FFP band aids students' development

Thursday, March 22, 2018

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“Music soothes your mind,” says Michael Brown.

At age 21, he is a senior member and leader of the Food For the Poor (FFP) Band. He says he has been playing music since age five. He was introduced to the band through his church in Spanish Town, and says he loves “anything that is to do with music”.

It is the band's Saturday morning routine. Once a month, between 30 and 35 teens gather at Food For the Poor's Ellerslie Pen headquarters in St Catherine for rehearsals, under the watchful eye of band director Jeffrey Brown.

Most of the students, with boys currently outnumbering girls, graduated from FFP's Summer Band Camp for children aged 12-16 years, which takes place in July and August. The camp, a release from FFP said, attracts up to 60 youngsters each year. FFP donates the instruments they play, which includes woodwind, brass, keyboard, and percussion.

Inside the practice room, a six-piece band is rehearsing a medley of reggae, pop and standards such as Blue Moon. Watching them with a benevolent eye is Oswald Scott, a veteran musician and past student of Alpha Boys' School, who plays French horn and cornet. He volunteers each month, advises the band members and makes sure they are learning to read music properly.

All nine pieces performed by the band have already qualified for the parish finals of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) Performing Arts Competition.

Two young women, 15-year-old Brittany Thomas (clarinet, alto saxophone) and her friend 18-year-old Mickayle Dyer (alto saxophone), have been band members for the past two years. They believe playing in the band has helped them with their school work.

“You focus on more details, and you get to concentrate better,” Brittany is quoted as saying in the release.

The girls both confirmed that their band membership has helped them acquire better social skills.

“You are basically in a family in the band,” Brittany said.

Michayle added that performing in public improves their confidence; once they start playing, nerves disappear.

“We have fun,” they said, “and we are learning something new.”

Brown confirms that the teens' participation strengthens their motivation and enthusiasm.

“Parents often ask us what is happening at band camp,” he joked, “because their child's attitude has changed so much.”

He pointed out that band members come from a variety of backgrounds – not only from the inner city – and that working together helps them understand more about the society they live in. It also helps them build more meaningful relationships, the release said.

Will the young people continue to pursue music after the band?

Brittany is sure she will “use my music in some way in the future”, although she wants to pursue a career in law.

Michayle wants to be a dentist but said: “I will continue to play in my spare time.” “A lot of them will continue with their music, I know for sure. They may become doctors, nurses, policemen – but the music is still there. And they are gifted, Brown said.

In the meantime, Michael Brown, now a student at Excelsior Community College, plans to teach music.

He believes that playing music – keyboards and saxophone — is very good for him: “You're in your own world. You can block out everything and just play.”

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