Friday, May 10, 2002

Drums and bells and love

New band fulfills late teacher's dream

By Howard Wilkinson,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The assembly hall at St. Margaret of Cortona School in Madisonville was filled with proud parents, the sounds of a brand-new 14-member steel drum band and faith this week.

[photo] David Angevine plays in the beginning bell choir at St. Margaret of Cortona School in Madisonville.
(Ernest Coleman photos)
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        The faith came through the inspiration of the late Emily Baurnet, Principal Judy Szilagyi explained Thursday.

        And the help of a community.

        Ms. Baurnet laid the foundation for the new band late last year, after spending the summer immersing herself in learning percussive music, in part by working with the Over-the-Rhine Steel Drum Band, and seeking grants to pay for the costly equipment at the tiny parochial school.

        At the school's Christmas festival, the school learned the money was coming and Ms. Baurnet jumped into the air. “The whole audience saw her joy,” Ms. Szilagyi said.

        But within a few days, she fell ill. In April, she died of cancer.

        “She never saw the drums,” said her principal.

        The St. Margaret of Cortona School Steel Drum Band, though, lived on, thanks to students from nearby Clark Montessori, a Cincinnati public school.

        Ms. Szilagyi had been an intern at Clark and fell in love with the sound of steel drums and the camaraderie of the band members. She knew she wanted to bring that to her new school when she arrived at St. Margaret. With the loss of Ms. Baurnet, the principal contacted Bruce Weil, the director of the steel drum band at Clark.

        “Bruce never hesitated; he was there in a flash,” Ms. Szilagyi said.

[photo] Stefany Waters (foreground) of the St. Margaret of Cortona Steel Drum Band, plays with Clark Montessori band members John Rush (center) and Erin Riga (right front).
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        The pair arranged for several Clark students to mentor music students and, in a series of lessons back and forth at the different schools, taught them to play.

        “Emily was great, a truly wonderful person,” said Mr. Weil. “I was glad to be able to help. It was good for our students and good for the kids at St. Margaret's. Everybody came out ahead.”

        Clark student Erin Riga, 17, of Green Township, said it was as rewarding an experience for her as it was for the younger St. Margaret students.

        “They really wanted to learn. They were so enthusiastic,” the 11th-grader said. “It made it so much fun for us, too.”

        Ms. Szilagyi said when she worried late last year about getting the money for the instruments, the music teacher cheered her on.

        “Emily had faith,” Ms. Szilagyi said. “She said, "Judy, don't lose your faith. I know God is going to do this for us.'”

        At Wednesday's night's concert — which also featured a choir made up of all the school's students and a school bell choir — the first song played was “This Little Light of Mine,'' a tune arranged for steel drums by Ms. Baurnet.

        Parents were stunned to hear the beautiful sounds of the drums, the principal said.

        And the song, the last creative work of the accomplished music teacher, brought the house down.

        “That's a very special song for the students now,” Ms. Szilagyi said.

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