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A life in music

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

A life in music

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Roger Gittens knows a little something about music. Well, the truth is that he knows a lot, and that has much to do with the adamancy of his mother and his ultimate love and affinity for it.“As a child, my mum sent all of us to take piano lessons. I went at around eight or nine,” Roger revealed.What initially began as subjection to parental authority turned into a lifelong love and career. The 45-year-old now teaches music at the Barbados Community College (BCC), arranges music, and performs as well.Roger also credits Harrison College for propelling him towards his current path: teaching.“The music programme at Harrison College was very vibrant and I started playing clarinet there, along with playing in the orchestra at school,” he said. “From about third or fourth form I knew I wanted to teach. My mum is a teacher and I love teaching.”Over the past few years at BCC he has been teaching the practical and technical aspects of music.“I enjoy being with young people and enhancing their knowledge,” he says. “It’s a thrill seeing people improve at what they do.”At one point after leaving secondary school, Roger got the opportunity to teach with his mother.“I taught for a year before I went off, just to give me an idea of what I was getting into. I actually taught at the same school my mum was teaching at – Princess Margaret,” Roger said. “That was a good experience to work with her as colleagues. That experience was beneficial because I recognised the weaknesses that I had and the areas I wanted to develop in college.”Early on, Roger’s aptitude also earned him a Barbados Scholarship, which would see him to Berkeley College of Music in Boston, United States.“Since I was a clarinettist at Berkeley, I also played the saxophone and flute. Because I was doing music education, you have to do a semester on almost every other instrument,” Roger said. “The intent in the US is that as a music teacher you will start your students on instruments. So you do a bit of trombone, oboe, percussion and violin.”Though he credits his time there with enhancing his appreciation of his craft, he never once thought of remaining in the United States.“There was never a question in my mind of returning. For me the city life is very different. I guess growing up in Barbados, which is a small country where everybody knows everyone else, is very different from the anonymous sort of nature of a big city,” he said. “Even though there is a lot more activity music-wise, for me the style of life wasn’t what I wanted; and I wanted to come back to Barbados and contribute.”And contribute he has.“I teach primarily and I also arrange music, write and perform as well. Once you do a variety of things, you always work,” he says. “I primarily arrange for Crop Over and play jazz on the local circuit.”  Certainly. one of the greatest contributions Roger has made is in the lives of his two sons, who, in keeping with family tradition, are making their own inroads in music. Both sons competed in the Junior Monarch competition, with Myles (Myles-Z) walking away with the crown.“I believe that every child should be exposed to music. It would be hypocritical to say that and not have your kids do music too,” Gittens said. “They know that one of the rules in the family is that they must play at least one instrument. So I think it’s important for kids to have that experience.“They both play piano, and the older boy Myles plays violin and guitar as well,” says Roger.Though he was a beaming parent at the Junior Monarch, Roger says that he doesn’t put undue pressure on his sons.“For me, once they do well I am proud,” he said smiling. “Winning is the extra thing.”