Mini Mozarts Music Camp



Originally published the the Jamaica Gleaner
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An enchanting evening amidst showers of blessing! Last Saturday, Kingston welcomed its longawaited showers which gave the St. Andrew Parish Foundation (SAPF) more than a gentle nudge to switch the venue of their October 3 gala musical evening, Festum Sancti Andreae, from the lawns of King’s House to the St Andrew Parish Church Hall located on the “Lawns of Ellesmere” in Half Way Tree. Within hours, the church hall was completely transformed by the touch of a team of dedicated angels and the exquisite décor, red carpet style, created an atmosphere of expectation while the soothing sound of the rain on the outside provided background music with its own natural melody.

This evening of entertainment which was under the distinguished patronage of the newly appointed Canadian High Commissioner, His Excellency Mr. Sylvain Fabi, thrilled the audience. Heading the rainaffected but highly appreciative audience was His Excellency the Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen, GovernorGeneral, along with standing copatrons of the SAPF Mrs Valerie Facey and Hon Vincent Lawrence, and Mrs Lawrence.

The National Anthem announcing a prompt start to the gala event, the Kingston College Chapel Choir, sartorially elegant in regal purple, then graced the stage led by Choir Master and Conductor, Audley Davidson, who accompanied on the piano. Opening with The Prayer arranged by Tom Lettke, followed by O Come Ye Servants of the Lord, and finally Hal Hopson’s Praise My Soul the King of Heaven, the audience was immersed in exquisitely harmonious surroundsound, so excellent were the voices of this popular ensemble and supportive, the acoustics of the St Andrew Parish Church Hall. The choir’s flawless delivery of these complex works increased the air of excitement and anticipation in the concert hall, setting the pace for what was to be a delightful evening of entertainment.

The lead players and performers for the evening, Canadabased Jamaican tenor, Paul Anthony Williamson, and Canadian soprano, Allison Cecilia Arends, headliners at the first staging of Festum Sancti Andreae in 2014, were joined on stage this year by esteemed Jamaican soprano, Lori Burnett, and Canadian mezzosoprano, Kathleen Promane. As he did for the inaugural staging last December, Roger N. Williams, Director of the School of Music at the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts brought his remarkable virtuosity to the piano.

The selections included well known pieces from Carmen, La Bohème, La Traviata, and a stunning rendition by Allison Arends and Kathleen Promane of the Flower Duet from Léo Delibes’ “Lakmé”, an early crowd favourite. Very popular pieces such as Frederick Loewe’s I Could’ve Danced All Night from “My Fair Lady”, superbly performed by Lori Burnett, and the moving duet One Hand, One Heart from Bernstein’s “West Side Story” which the Jamaican soprano and Paul Williamson performed most eloquently, formed part of the extensive programme of works through which master of ceremonies, Tony Patel, guided patrons and which had them pleading for more. These excellent pieces were interspersed with humour and dramatic interchanges among the performers as they sought to bring to life through music and song varied colourful episodes of life’s drama which unfolded in different parts of the world, in diverse eras, and in interesting cultural settings. This gala musical evening was a subtle reminder that all the world’s a stage and that the men and women are mere players.

Performing at Festum Sancti Andreae has become a sort of “homecoming” for Paul Williamson and Allison Arends as after their experience last December of a walking tour of Majesty Gardens, one of the communities slated to benefit from the SAPF fundraiser, the duo conceptualized the Mini Mozarts Music Summer Camp. Their dream became a reality in August giving them the opportunity to share their musical talents with some 25 children from the Majesty Gardens Infant School and to demonstrate their support for the SAPF’s Vision for Community Transformation. Kathleen Promane, a first time performer at the event is comfortable on the operatic stage, whether at home in Toronto or at the Carnegie Hall, and she lived up to the name she has gained in musical circles, demonstrating through the rendition of numerous songs her flexibility to perform some of the most demanding roles in the mezzosoprano repertory. Her rendition of Georges Bizet’s Castanet Scene and Habañera from Carmen was indeed a crowd favourite and that was no surprise as this selection has been a winner since Carmen debuted.

Festum Sancti Andreae was a winner for the audience and the performers alike. The young KC Chapel Choir members were evidently enthusiastic about their participation in this event, savouring every moment on stage as they performed their opening pieces and even more so when they accompanied the main performers by singing the choruses of selected pieces throughout the classical musical extravaganza. Their support to Arends and Williamson in their most beautiful rendition of Brindis from Verdi’s “La Traviata” which marked the conclusion of the first half of the programme was without question, impeccable. Students from the EMC School of Music, present in the audience, also added youthful excitement to the evening as they cheered on their beloved lecturer, Burnett, and School Director, Williams. Immersed in a unique learning experience, the concert, which provided tremendous insight as they observed Burnett in performance with her peers Arends, Promane and Williamson, was the fitting conclusion to the twohour Master Class conducted by the visiting performers at the School earlier in the week, in which they were privileged to participate.

Festum Sancti Andreae has definitely made its mark on the local entertainment landscape, having been dubbed a musical feast which showcased talented operatic performers who rendered selections from light and grand operas, favourite stage shows and folk songs. As the evening came to a close, the audience swooned as the quartet took to the stage to perform Peter Ashbourne’s arrangement of the Jamaican folk song, Lion Heart, a truly heartwarming performance. However, it was the encore piece, The Champagne Song from Die Fladermaus, that enticed the performers and audience beyond expectations as Paul Williamson dramatically popped open a bottle of champagne which bubbled over into flutes as the quartet backed by the entire KC Chapel Choir (they with wine glasses of water), toasted the audience as they sang and sipped, rhythmically raising their glasses to this rousing piece. In inimitable Jamaican style, skillfully and tastefully executed, this rendition included a verse of Williamson’s own creation to toast the St. Andrew Parish Church congratulating its congregation as it brings down the curtain on its yearlong 350th anniversary celebrations. This festive toast was indeed an expression of glee and those present will agree that the evening’s performance ended on a deliciously high note!


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1. What drove you to start this summer camp in Kingston, Jamaica?
We (Allison and Paul) were involved in singing a concert for the Saint Andrew Parish Foundation (SAPF), in December 2014 in Kingston, Jamaica. It has since become an annual benefit gala, with which all three of us are now involved, and major fundraiser. All proceeds go to help the many outreach projects that the Foundation oversees. These projects include social programming, family planning, education and employment training, a girls’ school, senor care, and an infant school for children aged 3-6. The infant school, called Saint Andrew Settlement, has not only an educational facility, but also a dental and health centre, and soup kitchen. They initially reached out to Paul, as they hoped to hold a high-class fundraising gala with musical entertainment, and it was at that time that Allison was also invited to take part. While we were in Jamaica, we made a trip to the infant school.  We both fell in love with the children!  It struck us how innocent, enthusiastic, and loving they all were, and how unjust it was that they have so many obstacles awaiting them, including poverty, and potential abuse, neglect, and drug abuse, to name a few. As we were departing, we both had tears in our eyes and simultaneously expressed our desire to do something tangible for these amazing children. It was then that the Mini Mozarts Summer Music Camp was born. We believe that as citizens of the world, it is our responsibility to reach out to those who are unjustly met with many disadvantages, be it poor health, lower socio-economic status, or downright destitute poverty, as is the case with these children. Music is a universal language that has the ability to overcome all barriers, and it is also a collaborative art. It is our hope that we can introduce these children to a basic musical education, inspire them in their creativity, ensure that they are fed and supervised during a time they may otherwise be on the streets (summer vacation), and teach them that building a healthy community is done in the spirit of cooperation and compassion, not “survival of the fittest”. We both were so fortunate to receive the full support of this amazing Foundation, and to work with them in their incredibly cooperative and generous spirit. The spring and summer months were then spent developing a camp curriculum, schedule, and supplies list. The rest is history!

2. What does an average day at camp look like?
The camp ran four days a week from around 8:30 AM, at which time they were served breakfast, to 1:00PM, at which time they were served lunch. In reality, though, we loved every moment with the kids and they loved every moment of the camp, so some days we were there with them much later than that. We always began our day with vocal and physical warm-ups, and also various games that tested and developed their ability to listen and follow instructions. Next, we led them into the musical component of the day, which included teaching them around 10 songs in total over the course of the 2 weeks, one which we wrote ourselves: “I have learned my ABC’s, now I learn my Do-Re-Mi’s. Mini Mozarts Camp is fun for you and me and everyone. I love music, so should you. Mini Mozarts Camp, WOOHOO!” Next came our games time, which included musical chairs (a camp favourite!), freeze tag and musical tag, hot potato, Ring Around the Rosie, What Time is It Mr. Wolf, musical freeze, and Simon Says. Since many of these required music, we had compiled a massive playlist on Allison’s iphone, which included hits from the classical, opera, jazz, world music, rock, pop, R&B, and kids music genres. Our next component, following the much-needed water break (we were doing all of this in outdoor facilities in sometimes 40 degree heat!), we treated the kids to a short time of video entertainment, which always had a musical theme. They viewed video clips from cartoons like Bugs Bunny (goodness knows, many of us received our early music education thanks to him!) and Veggie Tales, famous and fun opera scenes, Disney cartoons (Pete’s Dragon and The Lion King), and musicals (Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music).  By now, the kids had calmed down enough to focus on story time. Some days we read and learned nursery rhymes, some days the older kids would break off to learn and prepare a play, written by a Jamaican children’s author. We frequently would sneak in little bits of music theory and history, including the musical scale, facts about opera, symphonies, orchestral instruments, and various composers (Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Wagner, in particular). They also got to listen to many musical clips and audiobooks, after which time they were engaged in some discussion about what they liked and disliked and why. We encouraged them to form opinions and taught them that these opinions were valuable. Next was craft time, which was perhaps a favourite amongst both the children and us, because they got to express their own individual creativity, through painting, designing, drawing, and decorating. The specific crafts included crafting simple musical instruments from various household items, such as drums, guitars, and megaphones. As well, they got to make Viking hats (yes, this coincided with the Wagner lesson), tie-dye t-shirts, and do potato stamping using massive amounts of paint and glitter. After the kids were fed lunch, they were released and we began planning and settting up for the next day. We would then make our way home (we were generously put up by the lovely Mrs. Facey, a major sponsor for the Foundation) in a dirty, sweaty, exhausted, but overwhelmingly fulfilled heap.
In addition, on the final day of the first week, we hosted “Carnival Friday” for them. They all received camp shirts, treat bags (with pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, crayons, note books, bouncy balls, candy necklaces, bubbles, and many other treasures we found in the Canadian dollar stores and hauled over in our over packed suitcases), helium-filled balloons, and ice cream. We also set up stations, which included a bubble blowing station, apple-dunking, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, face painting, and piñatas. It’s hard to say who had more fun: the kids or the adult staff! On the final day, we hosted a camp concert for the community. The kids got to perform all of their songs (including actions!), a drum circle on their home-made drums, a play (put on by the 6-9 year olds), and then each participant was treated to a “graduation diploma” and going away gift. It was a very special day, and we were so proud of all the children had accomplished. This day was accompanied by a lot of tearful good-byes.

3. This is your second summer doing this (correct?) – how have you decided to change or improve the camp after the first year?
Actually, this was our first summer, but the Foundation intends to make this into an annual event. There has even been some discussion about further developing this program to include a Christmas camp, schools tours, private musical instruction for the children (voice, piano, guitar, and drums), and of course more fundraising initiatives, without which none of this would be possible. While this was very much a “test year”, we were pleased to learn that all of our ideas went over very well, and at this stage all we would like to do is continue to expand and add various opportunities for the kids of the community. We know that the children do not have much in the way of attention spans, so we will continue to add tactile activities, especially for the little boys. We discussed in great detail with the school principle as well as the committee the idea of having an outing with the children. Field trips are not something these kids will ever get to experience, so we love the idea of a day away from the neighbourhood. One idea that came up, pending sponsorship, is taking the kids to the Bob Marley Museum for a day. Also, there is a high incidence of child [sexual] abuse in this neighbourhood, rape, and the birth rate is staggeringly high, which only includes around 20% of these girls being over the age of 18. The school and Foundation work closely with family/child/social services in Jamaica, and are working very hard to educate the young men and women about appropriate and lawful behavior, as well as family planning and contraceptives. We would love to involve these educational/preventative services in the camp, so that the children are increasingly aware of their rights. It is also important that they are aware of the supportive role both we and the schoolteachers and staff are playing in their lives. Our camp was open to children ages 3-9. As the older children pass that age, we feel it is important not to abandon them, but to continue contact. We have discussed hosting another camp for older kids, or having some kind of a “junior leader” program, whereby they can be involved in the camp while taking on leadership responsibilities.

4. What kind of feedback have you gotten from campers? Did any of it surprise you?
The feedback was overwhelming, also from the staff, the Foundation committee, and those who attended the final concert. The children live in a world where they have to fight for everything, so we had to make sure everything we gave them was evenly distributed. It was obvious from the beginning that these children were starved for attention, constantly wanting to hold our hands, sit in our laps, receive and give hugs, and just have the chance to speak and be heard. They learned from us that there is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and that poor behaviour has its consequences, including time-outs or loss of activity time, but most of all they learned that our love for them was unconditional. While we had to establish and exercise our authority as instructors, adults, and supervisors, they learned that we did not love them or think any less of them when they misbehaved. This was a very new thing for many of them. It was overwhelming how much their behaviour changed over the two weeks. That, their enthusiastic response to the activities, and their love and affection were all the feedback we needed to know we were getting through and impacting these children in big and important ways. After the first week, we had the weekend off. Upon returning again on Monday morning, the kids were all sitting on the steps of the school awaiting our arrival. Upon seeing the car turn the corner, they all screamed “YAAAAY!” and sprinted to the car to envelop us in a group hug. It was an incredible and emotional moment.

5. As singers, what have you learned from working with young kids, and working in impoverished communities? (It’s a far cry from the “opera world,” I assume.)
We have learned that as musicians, we have a lot to offer children who suffer from destitute poverty. To give a little background on the neighbourhood we worked in, it is very much third world. Many people live on the streets, many people are missing limbs, and many people sell drugs or whatever they can to survive. The infrastructure is poor and the roads are largely unpaved or falling apart. The homes are makeshift, many without electricity or running water. Jamaica has just come out of one of its worst droughts in history, and during our last trip a few weeks ago, we found out the neighbourhood and school was without any running water at all. It takes an incredible amount of dedication, patience, and most of all compassion to work with kids in this situation; it is sometimes backbreaking and frequently heartbreaking. But we have learned that love and compassion go a long way in making a difference. Music IS a universal language and we did our best to make their time with us as simultaneously fun and educational as possible. They absorbed things so quickly, and they do not take anything for granted, since they have very little. We are committed to continuing our work with the children of Majesty Gardens (the community in which we were working). In addition to our camp and ongoing fundraisers in Jamaica, we are launching a major fundraising initiative in Canada. It is our hope to raise awareness of the growing need in Jamaica and raise major funds to continue our work, as well as support the various other projects the Foundation overseas.

6. The invaluable addition of Kathleen Promane to the team and her observations while in Kingston, Jamaica:
This October I had the great privilege of joining Paul Williamson, Allison Arends, and Lori Burnett as a featured artist in the St Andrew’s Parish Foundation now annual Benefit Gala Festum Sancti Andreae in Kingston, Jamaica. Originally I had seen the opportunity strictly as a chance to perform with great friends and colleagues in a beautiful and tropical venue. It turned out to be that and more.
While in Kingston, Allison and Paul took me along to meet the children that had attended the camp they had started up in August. It was quite humbling driving into the neighbourhood where the children live. The poverty in Kingston is a desperate situation, far from the poverty you come across in Canada. I was told that the children in this neighbourhood usually turn to crime by the age of 9 because of their desperate circumstances. When I walked through the school, the volunteers there were so kind and welcoming, as were all the Jamaicans I met while in Kingston, but the children were the ones that when I met them really pulled at my heartstrings. As a mother of two young children, I had to hold back tears. They were obviously so bright and eager to learn and in my opinion, right on par with what Ontario school children are expected of.
It was immediately obvious to me that the foundation has been doing a fabulous job providing these children with a great education and wonderful caregivers. Allison and Paul were so well received when they went in to see the kids. The children ran over to hug them and jumped up to sing songs they had learned in the music camp that summer. Being the mother that I am, I immediately began brainstorming some of the things we could teach the children through music and songs, thereby making it fun, like brushing their teeth, washing their hands and eating healthily. These are all things that my 5 year old son is learning at school and takes pride in the practice of healthy habits. I am now excited that I may have the opportunity to work with these children next summer and have many ideas of how I might contribute. I am the newest addition to the St Andrew’s Parish Foundation project “Mini Mozart Camp” but am thrilled to be considered as a collaborator and participant.