QUITE apart from the hearing-impaired, it is almost inarguable that a world without music would be a world not worth living in and, thankfully to many, music is life as it is everywhere and in everything.
Today’s FITC can be likened to a breath of fresh air because he is in a class (literally) that keeps the music playing and alive.
Embert Ricardo Placide (or Ricardo, or Mr. Placide) is a 21-year-old Music Teacher/Choir Master at the Ave Maria Girls Primary School and has passion for the art which he passes on to his girls in every class.
Here is what he had to say about that beautiful thing called music and why he loves it so much that he has to teach.
The VOICE: Tell me about your profession as a music teacher. Why did you become one?
Placide: I have been teaching professionally for only nine months. I started last September. I always had a deep passion for the arts — both music and theatre — and I’ve realised that when it comes to the youth as well as the arts, people seem to look down upon them. I think that is a shame for there is so much talent in the country but we never seem to invest in our young ones and this is where it’s supposed to start, you know? On another note, I’ve always admired the former music teacher of the school, Mr. Kietje Greaves, and I always wanted to be just like him until one day he asked me to take his place at the school.
The VOICE: Many people have the misconception of music classes in schools being such whereby children sit and learn nursery rhymes on a recorder. Is there any truth to this belief and, if not, what are your classes typically like?
Placide: (Laughs) No, it’s not true. Music is everything. As a matter of fact, music is life. It is something that connects with the soul. If music was just something where one comes and sits in a class and learns nursery rhymes on a recorder, then what’s the point? You know? Music involves everything, including the cultural aspect: like learning the different types of folk music, the dances. You would actually be surprised that these very same things that they learn in music class, they are able to utilise these skills in other classes. So I ensure that my classes have a bit of everything. I ensure that they are enjoying themselves in the process; this way, they are able to learn quicker. Besides, in almost every class they have during the day, is chalk and talk. Why can’t I be different?
The VOICE: What instruments do you teach other than recorder?
Placide: I play the piano, drums and a bit of guitar, so I teach all three. Oh, voice is also seen as an instrument, so, yes I teach voice as well.
The VOICE: Seeing that you teach voice/choir lessons, what does it take to be a choir master to such young students in terms of keeping them engaged and getting them to the level where they win competitions?
Placide: You said it. Be on their level. If you always try to act as if you are always in control and know everything, then the children will never be able to work with you because you are not able to relate to the students. But if you are able to come down to their level, still showing them that, ‘Hey, I am in charge’, trust me, they will be able to relate because they are kids; they are not robots. Besides, these kids have ideas, too, so it’s always good listening to them. That’s what makes the bond stronger and better and once there is a bond, unity and love will flow, and once these things are flowing, everything else will fall in place. I think that’s what it is. We don’t give them stuff to make them sleep on them (laughs), yes, we can give them an old-school lesson or a ballad, but my gosh, if I say I am a musician, I should be able to arrange it in a way to make the children enjoy it so much so that they may go home and maybe look for the song online. You know how children love the Internet. Who knows, they might just look for the song. All these little things will help them have a greater appreciation for music.
The VOICE: Is musical talent something that is natural, or can it be learned from scratch even though you had no previous talent whatsoever?
Placide: A bit of both — and they can start as young as possible! There are those people who are just God-gifted. Give these people an instrument and they can play like they’ve been playing it for years, but they still need to learn. There’s never a term such as ‘I am good already’ when it comes to music; there is always a need to learn something new. Same way, there are those who are not so gifted from birth but would go study and practice and become some of the greatest musicians in the world.
The VOICE: Looking at music today, it has seemingly gone downhill quality-wise. Music today is just not what it used to be. What are your thoughts on the decline in music quality?
Placide: Yes, music has declined, especially in St. Lucia, I mean, especially the lyrics. Our music before had so much meaning, always telling a story. Now, I don’t know what it is. The lyrics now — sorry to say — but majority of them make no sense. Before, musically, there was so much more.
The VOICE: Do you think music in St. Lucia can be saved? If so, what part do you think you can play in saving it?
Placide: I think it can be and I am already trying to save it by teaching it and helping them understand it. Understand that there is so much more than the “bend down” and the “whine pon de ting”. Like seriously? We call that music? I think that our promoters as well should push the youngsters. Try little things that can help the children to be creative.
I mean, look at Aaron Duncan out of Trinidad — young boy with so much ability making waves across the Caribbean. We can do that with our youngsters, too! Let’s not think of just trying to “make a hit” or trying to “make a quick dollar”; let’s actually take our time and work with the young ones so that they can grow well in the music field to show across the world. Then the money will come in all its splendour.
The VOICE: Finally, where would you like to see St. Lucian music go as well as the musicians, including your students?
Placide: I think we can take music to another level as I think we can be on the same level as the European countries. We just have to be a bit less selfish and encourage others and, trust me, St. Lucia will be well on its way. My students, I want my girls to place St. Lucia on the map, especially my choir. These girls have the ability to take things to higher heights. Again, we just need the right set of people to support us.