one of its founder members, Ms Lynette Dolphin.

The mantle of leadership has been passed to another stalwart in the field of music and former colleague of hers, Mr William A.R. (better known as Bill) Pilgrim. Both of them were among the first two pupils of the first president of the association.

The inaugural meeting of the then British Guiana Music Teachers Association was held at the home of Ms Lynette Dolphin on April 7, 1948, and was attended by 14 music teachers.

Ms Dolphin, the convenor, stated that the meeting had been called for the purpose of inaugurating a Music Teachers Association. Teachers who had entered a fair number of candidates for the Associated Board Examination, had been invited as a representative body, to form the nucleus of the Association. Later, all music teachers were invited to become members.

At that first meeting, the following committee was proposed and unanimously accepted: Mrs Eleanor Kerry (President), Ms Winifred McDavid (Vice-President), Ms Lynette Dolphin (Secretary), Ms Clothide Casey (Treasurer). The committee members were Mrs Edna Jordan, Mrs Miriam Daniels and Mr Peter Koulen.

The following were agreed upon as the aims of the Association:

a) To enlarge and improve the knowledge of music of its members and to stimulate their interest in every branch of musical development;

b) To promote discussion on matters of interest to music teachers, and to make united representation in any matter affecting the teaching of music in this country.

c) To keep abreast of current musical events and modern methods of teaching;

d) To undertake any other activity for the betterment of the association.

The British Council representative had been asked and granted permission for the monthly meeting of the Association to be held at his Robb Street office, where adequate seating and equipment for film shows and gramophone concerts were available.

As a result, the British Council was host to the Association on the second Wednesday of each month for nearly 12 years. The link was maintained through the provision of a monthly magazine, `The Music Teacher' which was described as the Bible of modern music teaching.

In December, 1950, the Association was registered as a Specially Authorised Society under the Friendly Societies Ordinance. After independence in 1966, the registration was amended to `the Guyana Music Teachers Association'. In 1993, the Ministry of Finance granted the status of a `Charitable Organisation' to the Association.

Then as now, the Association's goal was to gain access to the most up-to-date and relevant information regarding the teaching of music, instrumental and vocal, for individuals and for schools, especially as it related to the world-wide examinations of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and the Trinity College of Music.

The Association's membership was made up of teachers with experience and others with no experience in the correct interpretation of the examination syllabus. Therefore, besides the sharing of knowledge among its members, the Association provided a forum where visiting musicians could present workshops, discussions and performances to the local teachers and their senior pupils.

In addition, there were illustrated lectures by qualified local musicians, as well as gramophone concerts and film shows. An annual `Members Night' was introduced where every member was required to contribute an item to the programme. Consequently, every teacher was featured as a performer at least once in each year.

The Association not only promoted and sponsored local concerts, but also collaborated with Embassies and High Commissions to bring celebrated international performers to Guyana, many of whom held workshops for local musicians. Additionally, programmes on various aspects of music were presented by Guyanese professional musicians. These included Ray Luck, Francis Leach, Hugh Sam and Moses Telford.

In those early years too, individual music teachers contributed solos and concertos in the biennial concerts of the Princesville Orchestra, conducted by Mr Francis Loncke, the Georgetown Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Major S.W. Henwood. Among the soloists were Eleanor Kerry, Joyce Aaron, Lynette Dolphin, Eileen Rogers, Vincent De Abreu, Joycelyne Loncke and Valerie Rodway.

Like almost every other organisation in Guyana, the fortunes of the Guyana Music Teachers Association have waxed and waned in response to the circumstances prevailing in the country. However, during the lean years of the late 70s and early 80s, the Association was able to benefit under the many Cultural Agreements which Guyana signed with Soviet bloc countries.

Several of its members went on exchange visits to cities like Moscow and Havana where they shared their own knowledge and on their return shared their experiences which helped to enrich the Association's offerings to its membership.

One of the major achievements of the Association, was its contribution to the British Guiana Music festival. This became the Guyana Music Festival after independence. This festival was held biennially between 1952 and 1973, after which the deteriorating situation in the country forced its suspension. However, since 1994, the Woodside Choir has reorganised and sponsored it.

The most significant project of the Association is the annual production since 1985, of Young Musicians on Stage, held at the National Cultural Centre. These concerts consist mainly of performances by the most successful students at the current music examinations, with the addition of other groups of outstanding young performers from the primary and secondary schools.

Each year, recognition in the form of music awards is given to both teacher and students who do well at the various examinations. The most prestigious has been the Philip Pilgrim Memorial Harp awarded in memory of the gifted pianist and composer, Philip Pilgrim, best remembered for his grand choral setting of A.J. Seymour's `The Legend of Kaieteur'. It was first awarded in 1947 to a candidate who passed in Grades 6 to Diploma of the Associated Board's Examination and who, in the examiner's opinion, possesses outstanding musicianship.

Some of the winners included Malcolm De Freitas, Edith Pieters, Norman Ramalho, Joycelyne, Patricia, John and Paul Loncke, Ray and Janet Luck and Aubrey and Avis Joseph and Rosemary Ramdeholl.

Other awards include: The Clara Burrowes Memorial trophy for the most outstanding pupil in Grades 1 to 3, the Orin Barrow Trophy for Young Musicians, Grades 4 and 5, and the Edna Jordan trophy for Theory of Music Grades 4 and over.

There are also annual awards given by the Association - Junior Pupil's and Teacher's prizes in Grades 1 and 5, and Senior Pupil's and Teacher's prizes in Grades 6 to 8.

The Association is funded mainly by the very modest yearly dues paid by its members, profits from its annual production of Young Musicians on Stage, generous donations in cash and kind from its local and overseas members and organisations and individuals from both the public and private sectors.

In recent years in particular, the Association has only been able to maintain the annual examinations which is conducted by an examiner from the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music, through the generous donations for the cost of airfare and accommodation by members of the private sector.

The membership of the Association which has averaged about 50, is drawn from Georgetown, Linden, Bartica, West Coast Demerara and Berbice.

The limited scope of its membership is due mainly to the fact that because of its purpose, it would only have members in those regions where music is taught in schools. Unfortunately, in too many of our schools, there is hardly enough resources to teach the basic three Rs, much more music.

However, members of the Association have given community service through assisting schools with their musical performances, training school and church choirs and providing music, in many cases original compositions, for many groups and institutions.

As part of its Golden Jubilee celebrations in April 1998, the Guyana Music Teachers Association commissioned Mr Francis O. Leach, Professor of Music at Delta State University in Cleveland Mississippi, to forecast where music was heading in the millennium. Among other things, he stated that today, students would much prefer to spend their time on a computer experimenting, playing video games, writing research papers and letters, and composing for all media with the help of the computer.

He warned that if Art Music is to be saved, at least until another J.S. Bach, Beethoven, W. Mozart and E. Chopin appear, then it is necessary not only for musical training to start in the public schools, but also for teachers of music to be well qualified in every facet of music.

In Guyana, in response to developments in the content as well as the method of music teaching, some teachers of the younger generation have introduced the new techniques using keyboards and computers, with the teacher operating from the main console.

The music coordinator in the Ministry of Education worked with the CXC Music Panel for two years and prepared a syllabus. The pilot examinations were held in 1999. Also, since late 1999, the Ministry has also employed a highly experienced music teacher to resuscitate the teaching of music throughout the country. To this end, a seminar was recently held for teachers of music.

If this and other relevant initiatives continue, then the Guyana Music Teachers Association will be poised to fulfil its mandate in the foreseeable future.