“It (music) disciplines and relaxes the mind. I believe it is essential in so many aspects of our lives. It enhances our focus. I just enjoy teaching it and the kids also keep me alive!”
By Leon Suseran
Donalda Nelson loves music. And she has dedicated most of her life to teaching children to love music. Music, she says,
shapes an individual holistically and teaches one to appreciate life and have more patience. She is essentially a simple person, but deserves to be considered special because of her many years of committed service to the education sector and the advancement of young people.
Born at Julliana, Upper Berbice River, Donalda Nelson attended Hollandia Scots School, and at a tender age was being instructed by her proficient headmaster to play the piano. That was how the love for music was born inside of her and she nurtured it throughout the years. Her headmaster, she recalled, had a very big piano in the school and she “developed this flair for music as he began teaching us from that age, to play the piano and from that time onward we were so excited.”
Her childhood days were also spent assisting her parents, Jason and Monica Nelson in their cash-crop and ground provisions garden. “We planted all kinds of crops such as corn, sweet potatoes, cassava, you name it—all of them we used to produce,” she boasted. They also did small-scale cattle-rearing and she described her growing up there as “really exciting and so Christian-like.” Life was quiet there, she reflected.
After attaining her education, she was asked to become a pupil teacher at Hollandia Scots in her early twenties. She remembers being thrilled to join the teaching profession, particularly because she always desired to be around children and to impart the knowledge that she had so readily absorbed.
Ms. Nelson taught for three years after which she applied to the Teachers’ Training College where she commenced In-Service Training in New Amsterdam. She migrated to that area as well. “Adjusting wasn’t difficult, because the children in there (upriver) and the children out here (New Amsterdam) were the same.”
After completing her training, she was placed at the All Saints’ Primary School where
she would spend the next 23 years of her teaching career.
“Those were my most memorable years. I taught music and instilled in the children a love for it. The results provided greater encouragement for me, for as you could imagine, there is absolutely nothing like seeing your efforts being well received and paying dividends.”
Ms. Nelson was also quite the agile young lady, participating in athletic sports and such like.
“We did the mass games and Scots School always had very good athletes. It was very exhilarating for me being the leader there and see my children excelling—it was so uplifting.” She boasted of her participation in the teachers’ races, sometimes challenging the males, too!
“I was always eager to go and compete against the others, because I knew I could run—and sometimes I would go as far as to challenge the male teachers, and only one could have beaten me!” she recounted with a broad smile.
Additionally, and more to her liking, Ms. Nelson was actively involved in training the children at All Saints’ Primary for various regional and national music competitions, such as Music Festivals, and they won too.
“Being an avid lover of music, that was just my area, so I was always there with the children. They responded admirably during competitions. There are so many positive memories.”
Ms. Nelson then continued her career at the Vryman’s Erven Secondary School, in 1994,
where she taught music, along with some reading and social studies.
“It was a bit different from the primary school experience, because teaching music at these secondary schools you’ve got to go further than just teaching to sing.”
She was referring to teaching the children to interpret the notes and have a wider appreciation for the intricacies of music. This also proved to be a stimulating time in her career as it of course expanded her knowledge base.
“Don’t mind it was a bit challenging, with these pre-adults, because some of them did not like it and some had a fair liking (for music). Everyone, despite their reservations, did what was required of them and the process was allowed to flow as smoothly as was possible. Let’s just say there were no disasters.”
She retired from the public education system in 2002 after which she continued teaching young children music classes at her home. “I just enjoy teaching it and the kids also keep me alive!”
Ms. Nelson also teaches many of her students to play the keyboard, and some of them to play the recorder. “They are very attentive and enthusiastic,” she asserted.
When asked what the children enjoy most about learning music, she responded that overwhelmingly the most interest is in the keyboard, to the extent that some of them would even challenge each other.
The veteran teacher noted that some of the challenges she has encountered when teaching music surprisingly comes from the parents. She said that while some are anxious for their children to learn to play musical instruments, not enough time is given to them to learn.
There was another minor setback.
“Quite a few students are too tired to learn music, especially after they would have left school in the afternoon, and they are not able to concentrate and give of their best. It’s a pity that there is so much on their plate that they can’t get to truly immerse themselves in one of the finer pursuits in life…that’s what music truly is.”
Ms. Nelson is generally proud of her achievements, especially since many of her students have or are now playing for various churches around the town of New Amsterdam. She is highly supportive of the idea
to bring music in a full-fledged way into the school curriculum.
She referred to music as a discipline.
“It (music) disciplines and relaxes the mind. I believe it is essential in so many aspects of our lives. It enhances our focus. It might sound simple enough, but in doing music, you have to know to count, add and subtract, because when you meet with those notes, you have to know which is four, three, two and one,” she noted.
In terms of her current endeavours, she says “it is a bit more difficult these days because of my eyes. My sight is getting a bit blurred, and it tends to slow you up. But I suppose the bulk of my work would already have been done, so I won’t let it become a burden on me in my latter days.”
Looking back at her life through the years, our ‘Special Person’ expresses quite confidently that she is “thoroughly satisfied that I have been able to give of my best”. “My advice to teachers today is relatively simple; whatever they set out to do, do it to the best of their ability; don’t try any shortcuts…don’t try to shorten it. There will be little satisfaction.
“Teaching is known to be a profession from which one gets little benefit. To me, like most others who have walked this road, the benefit of teaching is the visual and tangible reward…when you look at the children out there who you have worked tirelessly with, and their achievements, however
modest, you feel like you have won a million dollars…you feel satisfied, especially when some of them pass your way, and say proudly, ‘Miss, I’m glad that I listened to you back in the day…it makes your day!”
She recalled her visits to the bank on several occasions and being greeted by past students, many of whom would give up their spot to her in the queue.
“You feel good! That is where you get the satisfaction of teaching! You don’t get the satisfaction money-wise, but when you look at those that you have put out for the benefit of society in general, it’s time to relax and enjoy the successes.”
In her spare time, Ms. Nelson enjoys preparing her little talks for Sabbath School. She is a dedicated member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church next door to her comfortable abode and enjoys teaching the children each Saturday. She also energetically tends to her chickens.
It is noteworthy to conclude with the fact that this special person’s passionate love for music also led her to pen the words of the school song of Vryman’s Erven Secondary. Not surprising for the individual described in today’s column.
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