Music opens culture portal
Children at Joseph R. Pye Elementary School only need a walk down the hallway to experience the music of the world.
Dorchester District 2 Superintendent Joseph R. Pye and DD2 Director of Fine and Performing Arts Larry Barnfield had a vision for a program that can give children a chance to experience other cultures through music. Then in 2011 they were able to not only fund the program but also hire Kurry Seymour to teach the program.
Seymour had taught world music programs at Coastal Carolina University for nine years before accepting the job at Pye Elementary.
“I tell people that I went from handing out PHD’s to handing tissues to kids who sneeze,” laughed Seymour, who also taught at Georgia Tech and Alderson Broadhaus University.
While attending West Virginia University he became the first freshman to teach marching band in the school’s history. After completing his undergraduate degree in three years, he received a graduate degree in music education with an emphasis in multicultural, also from WVU. It was there that he was able to study in 11 countries through summer trips, grants and fellowships.
All 11 countries that he traveled in are featured in the curriculum with the students, starting the semester with Ghana.
“We start with Ghana because of how much they stress ‘community’ there. Every time the kids come in, they say ‘Welcome to the community’ to one neighbor then turn to the other and say ‘I’m so glad you’re in my community,’” said Seymour.
The kids do not just learn about music when they cover the country.
“We study the music, culture, food and we look on Google Earth where I can take them on a walk along the streets of the country,” he said. “I get to bring what I’ve learned back to these kids.”
Students are able to play a wide array of instruments including Japanese taiko drums, steel drums from Trinidad, ballaphones from the Ivory Coast and haloes from Switzerland. Each halo is handmade and Pye Elementary has three of the fewer than 200 haloes worldwide. All of the instruments get mixed together in the curriculum that Seymour writes himself.
“I do this curriculum to revolutionize the way these kids view music,” he said. “They take world music stuff, fuse it with standards and they dig it.”
Currently working on his doctorate in ethnomusicology from Duke University, Seymour is often asked by his former collegiate colleagues when he will return to the university ranks.
“I tell them about how these kids appreciate it more than the college students do,” he said. “It is an opportunity to see these kids’ eyes shine and that’s worth it to me.”