Call to value cultureMonday, June 14, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
JAMAICANS are once again being encouraged to value their cultural heritage. This time the call is coming from respected musician and educator Steven Woodham, who is one of this year's awardees of the Musgrave Gold Medal from the Institute of Jamaica.
Speaking of the country's rich culture, Woodham said that, despite advances in education and research in recent years, far more work needs to be done to bring up the level of understanding and appreciation.
“As Jamaicans, we don't know what it is that we have. Other societies, which have taken the time to research their own cultures, we admire them, not recognising that we sometimes have a lot more. This is an opportunity for us to uncover who we are, as our history is so plural... rich and diverse,” Woodham shared with the Jamaica Observer during a telephone interview.
He said that this is his reason for stepping away from performance for sheer entertainment and is putting effort into music education.
“It is through this kind of training that they learn to express culture. This training provides the tools to describe and document properly for future reference,” said Woodham.
“For example, the Immaculate Symphony Orchestra performs a work, Kongkongnkraba Symphony by Dr Andrew Marshall. This essentially narrates the story of the Maroons and the signing of the treaty with the British. This is part of our history being articulated with a sensibility through music and enlightens us as to who we are as Jamaicans.
“We have not even scratched the surface. There is so much music here that we have not begin to explore. What we have here does not exist anywhere else... we don't seem to understand and appreciate that,” he continued.
Woodham explained that his interest in sharing history and culture through music came to the fore during his studies in Europe.
“Hungary is such an incredible seat in world violin playing. The methods have been exported to Russia and other countries, but I realised the value placed in research of ethnomusicology and the movement of people through music and language. What are we doing over here? Yes, there was an Olive Lewin, who, as a trained musician, helped us to understand and preserve our folk music... but more needs to be done,” he said.
Woodham, however, said there is a shift in a positive direction.
“When I was growing up in Jamaica there were no orchestras here. At least now there is a a symphony orchestra, and there is the great work being done by the National Youth Orchestra and a number of other chamber orchestras. So there is step forward through education, training, development, and exposure, and it's not just within a particular social class, as some would argue. Should there be more? Certainly. But at least we are moving in the right direction. We meet with resistance as some see it as a form of European legacy which we should let go, yet we hold on to sports like cricket, so I can never understand that logic,” Woodham said.
In announcing this year's recipients, the institute noted that Woodham is a multi-award-winning concert violinist, tutor, multi-disciplinary artiste, and conductor with degrees in violin performance, music education, and chamber music from institutions in Hungary and the United States.
The Musgrave Medals are awarded annually in recognition of achievement in art, science, and literature. Originally conceived in 1889, the programme is named in memory of Sir Anthony Musgrave, the founder of the institute and former governor of Jamaica.
No awards were handed out last year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Woodham is pleased and honoured to be included in this year's cohort of recipients. The presentation will be made later this year.
“I am fully aware of the prestigious nature of the work done by the Institute of Jamaica, one of our foremost cultural institutions, and I am simply honoured to be recognised,” he added.
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