The spirit of the holidays stretched a few days more for residents of Caton Park Nursing Home on Jan. 2 when students of nearby Maa Sa-Akhi Performing Arts Academy honored these elders with a musical recital.
As if about to present at Carnegie Hall, the music students, ages 4 to 12, wore their performing best––crisp white shirts with black pants or skirts and polished shoes.
Starting with the youngest to the oldest, students played well-known musical pieces during the piano recital portion of the afternoon, from “Twinkle Twinkle” (played by four-year-old Omarion Smith with instructor from South Africa, Motheo Matlala), “Jingle Bells” and “Jingle Bells Rock” to “Let it Snow,” “The Entertainer,” and “My Favorite Things” performed by 12-year-old Frederic Renaud.
Trinidadian musician Master of Ceremonies Dr. Nolene Davidson infused the afternoon with warmth, offering musical insights: “such little hands playing those chords!” or “did you hear that difficult chord progression?”
The Rhythm Orchestra of 13 students directed by Mut (Mother) Hefen Sa-Akhi, founder and director of the 15-year-old performing arts school, gave a special treat performance, “A Tribute to the African Olmecs” by Fred Alston. This piece demonstrates the technique students use to learn rhythm through singing, counting and playing percussion instruments.
Both director Mut Hefen and MC Davidson let home residents know how much their contributions to life are appreciated and how the children’s presentation served as a kind of “thank you.”
With residents clapping and joining in, the afternoon ended with sing-alongs starting with “Jingle Bells.” Resident Drake delighted all those present–residents and performers–when he belted out Auld Lang Syne with a deep resonate baritone voice.
The name of the school means “To Know That God is My Joy” in Kametic, ancient Egyptian explained Academy Director Mut Helfen. “Our focus is helping every student to know their excellence through the arts. Participating requires a love of the arts, diligent studies, and a commitment from the parents.”
The Academy, located in the Prospect Park South/Parade Grounds area of Brooklyn, offers courses in piano, singing, drumming, guitar, bass and sometimes dance and stepping. There are 60 students, ages 3-73, attending the program.
An intensive six-week program for 15 children in the summer includes painting, crafts, video, and trips.
Frederic Renaud’s mom started him at the school when he was four. “Mut is wonderful with the children,” she said, “Because of the school, he got into Mark Twain School (IS 239) for gifted children.” Frederic has taken up the cello, now first chair at his public school, and may be playing with the Tri-State Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in March. “It’s nice to play two instruments,” he says.
“The arts are so important,” Mut Hefen emphasizes, “and they’re not taught in the schools. Music helps with math. It provides discipline, builds confidence, social skills, focus.” Mut Hefen also explained, “The Academy has students with special needs, autistic, ADHD, and who are dyslectic. Parents have told us they can see what the Academy has done for the children.”