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For many students, college is a time of exploration: of self, of new ideas, and of lifelong passions.

For the past three years, Dr. Jason Koontz and the School of Music at Eastern Kentucky University have aided percussion students in that quest. For 10 days in January, Koontz and his protégés attended the Laborie Steel Pan and Brasilian Percussion Workshop (a program that Koontz both co-directs and team-teaches) in the village of Laborie on the West Indies island of St. Lucia.

The workshop featured masterclasses by professional percussionists, rehearsals and performances with other percussion enthusiasts, and collaboration with musicians in the Laborie Steel Orchestra. The group got the opportunity to learn Brasilian percussion with Koontz, and steel pan under the direction of well-known jazz steel drummer Andy Narell. The students also partook in cultural activities, such as a tour of the Laborie village, a waterfall hike and swim, a visit to the famous Sulphur Springs, and a Piton Nature Trail hike.

The Laborie workshop is an immersive experience in which music and culture collide, and students benefit from the effect. “The participant and local musicians are from a wide variety of experience levels and professional backgrounds,” said Koontz, “but everyone worked toward the common goal of creating a great collaborative musical program.”

Senior music industry major Preston Ratliff, on his third trip, raved about the experience. “The best part,” he said, “is always experiencing how people of all ages and musical backgrounds, beginners, amateur and professional, come together to make music with one another.”

Fellow percussionist Rhiannon Duvall, a freshman music education major, echoed Ratliff’s sentiments, expressing that her favorite part of the trip was “getting to play some of my favorite music with a large group of equally interested andhardworking musicians.” She counts working with Narell as “an experience that anybody would be lucky to have.”

This trip marked Koontz’s third excursion to St. Lucia with EKU students. He is enthusiastic about the program’s impact, saying that the “educational benefits are multi-faceted.” The students are able to grow as musicians, and as cultural citizens.

For Duvall, it was her“first time leaving the country and seeing how the world outside of America functions. It’s not all busy and stressful and individualistic. Other parts of the world view life in a more relaxed, enjoyable way.”

Ratliff also found the island agreeable. “Something I find really incredible about the people of St. Lucia is how humble they are,” he said. “Nobody in Laborie has a lot to give, but they are all willing to give anything they had to make our stay more comfortable.”

EKU is dedicated to providing students with once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunities. “The EKU School of Music recognizes and endorses the personal and group experience that this international program provides,” said Koontz, adding that the School “helps tremendously to subsidize the student’s workshop expense obligation.”

That effort is not lost on students. “EKU and the EKU School of Music has been such a blessing to my undergrad education,” Ratliff shared. “These experiences have been the highlights of my undergraduate career, and they will forever be my best stories of my college experience.”

— by Madison Harris, Student Writer, EKU Communications and Brand Management