The Louise McDonald High School ninth-grader bashfully said that she was not ready to be interviewed on camera. No matter how much the other members of the school choir cheered her on, the young girl only blushed more and shook her head. It was not until her choir director – and Physical Education teacher at the school in Alice Town, Bimini – Ms. Stephanie Woodside stood next to her and encouraged her with a comforting smile, did she look up and flashed a shy grin. “My name is Maya Saunders,” she began slowly, “and I enjoyed the experience of the National Arts Festival because I got to break out of my nervousness.” She smiled broadly at Ms. Woodside and her schoolmates and continued on about the adjudicators coming from the capital to her little school. “I appreciate it and I hope to see them again next year,” she said with a bit more confidence. “I will move around more (when singing her solo) and stop rocking and feel the song.”
Students throughout several Family islands sang along with Maya’s sentiments about the E. Clement Bethel National Arts Festival adjudications. In fact, her fellow classmate Brian Rolle said that he enjoyed being part of the choir that performed that day. “It is an honor for me, personally, to be in the school choir and attending the National Arts Festival – going on two years now,” he said. “Ms. Woodside has been a great teacher and I have some great (fellow) choir members, who really help me to explore your voice. “It’s been a great learning experience, knowing the judge, getting to know the different tunes, exploring my voice and meeting new people.” In Nicholl’s Town, Andros, Huntley Christie eighth-grader Elli Evans entered two pieces of craft for adjudication. She said that she felt good entering the Festival, but spoke honestly about the experience. “I felt a bit scared, a bit nervous,” she said while fiddling with the shell-covered hair accessories she had created. However, she was proud of her work. “I really like the colors,” she added. She even took the time to encourage her friends and classmates to enter next year. “If they join, they could make something good – and they could get a grade for it and probably make some money (selling the crafts later),” she said, showing her entrepreneurial spirit.
Her fellow schoolmate and ninth-grader Tamari Wallace created a decorated mirror as his craft piece. He proudly showed it off and said that it was fun to enter the Festival. He also talked about using shells and dried pods from the Woman’s Tongue Tree to decorate his entry. “I really like the design of it,” he said. In the Abacos, students at the Hope Town Primary School chimed in and said that they enjoyed the experience and they worked hard to prepare. While at at Every Child Counts, a school for special students in Marsh Harbour, Ronel Escarment is in his last year of school and said he has taken part in the Festival for a number of years. He noted that he was grateful to the judges, who took their time out to visit and adjudicate their performances. “I think the National Arts (Festival) is very amazing,” he said. “I practice for it every year and get ready to be judged by people who know a lot about music, and who can help me to improve what I do and what I love to do. “It can make you very nervous, but I get to it and I do it,” he added. Ronel’s mother, Caroline Sawyer said, “We are very proud of Ronel – of course — and we are quite pleased that he is able to perform at a National level because the National Arts Festival makes it a possibility.” From the Treasure Cay, Primary School was Odell Cox, Jr. – a Bahamas Primary School Student of the Year Foundation nominee who happens to have a love for Junkanoo. He was enthusiastic about the Festival. “I like it. I love it a lot because I get to ‘beat drum’ and do what I like doing Junkanoo,” he said with a broad smile and a drum almost half his size swung expertly over his shoulder.
He was equally as enthusiastic when asked how he felt performing with his schoolmates. “When I perform with them, I sound even better,” he exclaimed.
Odell’s mother and Principal of his school Chantell Cox said that it was a wonderful feeling to have her students participate in the National Arts Festival because it is a chance for them to showcase their culture. “A lot of times we stay within the four walls and we tend to focus on academics; but then we have to realize that, to build a well-rounded child, we have to move away from just academics,” Ms. Cox said. “The children have to participate in more of the cultural experiences, as well as the sporting activities.” Abraham’s Bay High School senior Destiny Hall said it was not only a great experience being in the National Arts Festival; it was also a chance for her to learn about her craft. “I learned some pros and cons and what I need to work on more,” she said with a confident smile. The Mayaguana student’s smile became a lot broader when she was asked about Music Adjudicator Trent Elliott Davis, who took the time out after her singing to give her a few pointers on “finding her voice”. “That was amazing,” she exclaimed. “Someone with such a big voice and a big name like Mr. Trent Davis was really awesome – and to hear that he thought that my voice was good! That was truly amazing.”
At the Arthur’s Town High School, in Cat Island, sisters Zoe and Erin Turner sang, played the guitar and danced in the Festival. Their mother, Ethel, was there and she is also the math teacher at the school and worked along Senior Assistant and Religious Studies teacher Antoine V. Duncombe with preparing all the students who performed for the school. Zoe, whose in grade nine, said that it was fun to perform with her 10th-grade sister in the Festival, even though performing together is something they do often. The girls always received a short lesson on ways to strengthen their choreography from Dance Adjudicator and cultural icon Lawrence Carroll. Zoe added that she liked performing with her sister. “Especially because it makes her happy, sometimes,” she quipped with a smile. “I am always proud of what they do,” Ms. Turner said. “I do appreciate the lesson from Mr. Carroll because we are not professional dancers, nor have any of us had dance lessons to that extent before; so, even as watching him teach them, it really helped me learn a bit more, so I really appreciate it.” At the Old Bight High School, 12th-grader Alexandria Brown also enjoyed performing in the Festival and also echoed Ms. Turner’s sentiments. “I love to dance! Dance is my passion, and that’s what I do. That’s how I express myself,” she said. “It was great because he (Mr. Carroll) would be able to expose me to more moves and make me a better dancer than I am.” As of press time, the E. Clement Bethel National Arts Festival was in its second week of Grand Bahama adjudications and will be heading to New Providence next.