“Music teacher wanted for island off the coast of Maine,” said the job listing, adding just enough additional detail to prompt Dunham and her husband, Ben, to respond, arrange an interview, accept the job, pack their lives and their two children into a couple of old cars, leave central Ohio and head out for something really different.
The Swan’s Island school found itself without a music teacher last summer. It asked the Island Institute, through its Fellows program, to supply a replacement, someone who could also give private lessons to community members. Dunham has taken on those responsibilities and more — since arriving on the island in early September she’s signed people up for lessons on piano, harp, percussion, guitar and even bagpipes. In addition she’s organized a brace of choruses, which will be performing a holiday concert Dec. 20. Musically, Swan’s Island is a busy place these days.
Candyce Dunham grew up in Westerville, Ohio, a one-time farming community adjacent to Columbus. Musically talented from an early age, she graduated from Eastman College of Music in Rochester, N.Y., in 1998. Returning home, she found work as a piano accompanist in a high school, as a harp teacher, as a musician in a “Wizard of Oz” traveling company’s performance at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus, as a teacher in a couple of summer music camps in Ontario.
While they knew a musician’s life is seldom settled or secure, the Dunhams (by now they were married with two children) began looking for something more than part-time jobs, private lessons and the occasional gig. Teaching music on Swan’s Island seemed to fill the bill.
She hit the ground running. “There was a school assembly right after we came here [in September],” Candyce says. “I played harp while people ate desserts.” She also described the various instruments on which she could provide lessons, and circulated a sign-up sheet for instrumental lessons as well as several choirs she had in mind.
The results were as good as anyone had a right to expect. Sixteen adults signed up for a chorus that began preparing for a Christmas concert. “The adult choir grows in number each week as word gets spread around,” Dunham says.
Fifteen joined a “show choir” that’s currently working on a Christmas song-and-dance production and another for spring, and perhaps for the 2002 Inter-Island Event.
Nineteen “very anxious students” signed up for a harp group, and 20 for a percussion ensemble. These groups still lack instruments and are waiting for funding. Dunham signed up 15 people for piano lessons; seven for “twinklers,” a music-through-movement program for children ages 4Ã8; and seven for “terrific twos,” a rhythm program for very young children. Bagpipes were scheduled to begin this month, and a string ensemble is planned for January.
Planning for the harp ensemble prompted some particularly original thinking. A harp — even one for a beginning student — is an elaborate instrument with strings, pedals and sounding board that can cost thousands of dollars. Candyce brought her own harp to the island, but providing others for students seemed beyond everyone’s reach — until Ben, a skilled woodworker (“he can make anything,” his wife says), suggested that he construct harps for the students. Through the Island Institute Candyce applied for grant funding to buy materials. If the funding comes through, Ben plans to build harps in their home workshop.
Bagpipes, which students learn first using a low-cost “chanter,” can begin without a full set of pipes, and Candyce hopes to have her pipers ready to play “Amazing Grace” at the Christmas concert. Meanwhile, a prominent island elder is rumored to be practicing his violin for the same occasion. All in all, it will be an event not to miss.