All Woman

Professor Marilyn Anderson's plant therapy

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, January 14, 2013    

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FOR years, Professor Marilyn Anderson has used music for self-fulfilment, entertainment and to inspire others, but of late she has ventured into fairly uncharted waters by using music to grow foods in an effort to ensure that in the near future, no Jamaican will ever have to go to bed hungry.

"This may seem a bit odd, but I believe that sound can also feed the Jamaican nation, and I am saying this in the context that this can happen within a short period of time," said the musician and educator who pointed out that the increasing rate of global warming could severely affect food production in the coming years.

"Instead of having a lot of dialogue, we need to think outside of the box; what it is that we can do? This will actually give the government and the farmers some alternatives and some hope," she said.

Three years ago, Professor Anderson reaped tremendous benefit after setting up a greenhouse at the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) in Manchester, and experimented with playing music to help grow crops such as corn, tomatoes and pumpkin. The corn grew over 12 feet tall, the tomato vines were crowded with produce, and she had to eventually go in and remove some of the pumpkins because they were growing too quickly.

The professor tended to her greenhouse while diligently carrying out her duties as dean of the College of Humanities and Behavioural Sciences, where among other things, she introduced a PhD in counselling psychology in response to the widespread trauma being experienced by victims of crime and violence.

Professor Anderson was appointed vice-president of Academic Administration at NCU in August of last year, but even such a lofty post could not take her away from her two passions which are gardening and music. Her love affair with both started from a tender age, and not even the gentle prodding of her grandparents or their offers to finance her studies if she pursued medicine, were able to quell her spirit to become a music teacher.

"Even though I am an administrator now, my greatest love is the teaching of music," she said.

"Deep down in my heart, teaching is what drives me, teaching in terms of music has been my life and I have really got fulfilment from that," she said with strong conviction.

As a little girl, Professor Anderson took classes with London-born pianist Lillian Trench, under whose tutelage she blossomed into a skilled musician. Shortly after graduating from West Indies College in Manchester, the educator moved to the US and enrolled at the Eastern Michigan University where she obtained her degree in business administration.

With no financial support, Professor Anderson was able to fund her studies by doing odd jobs as a secretary. From these jobs, she was also able to save up enough to pursue her graduate degree in music education and take private lessons with concert pianist Dada Mehta, who is the cousin of world renowned conductor Zubin Mehta. For anyone else, this would have been the ideal platform to launch a successful music career, but not for Professor Anderson who bypassed the glitz and the glamour of a concert musician to go into the classroom. She has been a music teacher for over 30 years now.

Professor Anderson first became a music teacher at the Peterson Warren Academy in Michigan where she taught students of all ages. At one point, she even found herself teaching band in a Seventh-day Adventist academy in the Detroit inner-city school system, and much like her teachers had done for her, she was able to inspire her students to love music.

"I have had the results of many having gone on to pursue music as their career and some have also gone on to become excellent teachers," she said.

After years in the US, Professor Anderson decided to return to her roots at West Indies College, now NCU, to become the head of the music department and minister of music at the college's church. She also forged a strong bond with the New England orchestra group, which resulted in the conceptualisation of the Feasts of Lights classical concerts, which are broadcast on radio and television locally and was even broadcast in the US in 2010.

Dr Anderson is currently the director of the National Adventist Choir and is a member of several music organisations including the Jamaica Music Teachers' Association.

Her book, Readings in Music Education: Philosophical and Educational Perspectives was published in 2008.

The professor hopes to explore how different types of music, including dancehall, can help with food production and security. Her next experiment, she said, will be on a grander scale and is necessary at this time, given the fact that people are becoming more health conscious and are in need of organic crops. She hopes the Ministry of Agriculture and the managers of agro-processing companies will assist her in exploring this new venture.

"My take is that I would not want to have something like this that I have experimented with and my country at this point doesn't benefit," she said.

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