A St. Olaf grad launches instrumental music program in Guyana

GMLA guitar.jpg

When Eric Sayre was walking the halls of the music education building at St. Olaf College, he likely was envisioning that he would soon be standing on small riser, baton in hand, conducting a wind ensemble at an underfunded urban or a small rural school just hours from his native Twin Cities home. He could probably smell the trumpet valve oil and hear the squeaks of fresh woodwind enthusiasts.

He probably did not picture himself establishing a music education program in an underdeveloped South American country. He didn’t anticipate that he would be raising money to buy instruments for students who didn’t even receive band instruction in their school settings.

But Sayre did know he felt drawn toward a vocation of service. And his enthusiasm for music didn’t know any boundaries … including the borders of country.

In September, Sayre will launch the Guyana Lutheran Music Academy, in New Amsterdam, Guyana, the home of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guyana (ELCG). He says, “We will be enriching lives through music education for all.”

Such a project has its costs. For the GLMA, these costs include $60,000 for the renovation of the academy and home to the instructors (which is next to the denomination’s headquarters), as well as the $40,000 cost of procuring and shipping as many instruments as possible for the Guyanese students.

The ELCG has invited Sayre’s involvement. He says, “The success of international outreach lrelies in large part on local support and desire. The Guyanese Lutheran Church has graciously agreed to be our partner and host.” The church is able to ensure that classes will be open to students of all cultural and religious backgrounds in this religiously and ethnically diverse nation.

Sayre, and his project partner, Linda Berger, music education chair at St. Olaf, interviewed and selected staff members for four spots in the academy. Each will arrive in New Amsterdam in mid-August and stay through June. While the teaching positions are volunteer, they are provided with basic necessities while in Guyana.

The staff will be able to train 240 students per year, with about 15 students per class. Instruction will include voice, keyboard, guitar strings, percussion, and brass. “Every instrument [donated to GLMA] will either be used through the Academy or will go to a student’s home,” Sayre explained. “Practice is where the growth happens.”

GMLA piano.jpg

In 2011, Sayre was recruited by Erv Janssen, a Lutheran from Tulsa, Oklahoma, whose congregation has taken week-long medical, construction, and literacy mission to Guyana since 1996. Janssen made regular trips to St. Olaf to find music students willing to teach basic music literacy to a few students.

When Sayre heard Janssen’s enthusiasm for service, he immediately went back to his dorm room to talk his roommate Michael Murchison into committing to a six-month term of establishing an actual music program for the ELCG. The duo not only planned to develop a music education program; they decided they would stay long enough to do instruction on individual instruments as well.

Sayre and Murchison provided musical instruction to more than 500 people during their six-month stint in Guyana in 2011, including 53 different brass players. More than two-thirds of their students were under 18, and did not receive any musical instruction in their public school.

If things go well, it is our dream to open schools in other countries that are interested,” Sayre said. This may include Haiti and Nicaragua, the only countries in the Western Hemisphere even poorer than Guyana. When St. Olaf music education majors dream, they dream big, it seems. http://glma.gy/