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Music Education in Good Hands on St. Thomas

With drummer Dion Parson visiting St. Thomas schools this week, music education is “in good hands”

The importance of unrelenting practice was at the heart of Parson’s lessons to students. The New York City resident, Broadway drummer, and percussion teacher is back on St. Thomas this week as part of the ongoing Mentoring through the Art of Music program.

Every day for the first five years that Dion Parson lived in New York City, he woke up, picked up his drumsticks, and practiced his art for hours. Parson and his roommate stopped only for meals and short periods of rest, the 1985 graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School (CAHS) said Thursday to students at Antilles School.

In the evenings, Parson would leave his Harlem apartment for gigs, which stretched into after-hours jams; then he’d head home in the middle of the night, catch a few hours of sleep, and wake up to start the process all over again the next day.

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“All we did was just practice and play, practice and play all day and all night,” Parson said to a small group of sixth-graders from the school’s band program.

Sponsored by West Indian Company Limited, Banco Popular, and the V.I. Lottery, the program made it possible for Parson to work with drummers from CAHS on Wednesday, and with students from Antilles and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on Thursday. On Friday, Parson will host a workshop with students from the University of the Virgin Islands. More workshops are planned for throughout the year, as well as a Thanksgiving concert.

Parson was joined Thursday by Jonte Samuel, a 2010 graduate of CAHS, who is now studying to be a professional saxophone player at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. Like Parson, Samuel said he has found that persistent practice is the key to distinguishing himself from the many other aspiring musicians in Boston.

“I’m competing with hundreds of saxophonists for the same jobs, the same positions in bands,” Samuel said.

Parson and Samuel’s lesson at Antilles covered topics such as the tools of drumming, the two types of strokes, and the art of improvisation.

When Parson asked the students what improvisation means, one young man suggested that it is what a musician does when he forgets a song’s notes.

That’s not quite right, Parson countered.

“It’s a thought process,” Parson said. “It means to improve upon a melody.”

Parson and Samuel demonstrated the concept by playing two versions of a song everyone knew – “Happy Birthday to You” – the first version straight and staid, the second bluesy and loose.

Seventh-grader B.J. Lynch said he was thrilled to meet Parson, who went to high school with his father, Beris Lynch.

“This was a great experience to listen to one of the best drummers in the Virgin Islands,” said B.J., who is not sure yet if he wants to become a pilot or professional musician when he grows up.

Thursday’s lesson at Antilles put Parson and Samuel back in touch with their own former teacher, Georgia Francis. Although she’s technically retired, Francis still teaches band on a part-time basis at CAHS and Antilles.

After watching two of her former students teach a new generation of aspiring musicians, Francis said the experience was gratifying.

“It’s really neat,” Francis said. “The future of music is in good hands.”

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With drummer Dion Parson visiting St. Thomas schools this week, music education is “in good hands”

The importance of unrelenting practice was at the heart of Parson's lessons to students. The New York City resident, Broadway drummer, and percussion teacher is back on St. Thomas this week as part of the ongoing Mentoring through the Art of Music program.

Every day for the first five years that Dion Parson lived in New York City, he woke up, picked up his drumsticks, and practiced his art for hours. Parson and his roommate stopped only for meals and short periods of rest, the 1985 graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School (CAHS) said Thursday to students at Antilles School.

In the evenings, Parson would leave his Harlem apartment for gigs, which stretched into after-hours jams; then he'd head home in the middle of the night, catch a few hours of sleep, and wake up to start the process all over again the next day.

“All we did was just practice and play, practice and play all day and all night,” Parson said to a small group of sixth-graders from the school's band program.

Sponsored by West Indian Company Limited, Banco Popular, and the V.I. Lottery, the program made it possible for Parson to work with drummers from CAHS on Wednesday, and with students from Antilles and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on Thursday. On Friday, Parson will host a workshop with students from the University of the Virgin Islands. More workshops are planned for throughout the year, as well as a Thanksgiving concert.

Parson was joined Thursday by Jonte Samuel, a 2010 graduate of CAHS, who is now studying to be a professional saxophone player at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. Like Parson, Samuel said he has found that persistent practice is the key to distinguishing himself from the many other aspiring musicians in Boston.

“I'm competing with hundreds of saxophonists for the same jobs, the same positions in bands,” Samuel said.

Parson and Samuel's lesson at Antilles covered topics such as the tools of drumming, the two types of strokes, and the art of improvisation.

When Parson asked the students what improvisation means, one young man suggested that it is what a musician does when he forgets a song's notes.

That's not quite right, Parson countered.

“It's a thought process,” Parson said. “It means to improve upon a melody.”

Parson and Samuel demonstrated the concept by playing two versions of a song everyone knew – “Happy Birthday to You” – the first version straight and staid, the second bluesy and loose.

Seventh-grader B.J. Lynch said he was thrilled to meet Parson, who went to high school with his father, Beris Lynch.

“This was a great experience to listen to one of the best drummers in the Virgin Islands,” said B.J., who is not sure yet if he wants to become a pilot or professional musician when he grows up.

Thursday's lesson at Antilles put Parson and Samuel back in touch with their own former teacher, Georgia Francis. Although she's technically retired, Francis still teaches band on a part-time basis at CAHS and Antilles.

After watching two of her former students teach a new generation of aspiring musicians, Francis said the experience was gratifying.

“It's really neat,” Francis said. “The future of music is in good hands.”