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ProMusica spends time with Riverside cadets for lessons in jazz
Musicians from left: trumpet player Gordon Vernick, pianist Geoff Hayden, bassist Robert Dickson, and drummer Justin Varnes perform Tuesday as part of a ProMusica Concert Series at Riverside Military Academy. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

"Listen, imitate and then assimilate," professional drummer Justin Varnes told his teenage audience about playing jazz music.

The musician, and his band "Rialto Jazz for Kids," came to Riverside Academy on Tuesday to instruct the cadets and give a free concert for local private and home-schooled students. Part of the lesson that day was to imitate the jazz greats, such as Miles Davis and Jimmy Cobb.

"It's through imitation that I found my own language," Varnes said.

Tuesday's concert and clinic drew hundreds of students to Riverside's Sandy Beaver Center theater. The show was paid for by the ProMusica Concert series in Gainesville, which aims to bring music and music history into schools.

Traditionally, ProMusica provided chamber music to the community and has added an educational component in recent years, bringing artists in for personal lessons.

"ProMusica has always felt a big part of our job is not only providing great music for our adult audiences but reaching out to the young people in the community," said Mike Henry, vice president of the ProMusica series.

The professional jazz band taught students about the history of modern jazz and how it's rooted in cultural diversity. Children also accompanied them onstage for a jam session, using shaker instruments.

At the workshop, the Rialto band gave the students pointers on music improvisation. They also stressed the need to learn technique, such as musical scales.

"If you're going to cook and all you have is seasoning, you don't have much of a dinner," trumpet player Gordon Vernick said of improv.

Riverside student Danny Arenas, 17, said many of the lessons were eye-opening.

"You have more freedom in jazz than I thought," he said.

Riverside spokeswoman Andrea Seymour said the music and performing arts division has grown substantially at Riverside in recent years and the jazz program was a great learning opportunity for the cadets. Enrollment increases at the school have brought in more musical talents, she said.

"Our president, (Col. James Benson,) always wanted a larger band. It's hard to have a military school without a band because the core of cadets has to march in step to cadence, so there has been a renewed emphasis to grow the performing arts division," she said.

Henry said ProMusica staff hopes to work with Riverside and other area private schools in the future. Their work has primarily been with public schools over the last several years, he said.

Henry said he believes exposure to all types of music is an important part of a child's overall education.

"I'd like to see every child at every school provided with a music education," Henry said. "In a lot of places it's cut back or eliminated and for those that are able to support the arts, we're obligated to do all we can."



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