Students bring ‘Ukes from the UK’ and joy to children in Los Angeles

LA Ukeleles
LA Ukeleles

A group of students have participated in an educational outreach project that not only touched the lives of children but changed their own in the process.

Musiquality is a final-year credit-bearing class at the University of Chichester which began as a student initiative in 2014, turned into a book and every year brings quality and connection through music and education.

The 2018 team was composed of bassist Elise Jones, ukelele player April Bowen and singer Sylwia Zjawiona. This February, they taught a dozen interactive workshops at two Los Angeles primary schools and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Cellist and Chichester University professor of learning and teaching in music Laura Ritchie, who led the project, said: “At UCLA, the workshop was to teach the university students who volunteer to run the UniCamp sessions how to play the ukuleles and how to teach their summer campers how to play.”

The primary schools involved direct contact with children, who learned the ukelele and traditional Polish songs: “We performed to over 500 children and workshopped with over 300 in their individual classrooms - strumming and singing, learning to follow a conductor showing when to play and when to rest, learning the complexities of watching young brains control individual fingers to change chords.”

Laura said the tour involved ‘great fun and great challenge’.

“The wonderful thing was how overwhelmingly happy everyone was during the sessions. The schools we visited were not in affluent areas; most of the children did not know what a ukulele was and they had certainly never played one.”

Each school was gifted 20 brightly coloured ukeleles, enabling class groups to continue with the music.

At one school, the principal did not realise they got to keep the instruments: “After the day’s teaching, we asked where we should leave the instruments and the principal realised we were not taking them back - I will remember the look on her face forever.”

April, Sylwia and Elise raised over £1,000 to take part by performing at gigs and busking, while Laura gave a benefit concert and raised funds by leading her community orchestra.

Laura said: “This was no jaunt down the road ... Every individual had challenges and each person walked right up to their figurative edge, looked over and found a way to fly.”

Instilling a love of music

The University of Chichester’s annual Musiquality educational outreach project is largely the work of final-year students, who plan both teaching content and logistics, from room arrangements to route maps, visas and insurance for their trip to Los Angeles (LA).

Project leader Professor Laura Ritchie said they are expected to integrate theoretical learning obtained throughout their degree, build on role-plays and smaller workshops they have undertaken and ‘take it into the realm of real life’.

Laura said: “As a professional, it is important not only to be able to deliver that one hour-long session, but to be confident in planning for and navigating the other bits of the puzzle to get you there.”

This year’s trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all three students involved.

Ukelele player April Bowen said: “I learnt so much about learning and teaching and different people’s perspectives on it.

“We also got to schedule time around teaching to explore the surroundings of LA and experience the culture there, which was fantastic.”

Bassist Elise Jones said: “It was wonderful to see how attentive the children were and how keen they were to learn ukulele.”

Elise said: “I was also surprised how quickly some of them picked up the chords and joined in with playing the songs.

“The reception we received from them was so lovely and I’m so glad we had this opportunity to go and make a difference to the children at these schools.”

Kenn Heller, assistant dean of students emeritus, Univeristy of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said: “Each of the participants was so fully engaged in the classroom and throughout their stay in Los Angeles.

“Whether on stage, holding the rapt attention of an auditorium filled to the rafters with elementary students and their teachers, or engaging in a discussion with school administrators about the importance of arts education at the elementary level, each member of the delegation helped to promote the importance of international engagements.”

Laura said Musiquality 2019 will be ‘totally different’, but students still need to apply to take the class, fundraise and create a new ‘teaching outreach’ that aligns with their specialisms and their career goals.

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