Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mikhail Johnson's Debut Piano Recital

Mikhail practising for the concert
Lovers of Classical Piano Music, if you weren’t in Mountambrin Theatre Gallery on Sunday, July 21, in the afternoon, you missed a treat, when Dr. Russell Gruhlke, Lesbert Lee and Friends presented Mikhail Johnson’s Official Debut Piano Recital, with works by Bach, Haydn and Rachmaninov.

The Programme
Of his choice of music, Mikhail said
“The first half of the programme commemorates the atmosphere of the Mountambrin Property… known for its serene environs.” (that includes the beautiful gardens adorned by Lesbert Lee's provocative sculptures, alongside natural habitats.) The acoustics of the Theatre Gallery enhance any musical performance there.

Mountambrin Gardens and Sculptures
Mikhail chose
Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major and                                        

Haydn’s Sonata No.31 in A-flat major, XVI: 46 “Divertimento”
     Allegro Moderato
     Finale: Presto

The second half of the programme he dedicated to “the myriad of violent paintings dispersed throughout the gallery done the gracious host of this artist’s paradise, Dr. Russell Gruhlke.” Mikhail commemorated these graphic scenes by playing music by Sergei Rachmaninov:

Morceaux de Fantaisie Op. 3
- Elegie
- Prelude
- Melodie
- Polichinelle
- Serenade

Prelude in B minor Op 32 No. 10

Prelude in G- sharp minor Op. 32 No. 12

Mikhail’s interpretation of the works did indeed fit the mood displayed in the art works on the walls, and stirred the emotions of the listeners.

One of Dr. Russell Gruhlke's paintings

The theatre with Bunny Rose and Sharon Martini at a previous concert

About Mikhail

Mikhail, one of Jamaica’s promising young pianists, was born and raised in Montego Bay. While attending Herbert Morrison High School, as a member of the school band, he won numerous gold medals and national trophies in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s Festival of the Performing Arts. He also earned himself the second highest score in the island for the CSEC Music Examination.

He graduated from Northern Caribbean University (NCU) with a B.Sc. in biological science and a minor in music. In June 2009, he was the winner of the Jamaica symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition for Young Musicians Senior Division, and the piano section of the Jamaica Music Teachers’ Association Music Competition in November of the same year. He studied classical piano with Kimberly Cann, Marilyn Anderson, Orrett Rhoden and Edison Valencia.

As an active and promising composer, he has received commissions from the NCU Music Department and other organizations. In 2008, his patriotic Anthem of Independence for mixed choir and orchestra was premiered by the NCU Chamber Choir.

Thank you, Mikhail, for your superb performance. Wishing you all the best in your future endeavours.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Value of Summer Reading

   Having taken a break from blogging to concentrate on my work-in-progress, (now out of the way, entered in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s Creative Writing Contest), many bloggable topics are crowding into my brain. One which has grabbed me with great urgency is Summer Reading. We are well into the summer holidays, a time when children can gain an academic advantage simply by immersing themselves in story books. One a week would be a good number for them to read. (See my post on Summer Reading - Some Surprising Findings.) Simply put, children who read for pleasure during the summer do better in school the following year than those who don’t.

   A challenge for many parents is to find suitable books which children will enjoy. The easiest option is to fall back on the books which they read as children - Enid Blyton, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. But what is the effect on Jamaican children of reading nothing but ‘foreign books’? Diane Browne has written extensively on the importance to children of reading about characters like themselves in books. In October 2012, she wrote "Books allow them (young people) to work through their fears, their sources of joy, their experiences, to try on various selves. It would seem a good thing if these selves could be related to their own lives.” On June 17, 2013, she revisited this theme in "Making the case for children's literature - the Doctor Bird Series: Part 3."

    Books about Jamaican children by Jamaican authors are available. In my post on October 18, 2012 ‘Books by Jamaican Authors for children aged 8 - 14’ I listed forty-three books for that age-group. In addition, there are many books by other Caribbean authors for that age group.
Another challenge is to find these books in the bookshops, except for the Sand Pebble Series, available in Sangsters. The ‘foreign book syndrome’ is a system of positive feedback. Foreign books are displayed, therefore sell, therefore the ones which are most stocked. They are also cheaper than Jamaican books, because of their mass-production. The parents’ argument is that they can get two foreign books for the price of one Jamaican. What do they do with these books after their children have read them? Usually, they give them away. I would therefore encourage parents to form book clubs for their children. If each child in a group of three were to buy two Jamaican books, for example from the Sand Pebbles Series, when the children have finished reading one of the books, they can swap.

I will soon prepare a list of books for younger readers for them to read or for someone to read aloud to them. One such book, recently published is “Bolo the Monkey” by Jonathan Burke, published by Blue Moon. I had hoped to have a copy to review, but unfortunately I can’t get it in Montego Bay. This book, like many others is a victim of the ‘foreign book syndrome’.

While I’m currently emphasizing Summer Reading, I’m also questioning how much reading happens in term time in our Primary Schools, especially in the lower grades. A blog I like to read is “A Year of Reading - Two Teachers Who Read. A lot”. Not only do Franki and Mary Lee read a lot, they also write a lot of worthwhile information.

I make no apologies for quoting from Franki’s most recent post. The highlighting is mine.

“I've spent lots of time this summer catching up on series books that I think my new third graders will be reading when school starts next month. Catching up on these transitional books is key to supporting their reading development. I'm also looking for stand-alone books that help readers understand the power of story and that help them build conversation to understand character, see the world differently, and laugh and learn together. 3rd grade is a challenging one when it comes to book choice because it is tempting to choose books that are just beyond what kids are ready for so they don't quite understand them. They are 8 year-olds so their life experiences are not quite ready for the depth of some middle grade novels. And I am a firm believer that if we give kids great books too early, we take away the joy of experiencing an amazing book later, when they are able to fully enjoy and love it. But, I also know that third graders are brilliant people who have lots to say and need books to help them think through life. It's just that finding books that match the stage of life is not as easy as it appears.”

I would love to hear from a Grade 3 teacher who can say the same as Franki. I'm sure she has a much more difficult time accessing books than Franki does.

If you come across a child who appears bored with the summer holidays, suggest to him/her that he/she could read a book. Better still, look in your book collection for titles you could lend to him/her.