Singin’ Folk Songs in the Tropics

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Working on my C chord

Peace Corps service is a great time to learn a new hobby. Because of the nature of our grassroots-level development work, there are times during our service, say during summer vacation for education volunteers, when we have some down time on our hands.

While I wouldn’t say that this is a particularly slow time for me, I’m the type of person who likes to stay busy. Hobbies help me to feel productive, give me personal goals to work towards and act as an excellent way to decompress and relieve stress.

As my friends from Group 84 COS’d (finished their service) last month, I ended up with all kinds of pass downs – things like tupperware, school supplies and a poster of Leonardo DiCaprio circa 1998 – but perhaps the most useful was a guitar. My friend Ben graciously hauled the instrument all the way from his site to mine, and I am the 4th PCV in Jamaica to own it!

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I'll add my name once I pass on the guitar
I’ll add my name once I pass on the guitar

As someone who once intentionally broke the bridge off of her cello so that she would have an excuse not to practice, I don’t exactly consider myself musically inclined. That being said, life works in mysterious ways, and I’m lucky that my host father, Mr. Lev, is a long-time musician and teacher of music.

Mr. Lev offered to give me guitar lessons and I happily accepted. So far, I’ve learned to play the C, F and G7 chords. He uses just the right amount of encouraging praise and personalized modifications to keep me learning. Plus, it would be pretty tough to avoid him if I didn’t practice, so I’m thinking that this adventure will continue to go well.

Thinking a little too hard about my finger placement
Thinking a little too hard about my finger placement

Country music and folk songs have their own following in Jamaica, particularly among people of my host dad’s generation. To help ease my transition into the musical world, Mr. Lev’s teaching me songs to which I already know the tune.

What have I learned so far? “Oh, Suzanna,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” and “The Hokey Pokey.” So basically, I’m pretty set to perform alongside Freddy Spaghetti at the Pawnee children’s concert and if I play loudly enough they might not notice my mistakes. Right?

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My host father is the director of the Music and Arts Department at York Castle High School in Browns Town. He has a dedicated music room in our house and can play many instruments, including piano, guitar and clarinet. He dreams of starting a marching band with young people in the community and often speaks about the power of music.

My new friend!
My new friend!
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