Beyond the music | André Groen

Percussionist André Groen tells Iggy Fenech why music is so important to children’s education

27 April 2017, 7:35am
Ritmi-KA Workshop (2016) with Andre Groen
Ritmi-KA Workshop (2016) with Andre Groen
On April 28, the 11th edition of the International Spring Orchestra Festival will kick off at Pjazza Teatru Rjal with a concert by Ritmi-KA, an ensemble composed of the Marseille-based percussion group Hop! Trio and students from the Santa Margerita and San Injazju colleges. Percussionist André Groen speaks about why music is so important to children’s education.

Over the past four months, members of Hop! Trio – made up of Christian Bini, Pierre Quiriny and André Groen – have flown down to Malta on a number of occasions to help teach children at Bormla and Tal-Handaq secondary schools specific percussion and rhythm techniques. Those children will now be joining the trio on stage at the opening concert of the International Spring Orchestra Festival (ISO).

As a collaboration between the Ministry for Education and Employment and the ISO, Ritmi-KA is a project that is greater than the sum of its parts. Aimed at giving access to music, culture and creativity to young people, Ritmi-KA has created an interesting and successful formula that doesn’t just push children to try new things but which also helps them develop confidence and boost their self-esteem.

In fact, as Aleks Farrugia, the Education+ coordinator and co-leader of the project together with ISO Festival artistic director Karl Fiorini, puts it: “The fact that students manage to perform at a public concert after a period of just three months of practice sends them the message that through hard work and collaboration they can achieve success… As all such projects should, in fact, Ritmi-KA has touched the lives of participating students in some very concrete ways.”

Here, Hop! Trio percussionist André Groen, who has worked first hand with the children, reveals why such projects are so important, and what audiences can expect to see at the opening concert of this year’s International Spring Orchestra Festival.

Over the past four months, you’ve been working with children from two schools in Malta. What was the process like and how do you teach music to children who have never studied it before?

It was a pleasure to meet these children and to give them a basic introduction into percussion instruments, such as the drum. We worked on easy Latin rhythms and tunes, to make them aware of tempo, dynamics and musical structures through the process of listening and repeating. Of course, this required quite a bit of patience, but it was totally worth it!

While the main purpose of the project is to get these children to perform these songs live for an audience, together with our trio, the most important part is the legacy it will leave behind. Such projects help children develop the attitude and discipline needed to work together as a team, and to be more alert and attentive.

HOP Trio – Photo by Isabelle Françaix
HOP Trio – Photo by Isabelle Françaix
How can music help raise children’s self-esteem and confidence?

Music can be real fun, and it creates an informal environment in which children can make mistakes and learn from them – while also learning from each others’ mistakes. It also gets them moving and singing together, boosting their ability to see themselves as both individuals and as part of a team. And, since we’ve seen a lot of happy faces throughout the process, it’s safe to say that the experience was an enjoyable one.

These children will now be part of the opening of this year’s ISO Festival. As their tutors and mentors for the past four months, how would you say they have fared?

By working in sessions, we have ensured that the children had enough time to practice in between sessions, and to remember what they’d been taught. This will give them the ability to focus on the tunes and arrangements on the big night. 

The final rehearsals have been just held, and were the ultimate test for them as performers, as well for us as tutors. We’re incredibly proud of what they have achieved and, as their mentors, we can wait for the final result at the opening!

Why is it important for Festivals, such as the ISO, to include this kind of community work within their programme?

Music can really change the world. It helps people get a sense of discipline and bridge the gap between each other; a universal language that anyone can learn. That, coupled with the fact that these youths are our future, makes such projects incredibly important for communities.

Excellence, however, remains an important part of it, too, and we hope that many Maltese people of all ages will come to support these youngsters – and to also see the great and vibrant opening concert we, along with Karl Fiorini, have put together. 

The International Spring Orchestra Festival’s opening concert featuring Ritmi-KA will take place on April 28 at 20:00 at Pjazza Teatru Rjal in Valletta. Tickets cost €5 and are free for children aged 15 year and under. For more information, please visit www.iso-festival.com. For ticket reservations, please visit www.teatrumanoel.com.mt or call Teatru Manoel’s Booking Office on 2124 6389.

The ISO Festival is supported by The Ministry for Finance, the 2017 Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU, the ADRC Trust, Malta Enterprise, the Central Bank of Malta, the Ministry for Education and Employment, the Office of the Prime Minister, Griscti Advocates & Associates, the French Embassy and Michael’s.