Feb 22, 2017

New Perspectives from Belize

By Bridget Kinneary

Graduate from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York
Fulbright English Teaching Assistant 2016/2017 at the Carl-Bechstein-Gymnasium in Erkner (Germany)

I applied for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship grant to Germany because I felt it would be the perfect way to exercise my passion for teaching while using my time outside of the classroom to pursue my interests in classical music. Ultimately, I want to combine both disciplines by starting a youth orchestra. I am currently half way into my time in Erkner (near Berlin), where I am working at a fantastic Gymnasium (helping with the music classes too), and taking full advantage of the classical music scene by going to concerts and taking viola lessons with various professors and professionals in the area. I also began working with a new organization called Mit Mach Musik, which brings music instruction into refugee homes throughout Berlin. Exploring the possibility of using classical music instruction as a catalyst for human development and positive social change has become a big topic of curiosity for me. It is my intention to visit as many communities throughout the world as possible and examine the role music plays in society.

Bridget Kinneary and the 8th grade at the Carl Bechstein Gymnasium in Erkner where she teaches English as part of her Fulbright grant.

For ten days at the end of January, I had the privilege to travel to Belize City, Belize to work with the National Youth Orchestra and its supporting music programs as a visiting violin/viola teacher and orchestra conductor. The trip was sponsored by the Orchestra of Americas global leaders program, of which I am a member of the 2016-2017 cohort. The Global Leaders program is designed to support social change through music education in communities throughout the world.

A walk along the main road of Caye Cauker, a small island off the coast of Belize

During my visit, I worked with ten advanced students one-on-one in an intensive manner. These ten students are leading players in the Youth Orchestra and they also teach beginning students themselves. Our time together was spent working on the highest achievable level of instrumental technique as well as teacher training in hopes that they can continue to inspire and build the technique of younger players. As a guest conductor, I was observed by the members of the orchestra, the teaching faculty, and the regular conductor of the ensemble. I used my rehearsal time to pass along tips for creating a lively and beautiful group sound that I myself learned from my conducting teachers, my time spent playing in an orchestra, and my cultural experiences in the United States and Germany.

Giving viola technique advice to a student
Laughing with a student after a successful viola lesson

In a larger scope, I engaged with leaders of the country’s National Institute for Culture and History, discussing public education and  how the diverse culture and history of Belize has shaped their educational philosophies and institutional practices. Belize’s heritage is made up of a fascinating mixture of Mayan, Creole, Latino, German Mennonite, and Taiwanese influence. All of these influences play a factor in cultural patterns and difficulties.

Though I traveled to Belize as a teacher, I came away feeling that I had spent just as much time as a student. During the lulls in my busy schedule, I explored the city, talked to local fishermen, watched traditional steel drum music concerts, and of course, spent some time at the beaches marveling at the phosphorescent blue water of the Caribbean Sea. Life in Belize operates on a more ‘day to day’  basis than any culture I have lived in, and the way I move forward with my life as a teacher a learner will be molded by how Belize’s culture inspires individuals to be accepting of the risks, triumphs, challenges, and unexpected turns each day can bring.

I have returned from my trip with new perspectives which I hope to share with my english students. Not only will I share with them some new Caribbean English phrases, but I will try to convey to them how important it is to be present and enjoy each day to the fullest. The orchestra program is well developed in Belize, and engaging with the work the government and educational leaders are doing there has inspired me to keep working hard to lay groundwork for my own idea of starting a similar initiative which provides music instruction to children that would otherwise not have access to it.

After rehearsal with the leadership team of the youth orchestra and fellow guest artist Julia Monaco


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