Hometown Hero Uses World Music to Teach World Culture

By Melanie Chapman | mchapman@kolr10.com

Published 05/21 2014 09:02PM

Updated 05/21 2014 09:17PM

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A retired band instructor is spending his time volunteering and sharing his knowledge of music and culture.

The kindergartners at Robberson Elementary are learning world music drumming.

Retired junior high director John Svagera volunteers his time to teach students about his passion.

"I really believe in world music,” he says. “I believe it's a way of bringing us together."

"We are learning a lot about, especially Africa and as we do it more about the Caribbean,” says kindergartner Nevaeh Johnson. “And I just feel that it is very important in our world that we learn some other things."

John taught music in Nebraska for 35 years, where he was introduced to world music.

He and his wife retired here in Springfield and he brought his cross-cultural curriculum of African and Caribbean drumming with him, and began leading drum circles in schools.

"My wife Anneta said, 'you're bitten aren't you?' And I said, 'yeah I am.' So I wrote a grant and got these drums and I come around mainly in Springfield,” says John.

Two years ago, he sent an email out to Springfield music teachers to see if they were interested in him teaching a session. Mrs. Leasha Bear quickly responded and her students are totally focused on “Mr. S.”

"I never, in 20-some years of teaching, offer to come and spend a week with me for no money whatsoever,” laughs Bear.

John just doesn't come to visit once, he returns and the students remember.

"They remember a lot from last year so he's not just taking them from the same point every year and doing a review,” says Bear. “He's taking them further."

John spends a lot of his time in retirement giving back to the community the best way he knows how.

“Well, it's a thrill, obviously,” he says. “It's a thrill, but I also know I have their attention and I'm able to teach them something about their world through rhythm."

Since he has more students than drums, he says another important part of his program is teaching respect and teamwork.

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