Art will help not hurt academics
Somewhere, buried beneath our most fertile soil here in Saint Lucia, are the bones left over from thousands of murdered childhood dreams. How many others have you bonded with over unrequited desires to try your hand at the piano, the drums, drama or dance classes?
In an attempt to show young, Saint Lucian musicians that there are others watching and listening, who care about their artistic pursuits, The Events Company of Saint Lucia on Friday 29 September, hosted ‘Breakfast with Brandon’, a sit-down event with fourteenyear-old international, touring guitarist and singer, Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, alongside his mother, Alexandra, a Saint Lucian herself, and father, Gary. The event took place at the beachside Seagrapes Restaurant at Bay Gardens Beach Resort.
Brandon, who has been playing the guitar since the age of eight, has showcased his talents across the United States, even appearing on ‘Good Morning America’, ‘The Ellen Degeneres Show’ and ‘The View’. He also starred as ‘Zack’ in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony award-nominated Broadway production, ‘School of Rock - the Musical’ – a more than coincidental gig, as Brandon’s interest in music formed while watching the movie ‘School of Rock’ during a family road trip.
Music students from across the island sat down with the guitar prodigy to pose their prepared questions in hopes of receiving exclusive insight. Onlookers kept their fingers crossed that from his responses at least one thing would hit home to prevent another light from going out and leaving behind a skeleton of a dream to later be buried with all the promise of what could have been.
While the notion that children growing up in Saint Lucia are not exposed to exactly the same environment and opportunities as Brandon, who has lived his life thus far in the United States, may have lingered over some heads, his parents kept it real.
Mrs. Niederauer spoke frankly about her hesitation to support her son’s musical ambitions: “I was born and raised by a Saint Lucian mother. I was taught that you go to school and afterwards you got a job; that is how it goes.” She also mentioned that she failed to show up for his first few shows. When she did eventually go, she witnessed how passionately he played and what she referred to as a “transformation in her child” – the pivotal moment that ignited her full support.
As for opportunities, Brandon had declared his desire to take guitar lessons to his father, whose music collection Brandon says was another key component of his developed interest in the artform. A fan of music himself, Mr. Niederauer helped his son find a teacher and to enrol in classes.
Music is one of Saint Lucia’s more celebrated artforms, especially now with various festivals and concerts dedicated to audiences with diverse musical tastes. A few schools on-island provide music programmes, and institutions like the Saint Lucia School of Music and ‘Musicman’ are available to hopefully fill any gaps via affordable classes.
Hard work and balance are the other pieces to the puzzle according to the Niederauer family.
Brandon, who shared his rigid schedule of finishing homework assignments during flights, as well as the “to be able to play you must get good grades” principle he adopted from his mother, also highlighted that he puts at least two hours a day into his craft and tries not to think of it as routine practice but as an outlet and source of enjoyment.
Mr. Niederauer drew attention to the academic and social benefits of supporting children’s artistic endeavours. “Playing music as a young person and studying, they intertwine, one helps the other, so if a child has the potential and wants to play, whether they’re good or not it doesn’t matter; let them explore that and try to nurture it because that’s going to also help math, social studies and science,” he said.
He went on to mention that being in a comfortable setting, among other artists and peers, also helps with building social skills – something they observed in their son, who briefly touched on his encounters with bullies as a young child.
Throughout the event Brandon reiterated the idea of holding onto dreams, keeping them big and working on your craft despite what others say. His parents stressed the importance of allowing children to have an artistic platform, be it “music, drawing, or making dresses.”
For those who may consider resources available in Saint Lucia to be scant, when it comes to “art”, perspective can dictate whether first steps are taken or never attempted. One person may view this 238.2 square mile island as a mind-numbing, mountainous trap while another sees the landscape as awe-inspiring. Just think, whatever he saw and felt within this island is what inspired Derek Walcott to pick up a pen.
Later that night, Brandon, along with his band, took to the stage at the Blues Festival, the fourth installment of Soleil – Saint Lucia’s Summer Festival.
A music student from the Corinth Secondary School poses a question to Brandon.