Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ukarumpa International School: Band Teacher

Marlene Schutter is
head of the music department and teaches
instrumental music at Ukarrmpa Internationsl School.
We were blessed by the ministry of the music department at Ukarumpa International School, not only by the wonderful concerts but by the teachers who taught our kids in band.  Thank you, Marlene!

Marlene writes:

I get to teach instrumental music at the “ends of the earth”.  Well, that’s what one visitor said to me when he got off a little Cessna 206 after flying for two hours over heavy jungle terrain.

In reality though, even though I am in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, I have much of the same things you do.  Running water (until the drought we are having causes problems in that area!) and an indoor toilet.  My home is made of plywood and on stilts for the sake of earthquakes, but hey, it’s home to me.  We are 5000 feet above sea level, so even though it is the tropics, it has gotten down to 54 degrees in my bedroom at night.  That’s right, there is no insulation and I have louvered windows that add a little breeze through their ‘not tight’ openings.  When I have come back to the States on furlough, people have been very generous in giving me things to help decorate my home.  I love it…obviously, since I’ve been here for 35+ years!

We have one little store on center that provides food and staples for us to buy.  There are other stores in the larger towns around PNG, but it takes traveling by vehicles (which I don’t own) and in some cases, can be cause for concern for fear of holdups.  We also have a fresh market produce on Monday/Wednesday/Friday from 6-8am.  People come in from the villages for miles around to sell their produce.  Because of the drought, we are seeing fewer people come because their gardens are drying up.  This is a concern around the entire country right now.

Ok, now that you have an idea that I’m not really living in an uncivilized situation, I’ll tell you about my school, UIS—(Ukarumpa International School).  It has about 250 children in K-12. There have been times when I have had thirteen different nationalities represented in my band! 
Our students consist of MK’s (Missionary Kid’s), Papua New Guinea nationals, and commercial students whose parents work in the area.  Teachers come from around the world to teach here.  Not for the money though.  Each family or single raises their own support through an organization called Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT-USA).  I have four supporting churches and many individual supporters that are faithful every month to send money into WBT-USA for me.  I sometimes get surprises from people I don’t even know personally who have sent in money for me to help meet some need that I might have.  It’s called living on faith.

Several years ago (2002), our music building was a classroom that had the lowest ceiling of all the classes on campus.  You know what that can do to a director’s hearing!  Not only that, it had been built in the late 70’s and the beams were now rotted out, there were cracks in the cement floor bringing with it dust and dirt, and black mildew had overridden the place. (Remember:  tropics-rainy season-humidity.  It can do huge damage.)  Because of working in this environment, my asthma turned into pneumonia which turned into a life threatening situation.  I ended up in a hospital in Cairns, Australia and had to spend two months recovering enough to travel back to Grand Rapids, MI, my USA stomping grounds.

When I returned, the school administration had people in the community come and try to clean the music building up as much as possible for me, but determined that a new building is what we needed.  A new building wasn’t in the school budget, so I set about raising $135,000 for it.  It took a few years, but finally we were able to move into a building that has over double the height of our last building and big enough to set up the band on one side and the choir on the other!  It’s been wonderful to work in an environment that is now clean and I even have an air conditioner in my private lesson room.  This helps keep things clean when people in the valley are burning off the sides of the mountains to make their gardens.  The smoke can be overwhelming.

We order music and instruments from the States and a lot of it is shipped by boat that can take months to get here.  Let’s put it this way:  We have to plan ahead!   The blessing we have is that we do have internet…expensive, but I can listen to pieces and decide if that is really what I want to do with my students.  We do have a large library as we have collected many pieced over the years.  Some have only been used for sight-reading because back before the computers, we ordered sight unseen or by word of mouth.  If we didn’t like it, we at least used it for sight-reading!

Over the years, there have been times when I was the only instrumental band person here.  I would start beginners in 5th grade, then middle school grades 6-8, and high school grades 9-12.  I also started a Jazz band.  I could say that those were the “good ole days”, but to be really honest, if I hadn’t been young at that time, I’m not sure I could have done it.  I had to make all my meals from scratch…homemade bread, etc. I didn’t have an automatic washer that I could walk away from and come back later when it had run its cycle.  Don’t get me wrong, life was fun, even with all the extra work that needed to be done at the time.  Back in the early 80’s, we had one television with video on center and two videos! (Roots and Against the Wind)  We singles played a lot of games on weekends or took motorbike rides down to the river to go swimming.  Kids learned to play games using their imagination…no electronics back then!  It really was a whole different world.  The world was moving on with electronics, and we were standing in place doing snail mail.  It took 4-6 weeks to get a letter, then another 4-6 weeks before they would receive a reply.  Phone calls were not existent for me unless it was an emergency.  It was way too expensive to call out.

Ok, I’ve gotten off the beaten path again!  Sorry about that.

My professional development over the years has included getting instrument repair help from a gentleman who started the instrument repair school in Redwing, Minnesota.  He was kind enough to spend two weeks with me teaching the basics of instrument repairs so I would be able to do them when I got back to PNG.  No music shop to bring broken springs, or bad pads to…just me at the time.

Over the years, more people started coming to work in PNG and I have had three different guys and one gal who have proven their worth in more ways than one in helping teach our kids here in the UIS Music Department.  I’ve taught them what I know in instrument repair, but we also have internet now and a lot of those things are on line, so that’s a big help.

Getting to go to the Midwest Clinic has been so beneficial to me when I have been in the States on furlough.  It not only gives me new ideas, it reinforces those things which I have been doing.  Sometimes when you are alone in the middle of nowhere, it’s easy to wonder if you are doing the right thing with your students, or maybe there might be a better way and you haven’t heard about it.  Since we are the only school in the country that has a band just like ours, we have no competition.  When I go to a conference, I love hearing other bands performing a piece that I’ve done with my group.  I can’t help but think through what I’m hearing and compare what my group has done.  My mind is saying… “yes, I like that” or, “I like the way my group was able to do that…”

Over the years we have had students performing
with well-known symphonies or orchestras not only in the USA, but also in Europe.  I’ve had a student come back to visit who is now a band director in Texas.  I say this because I have heard the comment, “What good can come out of Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea?”    We have great kids, and it is a great place to teach.  Great things can come out of Ukarumpa!

This past year I have been going down to the capital city, Port Moresby, one weekend a month to train teachers and help teach young Papua New Guinean children who have never seen a “Western” instrumental band!  This is a new challenge for me.  I am very grateful for the people who donated instruments and music books for this group.

I’m looking at coming back to the USA in 2020 to finally put roots down in my “home” country.  Papua New Guinea will have been my home for 40 years by that time!  I hope to settle in the Grand Rapids, MI area and would love to give some lessons, maybe visit some local bands.  I can’t imagine my life without music and kids!

If you'd like to learn more about Ukarumpa International School, click here.