Music is therapy, says Colbert Belgrave, relaxing at home on the keys. (Picture by SDB Media.)
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EVEN THOUGH Colbert Belgrave has been in the teaching service in Barbados for almost 30 years, it wasn’t his first career choice.
In fact, when he first came here in 1979 with his late mother to join his younger brother Edwin and late father, who had arrived several years earlier, Colbert didn’t even like the island.
He was born and raised in Cuba. There, his Barbadian father met and married his Panamanian mother and subsequently made a home for near half-century. So Belgrave loved the rich culture and history of his country and did not want to leave.
However, when his father fulfilled his lifelong dream of returning to his birthplace in 1973, Belgrave longed to be with him again.
Six years later, on November 15, he and his mother arrived in Barbados and they went straight to Mile-And-A-Quarter, St Peter, so the family could be reunited.
But no matter how hard he tried to adapt to the changed environment, the young man still felt like a fish out of water.
“I couldn’t fit in. And when I went straight to St Peter where my father was living, that was like way out of sight of everything and I felt horrible,” Belgrave laughed as he reminisced during an interview with the DAILY NATION.
Shortly after his arrival, the 21-year-old started working at the then Linguella Institute in Belleville, St Michael, teaching conversational English. And though he was developing a little “liking” for Barbados, he was yet to determine if he wanted to stay.
A couple of years later, the idea was thrown out that he might adjust better in the United States. But three months after he went there, he was ready to return to Barbados.
Relaxing at his West Terrace, St James home, Belgrave recounted how confused he felt. He was unemployed, missing Havana and just didn’t know what to do. So every afternoon, as if to reconnect with his home, he would find himself in a music shop on Broad Street. There, he would stay for hours on end, playing the piano and daydreaming about being in Cuba, where music is life.
Then one day, someone heard his beautiful playing and was impressed.
“This day a guy came in and he heard me playing the piano and he said, ‘You play so well, where did you learn to play the piano?’
“I told him I was trained in Cuba and that was when he asked me where I worked. I told him I wasn’t working and he said he heard The Lodge School had an opening for a music teacher. ‘Won’t you like to teach at Lodge School?’ he asked. I said I don’t know what is Lodge School but I would love to teach at The Lodge School.”
In 1993, Belgrave began to teach music at Lodge. He had already acquired experience teaching in the field while in Cuba and that was enough to prepare him to enter the service in Barbados.
Strangely enough, when he got to The Lodge School, he was welcomed in a manner he hadn’t envisaged.
“It was a family thing there, so I felt quite comfortable,” he recalled.
After a tenure of four years, he was moved to St Lucy Secondary and then West Terrace Primary, where he will celebrate his 20th anniversary next year.
“When I first arrived here I felt if I could get into Immigration, it would be a lot better for me to contribute to society in terms of translating, but that did not materialise and the teaching came in and I certainly have no regrets,” he maintained.
He said that in retrospect, teaching was actually the best place for him after all.
“I have always liked to deal with children at that tender age. You are able to be there with them, encourage them and bring them to a certain level. I feel happy about it.”
Belgrave said he was especially proud that he had lived to see the day when most parents had banished the thought that music was frivolous, and appreciated that their children could pursue careers in music and be as successful as in more traditional fields.
He therefore suggests speciality schools for talented children as something the authorities might want to invest in.
“Music is powerful. In Cuba we were always taught that music opens your mind to better understanding. At the university where I did my degree in music, we learnt everything [academic] but we had to learn dance and other aspects of the arts. We were exposed to everything. That opened your understanding more.
“You were exposed to all of these things because at the end of the day they always tell you that music plays a pivotal role in all of our lives,” he said.
“At secondary school, some children go in with nothing and leave with nothing, but it is not that they aren’t gifted in some area. Everybody is not born to be academic. In the school system we see it daily . . . . From the time the children come into primary school, you know . . . the ones who are going to be keen on doing certain things. You can spot them from early and you try to coach them along that line.”
Belgrave is set to retire in two years, but is he ready to go?
“Yes, in the sense that I will be free to go where I want to go; that I don’t have the responsibility of getting up every morning to go to work, but I will miss the children because you get accustomed to them. I enjoy teaching. Some days it gets frustrating – not frustrating with the children per se because children will always be children, but you get frustrated with some of the parents.
“But I was able to mould some of these children and they see you today and they show you that respect. They haven’t forgotten that you were there, even if you were a bit brash with them; they now understand why.
“Yes, I could be teaching Spanish and languages making boatloads of money, but somehow music is really what I wanted to be involved in and I enjoy my music.
“When I am into my music, I forget all the headaches I have. Music is therapy,” he added. (SDB Media)