Dominica’s Music Missions International: A Dream Come True on Waitukubuli*

Luther 'jams' with a young Dominican music friend in his wife Ruth's  kitchen in Dominica!

Luther ‘jams’ with a young Dominican music friend in his wife Ruth’s kitchen in Dominica!

When Canadian expatriate Luther Kosowan was a little boy, he became fascinated by an article in National Geographic about an unfamiliar far-away land called Waitukubuli. About 55 years later, his daughter and friends vividly described a recent trip to a wonderful Caribbean island of lush green mountains, sparkling rivers and plentiful palm trees. It was called Dominica. Then in 2006, Luther and his wife Ruth journeyed to this beautiful tropical paradise to see it for themselves.

During that first visit, they immediately fell in love with the country`s natural beauty and friendly people. Upon their return to Canada, they immediately organized and planned for an overseas move to Dominica. However, they experienced an unforeseen delay when Luther was diagnosed with cancer. But the couple`s determination and vision of their new life sustained them. After Luther`s surgery and radiation therapy were completed, they finally arrived in Dominica around Christmas 2007. The couple was thrilled with Luther`s miraculous recovery. They were further delighted when told that the intriguing country called Waitukubuli was in fact, Dominica, their adopted home!

Right away, the Kosowans connected to their new community and greatly appreciated the love of music that prevails on Dominica. They enthusiastically created a non-profit organization called Music Missions International (M.M.I.) so that students and their teachers at participating schools around the island could have access to various types of musical instruments and learn how to play them.

Mr. Alexander, Instructor at St. John's Academy in Portsmouth Dominica receives repaired instruments for the students from M. Kosowan.

Mr. Alexander, Instructor at St. John’s Academy in Portsmouth Dominica receives repaired instruments for the students from Mr. Kosowan.

This incredible dream is being realized with assistance from some dedicated volunteers and generous sponsors. Along with Luther and Ruth Kosowan, fellow western Canadians Mike and Sharleen Townsend and Don Lowry help with this invaluable project in many ways. The Townsends not only initiated making contacts to obtain the musical instruments, but have also come to Dominica for six weeks in each of the past six years to train the teachers and students. As well, Luther and Ruth regularly acquire additional instruments and humanitarian supplies during their annual trips to Canada.

Luther repairing instruments before they are sent out to the schools.

Luther repairing instruments before they are sent out to the schools.

To date, schools in Dominica have received over 600 musical instruments and accessories as a result of this collaborative effort.

Instruments being moved from the Kosowans home en route to the Dominica State College

Instruments being moved from the Kosowans home en route to the Dominica State College

In addition, Mr. Egbert Charles of E.H. Charles & Co. Ltd. in Roseau has kindly provided materials so that Luther and Mike could build 60 music stands. They

Mike and Luther made 60 music stands for students in schools that are participating in the MMI program.

Mike and Luther made 60 music stands for students in schools that are participating in the MMI program.

have now been distributed to all schools involved in the M.M.I. program. Mr. Charles continues to assist M.M.I. by sponsoring materials for an Instrument Repair Technology course to be held at the Dominica State College where Luther will be the instructor. As a result, all instruments will be maintained in good working condition.

For Luther and Ruth, their dream of giving back to Dominica has certainly come true. In 2012, 102 students from around the Nature Island performed in a band concert. Then, the very next year, 200 students from 16 school bands `raised the roof` at the Arawak House of Culture in Roseau. You can read about that memorable event here.

Luther loves to 'jam' as well as fix instruments.  He has made many friends in Dominica who share his passion for music.

Luther loves to ‘jam’ as well as fix instruments. He has made many friends in Dominica who share his passion for music.

As Music Missions International continues to thrive, the Kosowans thank God for their fulfilling lives on Waitukubuli!

*Waitukubuli  (pronounced Why-too-KOO-BOO-lee)is the indigenous Kalinago word for Dominica.  It means “tall is her body.”

**This article first appeared in the Dominica Association of Music Educators (DAME) November 2014 Newsletter.  Information provided by Mrs. Ruth Kosowan was subsequently edited by Gwendominica for the original submission, which is republished here ( with slight variations) with the kind permission of DAME. Photos provided courtesy of Ruth Kosowan, with thanks.

 

Daring to DREAM: Miss Dominica 2013 and Friends Dance for Holistic Education on the Nature Isle*

Leslassa organized a Dance Showcase as one of her DREAM Foundation initiatives to help children realize their holistic education goals.

Leslassa organized a Dance Showcase as one of her DREAM Foundation initiatives to help children realize their holistic education goals.

Miss Dominica 2013 Leslassa Armour-Shillingford  has always loved to dance. According to her mother Yvonne, her daughter just had to  move to music even when she was a tiny child. As one of her innate talents, Leslassa  has made a serious study of this highly disciplined performance art during her young life.  And at the age of 20,  this multi-talented beauty queen is definitely pursuing everything that she has

In this selection, entitled 'Sorento', Leslassa 'returns to innocence'.

In this dreamy selection, entitled ‘Sorento’, Leslassa ‘returned to innocence’ of childhood with swift, playful moves.

dared to DREAM!  This was clearly evident at the  Dance Showcase that was held at the Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Center on November 27,2013. There, she and like-minded dance colleagues definitely “used [their] talents to inspire others,” according to Leslassa’s credo.

The lovely young lady organized this fundraiser for her charity entitled the DREAM Foundation     in partnership with the Dominica Institute for the Arts and renowned choreographer Monsieur Christian Gernet of Martinique.Leslassa firmly believes that every child should have the chance to pursue a well-rounded education and she is determined to help!  Proceeds from this unique event were to benefit the Enrichment Programme at the Pioneer Preparatory School     and the Newtown Primary School DREAM Dance Project.   But most importantly,   the Old Mill Cultural Centre’s dance space (Dominica Institute for the Arts)  was the first priority as it is an empty room and the DREAM Foundation is ‎furnishing it with the needed bars, mirrors and other necessities that will make it a proper dance studio.  As she does instruct students there in her capacity as a dance teacher, she felt very strongly about how these enhancements could add to the overall  experience of the young dance students.

When I took my front row seat before the show began,

The surreal backdrop pf the stage perfectly complemented the dances in this unique showcase, choreographed by Martinican choreographer Christian Gernet.

The surreal Dominican backdrop on the stage perfectly complemented the dances in this unique showcase, choreographed by Martinican choreographer Christian Gernet.

I admired the dreamy backdrop at the back of the makeshift stage, which was positioned above the back of the swimming pool.  In front,  little boats with lighted  candles drifted on gentle ripples and rose petals floated

placidly on the water’s  serene surface.  The surreal mood was captured right from the start – I was already transported to dream-like place.Then Leslassa’s brother Dafar warmly welcomed the audience and  clearly explained the impetus of the Dream Foundation. And, as if by magic,  the dance began.

The Martinican Biguigne Haute was the first piece of  several choreographed by a son of the soil - choreographer Christian Gernet.

The Martinican Biguigne Haute was the first piece of several choreographed by a son of Martinique – choreographer Christian Gernet.

The first  piece certainly set the tempo for this sensational performance.  The traditional Biguigne Haute from Martinique filled the space with energy and vibrancy.  It was hard not to mark time with my feet as the dancers swirled around to  the sexy beat.

Then came the three guys  of BFree who showed us what strength and agility is all about in their contemporary hip-hop/break-dance selection.  Talk about athletic prowess and rhythmical gymnastics – need I say any more?  Those young men were fantastic!Unfortunately, my camera could not capture their bold moves in black outfits, but I can assure you their performance was awe-inspiring!

Then Leslassa and Ghandi Robin  of BFree came out to show us their (and M. Gernet’s) interpretation of Enfants de la Rue. Flowing movements, strong poses

The innocence of being cildren at play was easily captured by Leslassa and Ghandi.

The innocence of being children at play was easily captured by Leslassa and Ghandi.

Leslassa presents a peaceful childhood moment in repose in Sorento: Enfants de la Rue: A return to Innocence.

Leslassa presented a peaceful childhood moment in repose in Sorento: Enfants de la Rue: A return to Innocence.

Leslassa and Ghandi express a playful pose in 'Enfants de la rue'.

Leslassa and Ghandi expressed a playful pose in ‘Sorento: Enfants de la rue’.

both individually and as a couple and some static postures captivated the audience.

I enjoyed the energy of the Mazurka and the precision of Leslassa and her colleagues as they presented this folkloric dance of Polish origin. I could see how it resembles the more commonly known polka.  They were moving so quickly I couldn’t get a proper shot!

Then came Ghandi again with a hip-hop/break-dance piece inspired by Martinique’s BBoy veterans.  It is a shame that I could not photograph his powerfully impressive moves.  Well, it is too bad for you.  As for me, I couldn’t have taken my eyes off him anyway!

Leslassa demonstrates teh challenge of being in balance with her own strength in 'Promenade'.

Leslassa demonstrated the challenge of being in balance with her own strength in ‘Promenade’.

When Leslassa performed a modern piece called ‘Promenade’, her interpretation of the challenge to be “in balance” with her own strength was clearly evident.

Leslassa's introsepctive pose in 'Promenade' also demonstrates her strength and flexibility and her innate ability to express the idea behind the dance.

Leslassa’s introspective pose in ‘Promenade’ also showed her strength, flexibility and an innate ability to express the idea behind the dance.

In 'Promenade', Leslassa gracefully presents some very strong poses.

In ‘Promenade’, Leslassa gracefully presented some very strong poses.

Her natural grace, flexibility and strength complemented each expressive pose.

This dance piece, entitled 'Caco' is called an amalgamation of light and love.

This dance piece, entitled ‘Caco’ is called” an amalgamation of light and love.”

While I did enjoy every  piece in the Dance Showcase, I was especially moved by Claire and Colette’s performance of ‘Caco’. In this modern dance, the symmetry of the moves and poses of the two dancers was spellbinding.

I loved teh mirro-like reflective movements of Claire and Colette in 'Caco'.

I loved the mirror-like reflective movements of Claire and Colette in ‘Caco’.

I felt again transported to a dream-like state and I meditated on their precise movements, which perfectly mirrored each other.

I was awakened from my surreal suspension by the playful ‘Folie Chaise‘, wherein the ladies Leslassa, Clair, Colette, Anne and Claudine engaged in a game of musical chairs.  It looked like so much fun that I wanted to play too!

Leslassa and her dance friends revelled in a game of musical chairs.

Leslassa and her dance friends reveled in a game of musical chairs.

Although the  entire programme was less than an hour, the audience was enthralled with the well performed selections.  As a finale, they were treated to a hot ‘Salsa Exhibition’ and actually invited to join in. Choreographer, Monsieur Christian Gernet directed the dance from front and center stage, as he instructed the dancers and participants en francais  as to which way they should turn next, while moving to the Latin beat.  Those on-stage in were certainly glowing along with the dancers when they finished this set!

Leslassa partners with M. Gernet in some fast and furious Latin moves.

Leslassa partners with M. Gernet in some fast and furious Latin moves.

Martinican chorepgrapher Christian Gernet leads the dancers and audience members in hot Salsa moves.

Martinican choreographer Christian Gernet leads the dancers and audience members in hot Salsa moves.

I waited for a short while afterwards to congratulate Leslassa on her  superb organization of this wonderful Showcase of Contemporary and Folkloric Dances, which was produced and performed at a very high standard. The hours of preparation, rehearsal and dedication of all the participants was not lost on me.

Then I left the Anchorage Hotel on a  high note, knowing that the proceeds from this exceptional evening would be helping other young students to realize their dreams.

The audience also got carried away with the spirit of the Salsa dance.

Audience  members also got carried away with the spirit of the Salsa dance.

Thank you Leslassa for this gift to help  holistic education on the Nature Isle.  I hope you’ll do another event like this one very soon.  You certainly know how to make many people smile. : )

*And with extra appreciation to you, Miss Dominica 2013 for taking time from your busy schedule to  review this piece so promptly before publication. Best wishes for your continued success in whatever you do!