Groton festival celebrates role of arts, music in children’s lives

February 2, 2019

Groton — A local musician on Friday took Northeast Academy Arts Magnet Elementary School students back in history to July 4, 1843, when the crew of the Charles W. Morgan danced to a fiddle on the Galapagos Islands.

Craig Edwards, staff musician at Mystic Seaport, tapped his foot as he played on the fiddle “Durang’s Hornpipe,” an upbeat song, which the crew of the whaling ship may have danced to and was believed to be George Washington’s favorite dance song. The 18 students in the fifth-grade classroom listened and applauded at the end.

His presentation on sea chanteys and songs enjoyed by sailors was part of the 6th Annual Celebrate the Arts festival, which took place Wednesday through Friday at Northeast Academy, with arts and music workshops for students and performances by students and musicians.

Fifth-grader Myra Cooley, 10, asked Edwards how long he has been playing — 40 years — and told him he was good.

“Thank you,” he said. “I’ve worked hard to become so.”

Cooley herself has been playing the violin for 7½ years and practices at least 20 minutes a day. She said she feels confident when she plays music.

Orchestra Director Shannon Stevenson said the festival shows students the important role arts and music can play throughout their lives, even if they don’t pursue them as a career.

Through arts and music, students learn hard work, determination, discipline and perseverance — all important life skills, she said.

During the festival, students attended workshops on Thursday and Friday to learn about theater, string instruments, West African dance and drumming, inking, Ukulele and the guitar, among other topics. The students also attended concerts with scheduled performers that included Groton students and musicians such as Braiden Sunshine and local band The Fake Experience.

The main foyer displayed artwork by students from Northeast Academy, Fitch High School and S.B. Butler Elementary School, as well as local artist Daniel Kenyon.

Julie Ribchinsky, professor of music at Central Connecticut State University, who led an introduction to string instruments workshop for students, said music improves discipline, cognition and memory, among other skills.

“It just combines every possible skill they can use for academic study,” she said.

During a workshop on West African dance and drumming, Eric Amoquandoh taught first-graders Kpanlogo dancing and drumming from Ghana. Students in a circle followed Amoquandoh’s lead as he showed them dance steps.

“Good job, guys!” he said after they did the dance. “You’re doing great.”

The students then assembled in two lines to play the drums, as Amoquandoh showed them the technique. 

The first-graders’ teacher, Jennifer Faniola, said Celebrate the Arts is a wonderful experience for students to engage in and get hands-on experience with different dances and instruments and to learn from other cultures.

“It’s amazing,” Faniola said while the students played the drums. “It’s an experience that they’ll probably hold onto for the rest of their lives.”



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