WOW! I can't believe it's over already. After a long 24+ hours of traveling, I have made it home safe and sound. When I was leaving I had this weird feeling that I felt like it wasn't time to go yet-- I finally felt comfortable there-- like I was making progress with the students, I understood what needed to be done, and I understood how the operation ran. It's weird because when I made the arrangements, two weeks seemed like it would be long enough, but now looking back I wish I would have stayed longer! (Despite that whole missing my husband thing-- that was a factor too!)
So the last two days were a busy, wonderful blur. On Thursday I traveled to Koch in the morning for several hours and had the opportunity to work with many of the band students. I tried to give them as many warm up and rehearsal techniques as I could, so they had some new tools they could use to mix up their rehearsals. Some highlights:
1. I taught them the circle of fourths and we hacked through all 12 major scales.
2. We did an exercise I learned at Lynn, from Professor Reese, where we passed around a major scale. One person plays it going up, the next going down-- focusing on matching note lengths and articulations.
3. We did a similar exercise in which we passed a scale, but this time we did one note at a time.
4. We took the normal, harmonized scale they usually play and mixed it up, playing in half notes, quater notes, and then eighth notes.
My goal was to give them something to use once I was gone. I know how easy it is to get stuck in the same routine, and without some outside inspiration practicing can be rather dull. They were, as with everything else, so thankful for the new ideas.
I also got to travel back to Dandora on Thursday to see the Link Up kids one more time. This time we arrived on time, so I could see how they set up everything as well. They are even responsible for the key to the music room! The teacher and I were outside waiting for them to set up, and suddenly we hear eruptions of The Kookaburra Song that I had taught them on Tuesday!! So fun! Once again, I was able to work with them for a bit on their recorders and some singing. The highlight was splitting into two groups and singing The Kookaburra Song as a round. Love it!
There were 45 excited students in that class, but only 35 recorders. What was really striking to me was that the students who did not have recorders never complained about it. They never tried to steal one from their neighbor, or fight over who got to play. They just clapped along, read their note names, or helped their stand partner, without the teacher having to say anything! I was so impressed by them.
On Thursday, I had a lovely dinner with one of the conductors of the Safaricom Youth Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra of Kenya, Levi Wataka. Turns out we have a connection in Georgia (small music world, right!?) and are going to pursue a couple of projects together. I cannot wait! Levi really has a wonderful perspective of music education for the whole of Kenya. He's focused on making everything better and building it up as much as we can. It was so inspiring.
Friday was sadly, my last day with Ghetto Classics. I was once again kindly shuttled around by Chris to Koch, the storage container to get me a t-shirt, and then back to my AirBNB one last time. I reveiwed the concepts we had practiced on Thursday to make sure they stuck, and we did a few other fun rehearsal items. (Such as marching in place when they were playing to focus on keeping time. I asked them if they had ever seen a marching band and they said no, so it was fun to watch them experience marching for the first time!)
Like I said before, I felt sad to be leaving for a number of different reasons. I really wanted to give them everything I could, and I feel like I was able to do that during my short time with them, but there is so much more work to be done. These students were so hard working, thankful, and appreciative of everything, and despite the conditions, it was such a positive place to be.
Next, I was saddened by the fact that many of them will not have the chance to leave Kenya. Of course, I offered to them if they have the opportunity to travel to the US they are always welcome with me, but I even hesitated to say that because I know that will likely not happen. (Although one student, Simon, is traveling to the US for a conference in September and we are trying to arrange a side trip down to Georgia-- so exciting!!) I took some of their e-mail addresses and will send as much music and as many YouTube videos as I can, but part of me felt guilty to come and go like I did. It's like, I was there for two weeks, but then I get to go back to my beautiful home with my car and television and hot shower and amazing food, and they don't get to do that. But then at the same time, they are so used to their way of life, that I'm pretty sure most of them don't even think twice about it.
I have a few more thoughts and insights I would like to share from this trip, but for the sake of length I am going to save them for another post.
Finally, as I waited at the airport I was thinking of the group of students who had the chance to travel to Poland and what that must have been like for them. Many people told me that the attitude in Kenya is, "If you have been on an airplane, you have made it." I was overwhelmed thinking about how exciting and unreal it must have been for those students to actually board a plane and fly to a completely different country, all because of music. What an amazing thing music has done for them.
Back at it today with several hours in Korogocho followed by another Link Up session in Dandora and finally an amazing dinner with one of the conductors of the National Youth Orchestra of Kenya, Levi Wataka. (phew!) It was such a great day, but also rather exhausting-- so rather than share a lengthy blog post today, I figured I would leave this photo with the quote you see in the title, "Is Barack Obama your father?"
Though a seemingly innocent and "cute" question, it is one that is loaded with deeper meanings about race and how children view it (or DON'T view it.) I have so many more thoughts and observations on this, especially after this trip.
But for now, I will just leave us to ponder this question and the innocence behind it.
So I had hoped to be able to spend the day teaching and with the children of these wonderful programs-- either in Korogocho or at a Link Up program. Unfortunately that once again did not work out. There are multiple reasons why-- communication is quite challenging here, for whatever reason. There is not a clear vision of what the plan is during the day to day operations, and as a visitor it is quite challenging to insert myelf into something that runs so independently. On top of that, there are many events going on with some students in Poland, some returning late last night from Kisumu, and some who did not attend either trip.
However, the biggest challenge has really been not having Elizabeth here to help coordinate. She is truly the backbone of this program and fully responsible for the operation, and she is in Poland with the students who traveled there. It's wonderful that she does so much, but it has also really shown me the importance of running a program that can continue to operate at full capacity without you. I think as a teacher, I often times feel like I need to do everything-- this experience is showing me that even though it's important to be involved, that I don't necessarily need to do it all. Whether it's with the children (setting up, cleaning up, etc.) or the teachers (organizing and scheduling), it is important to let some of the responsiblities go to others.
Though the overall experience here in Kenya has been amazing, if I am being quite honest, there have been a handful of rather disappointing days like today in which I did not get to do what I came here for. Don't get me wrong-- we certainly made the best of it (see Giraffe Center photos below)-- but ultimately I came here to teach, and I am sad that did not get to happen today.
I believe I will be back at it tomorrow in Dandora. I am also hoping to make it to Koch one last time, but I am not certain that will happen. Fingers crossed for a wonderful last two days! For now, here are some Giraffe Center pictures!
The last few days have been relatively calm, with half of the orchestra in Poland the other half in Kisumu. Because of that, I had Sunday and Monday off to do a bit of exploring on my own. In that time I discovered another mall, took a coffee farm tour with Avery, tried out Crossfit Kwetu, and treated myself to a fancy dinner. Not a bad couple of days!
But now back to the good stuff-- again, since many of the Ghetto Classics members (and the van that provides transportation) are gone, it's been a tricky couple of days. I was able to meet up with one of the tutors, Joseph, and journey to Dandora this afternoon for his Link Up class. Dandora is the other side of the dump site, and though it is not a slum, it is still a very low income neighborhood. When I was first trying to sort out how we would travel there, I asked if we could take a "matatu" (public transport). He said definitely not, and he only ever goes here by transportation provided by The Art of Music Foundation.
In fact, I learned that Dandora is one of the most dangerous places because there is a high percentage of the residents who are involved in cartels and gangs. This means there are also a lot of guns-- especially guns in the wrong hands. With that being said, we were on the school grounds at all times, so we never felt unsafe. I could also see a slight improvement from the schools in the slums (although it was very minimal.) I actually met the head of the school and we are going to meet again on Thursday so he can share more about the school and it's mission with me. I am looking forward to that.
Despite the danger, the students were once again wonderful. These kids are passionate. You can really feel that in their excitement towards playing and learning. Something else that really struck me was the independence of these studens (and all of the students I have interacted with at every school, really.)
When we arrived, all the teacher had to say was "get ready," and that prompted the students to do the following: (**note these are young students, 10 years old and younger**)
Get the recorders from a different room and carry them to the class.
Get the music books from a different room and carry them to the class.
Set all of the desks and stands up.
Pass out the music books.
Carry the keyboard and set it up as well.
He then taught the class in it's entirety. I also had the opportunity to do some rhythm games, recorder playing, and singing. I brought the Kookaburra song out of retirement and taught them three verses of it! They loved it and were chanting, "More, more!" when it was just about time to finish. Finally, when the hour was up we left with all of the materials and supplies not yet put away. I asked him if the students would clean up and make sure they were put away, and he confidently said, "yes, they will take care of it." I was still a bit surprised that we would just leave with the room in a bit of chaos like that, and this time he said, "It's their recorders, not mine."
I thought this was really striking-- the amount of independence even the very young students have here. The teachers don't really do much in terms of set up. In every single school I have visited, the students do everything. It's something I think is really important in terms of building ownership for what they are doing. It's also something I can do a better job at in my own classroom. Besides the idea of building ownership, I think the children are more independent from a young age in general here, especially in the slums. I see children running on the streets by themselves all of the time. They have to walk to school, take care of their siblings, and many times their parents aren't around. Because of this they seem to be able to handle responsibilities that students back home might not be used to. This has been an incredibly eye opening observation for me during my time here.
Another thought that has crossed my mind during my time here is this question that I've received many times, "Is it safe?" or "Do you feel safe?" This is a question that is prompted by travel advisories and the media portraying Africa as this dangerous land where Americans should not go, and is unfortuantely quite false. We have honestly gone to the most dangerous places in Nairobi while we were here, and the only time I felt unsafe was when one of my Uber drivers got lost at night and started asking me for directions (and of course I had no idea where we were!) Of course I haven't actually walked through the slums, (and I would never do that), but neither would the residents here!
Here's the thing-- common sense will keep you safe. Will someone snatch your phone if you are driving with your car window down and stuck in traffic? Yes. Will someone steal your wallet while you are on a matatu and not paying attention? Yes. Is there a chance you may get robbed if you are walking alone at night? Yes. BUT THIS COULD HAPPEN ANYWHERE. You wouldn't drive through a dangerous New York City neighborhood at night with the car doors unlocked. I mean-- I used to get freaked out driving around in New Haven by myself at night! You wouldn't ride a public bus with your bag wide open. You wouldn't walk through the streets of a dangerous Philadelphia neighborhood by yourself. Just because we are in Kenya, it's not any different.
When I tell my AirBNB host or my Uber drivers where I have been they all have the same reaction, "Oh my gosh! It's dangerous there!" Even the people of Kenya know where not to go-- the same way people in the United States know where not to go. So this whole notion that it's dangerous to travel here has really upset me. It upsets me because I had a preconceived idea that maybe it would be dangerous. It upsets me because I almost didn't travel here because I thought I wouldn't be safe. It upsets me because the United States media paints this picture of Africa that is completely false.
I have never met people more welcoming than the people of Kenya. Are there bad people here? Absolutely. But aren't there bad people anywhere you go in the world?
One of the questions I've been asking as many people involved with Ghetto Classics as I can is, "do you see a different in the children?" And the answer without hesitation is always "Yes." The transformation that has been seen in the Korogocho community is pretty unbelievable. Every student in the orchestra has a story, but one student's really stood out to me. His name is David, and he is a violinist. You can read about it below:
I spent the day in Kariobangi, a low income neighborhood right next to the Korogocho slum, for performances by both the Ghetto Classics Orchestra and the Safaricom Youth Orchestra. (or the "poor kids and the rich kids" as many of them put it) This was the first time I saw the full GC Orchestra, and it was much larger than I thought it would be. I was quite impressed with their sound, technique, and overall performance. In fact, I had the opportunity to conduct the band in a piece we rehearsed earlier in the week called Flourish. It was a last minute decision, and the group literally sight read the piece one time (most of them were not in the rehearsal earlier in the week, so about 75% were sight reading) and then we performed it in concert. It went surprisingly well, and the audience really loved it. I was amazed at their sight reading abilities! The level of musicianship here is really quite high. Next the Safaricom Youth Orchestra (SYO) performed, and I was able to try my hand at trombone and played with the ensemble. It was interesting to hear both ensembles and to hear the differences between them. GC really sounded great, and you would never have been able to tell it was the "poor" ensemble.
The Mouthpieces for All Initiative made another donation. This time we donated a flute, french horn mouthpiece, a trombone mouthpiece, and two more tuba mouthpieces. The students were so happy, and we were excited to help. I found out later that there used to be only two french horn mouthpieces for five players, so the students would have to rotate who played and share the same mouthpieces. As of today they finally have enough for every student!
It has been a wonderful trip so far, and I am starting to really love Kenya. The people continue to be so warm and welcoming. Pretty much every person-- from the Uber drivers to the students to the teachers-- I have met says the same thing, "OH! First time in Africa! Welcome! Welcome to Kenya!" They have so much pride for their country, and that is evident in just about everything they do. On top of that, the children are just so wonderful. They are hungry for knowledge and so thankful for everything. They listen and try to learn. They love to play. They want opportunities, and when they get them they are so humble. I have never been in an environment like this. They showered me with compliments about my conducting, the music I brought, and continue to thank me for my time. Meanwhile, they are the ones giving me this beautiful gift. I have so much respect for what Elizabeth and the team at The Art of Music Foundation has been able to achieve. I am excited for the rest of my stay, and to return in the future! Two weeks in Kenya just doesn't seem like enough.
If you didn't know, President Obama is currently on his way to Kenya for a big event sponsored by his sister on the other side of the country in Kisumu. About 20 of the GC students will board a bus at 5 AM tomorrow where they will have the opportunity to play for the event on Monday. I was overwhelmed with emotion today watching them have their final rehearsal. As I looked around, I realized that without this organization they would likely never leave the slum. GC has given them so much, and now they get to say they have done this amazing thing.
On top of that, the amount of work that goes into planning is quite remarkable. The foundation has arranged for them to spend the night in The Art of Music Foundation office because it would be too dangerous for them to be out at 5 AM. They have packed clothes for them and will feed them all of their meals. They had to purchase sheets, because the dorm in which they will spend the night does not provide them-- and that is not even for the international trip! The trip to Poland involved getting passports (which means getting birth certificates and ID cards), visas, plane tickets, and so much more. However, as Elizabeth said today, "You do it for the children." She couldn't be more right, "You do it for the children."
The past few days have been so busy with all of the different activities going on. Ironically enough, the time spent teaching is not nearly as much at the time spent driving. With that being said, here are some highlights of the past few days!
The Sheldrick Elephant Orphange rescues baby elephants from the wild and rehabilitates them back to their natural environment. It was so interesting to learn about the process they use to rehabilitate the animals. They are kept separately from other African wildlife for the first 3-5 years of their lives. Then they begin being reintroduced to other wild animals and elephant families. This process takes an additional 3 years. Finally, when the keepers feel they have been accepted into an elephant family they are released into the wild. The elephants are rescued for different reasons-- some have mothers who died of natural causes, but most have mothers who died due to humans-- either poaching, hunting, or other man-made causes. The very young elephants stay on infant formula (they have found over the years that it works best) for the first two years of their lives. They drink 24 liters a day of formula!
This visit happened on Wednesday morning. That day I was supposed to have gone to visit a Link Up! program, however the timing did not work and the plans unfortunately fell through. Of course, I was disappointed, but I also understand that these issues will happen. The Art of Music Foundation has just one vehicle to make it's many transportation needs happen. The plans were laid out for us to attend, but it just didn't work. C'est la vie!
Thursday made up for our missed teaching on Wednesday, as we were once again quite busy! The morning started in Korogocho where I was able to work with several of the band students. I brought two pieces for them: Flourish by Sandy Feldstein & Larry Clark, and Air for Band by Frank Erickson. We read and rehearsed both of them, and wow, do they sound wonderful! When I heard the group earlier I was unsure of their ensemble skills-- they are great individual players, but as a group didn't connect. However, with these real, wind ensemble pieces, all of the puzzle seemed to come together. It just goes to show the importance of playing quality music-- pop arrangements can be great and certainly serve their purpose, but playing wind band literature is really quite important.
Avery had the chance to work with the string players and brought some music of his own as well. When we first arrived, the Ghetto Classics tutors and members all agreed on the fact that the strings are the weaker section. However, they were playing pieces that were arranged for band with no bowing written and in keys like Ab and Eb major (which for those of you non-musicians out there are not good keys for string instruments.) It was great to hear that with some proper string music things started to lock in for them. I hope that both the band and the strings will be able to continue to play music that is pedagogically sound for their respective instruments, even after my time here is done.
You'll also see some pictures of our first donation through my wonderful husband's organization, The Mouthpieces for All Initiative. We will be donating several tuba, trombone, and french horn mouthpieces as well as a flute to Ghetto Classics. The tuba players were so happy for their new mouthpieces. Thanks, Joseph!
We then made the long journey to Kongo Primary School in Kiambu County. Though it is not a slum, it is a very rural and poor area. The children walk up to 5K just to get to school because the government does not provide busses for it's schools. Only private school students receive bussing. This Link Up! program has been in place for just over a year, and the students really seem to enjoy it. There are several of these programs around, all under the umbrella of The Art of Music Foundation. The tutors do an excellent job at following the curriculum and going at the same pace as one another. They have excellent tricks and tips that I am keeping track of for when I teach my recorder classes next year!
The students at this school where very excited to see us, and kept playing a game in which they would approach me like they wanted to touch my hand but would then run away. The risky ones would get closer and closer, but as soon as I reached out they started laughing and ran. Finally, one brave students touched my hand and then suddenly they all wanted a chance. It was cute, but also made me realize that many of them don't have any experiences with white people. Even though they thought it as a joke and were laughing, I bet some of them were actually afraid of what might happen if they touch me. In the end, we all became friends though!
This is the van that gets us everywhere. It's the only vehicle the organization owns, and therefore has a lot of kilometers on it. Today's route was something like: pick up--> main office --> storage container --> back to main office --> Korogocho --> forgot something in Korogocho so drive the dirt road back --> main office --> Drop a tutor at a different Link Up! program --> Mukuru --> home. It was quite the journey.
Today was similar to yesterday in terms of teaching. It was the first time I saw the students a bit chatty and energetic during their lessons. (In the recorder class) The teacher was a bit frustrated, saying he didn't know why they were like that. I told him not to worry and that it was Friday and kids are like that everywhere on Friday. I did have to laugh though, because his definition of misbehaving was really how students normally act back home. They were still quite respectful and followed the lesson-- they were just a little silly at different points.
Something we were discussing was how students here fear their teachers because of the power teachers have. If they misbehave teachers really have permission to beat them. Then they will tell their parents and the child will be beat again at home. Whether you agree or not, it is an interesting perspective because the children truly do take their educations seriously and are at school to learn. They don't feel they have to be "entertained," and they don't have fancy technology to keep them engaged. The lessons are very generic, but also very effective. I have been having such conflicting thoughts on what I think is the best approach. I think there is value in the way we teach in the United States-- through project based learning and other activities that are not just sitting behind a desk learning facts. However, after having been here and seeing how much these children know from sitting behind a desk and essentially reciting their knowledge, I am left unsure as to what way is better. Of course there is not a right or wrong answer to this question-- but this experience is really opening my eyes to the various approaches to education. More on this later!
Besides that, during one of our long car rides, I had quite the interesting conversation with a few Kenyan tutors about the idea of rich vs. poor in Kenya and the United States. I plan to share that conversation, but that must be a different post. I have so many thoughts on the subject, and I do believe this post is long enough already. For now, a few more pictures from today.
It's a well-known fact that the government of Kenya (and many African countries) is "corrupt." I feel like we throw that term around quite often without really understanding what the corruption actually means. Here is an example of the sickening corruption that takes place in the Kenyan government via the garbage dumpsite in Korogocho.
Don't get me wrong-- any slum you go to is bad. Whether it be Kibera (one of the largest in the world), Mukuru (a small slum outside of Nairobi), or any other, they are terrible living conditions. Something about Korogocho is different though. The burning fumes and the random wafts of awful rotting garbage make for an environment that is not only extremely unhealthy, but also inhumane for everyone.
The government profits from the garbage dump. "Dump gangs" control what goes into the dump site. In order for trash companies to dump there they have to pay the dump gangs. If you try to dump without paying, you will essentially be found and either tortured or killed. Everyone pays to dump. The dump gangs then give that money to the government, and the government flaunts it's riches while the people of Korogocho and nearby slum, Dandora suffer.
At one point, a company from China had offered to come and remove the trash and clean up the dump site. The citizens of Kenya were so happy, but the government voted to not take on the project-- because it would lose all of the money from the site if it no longer existed. Meanwhile, the United Nations Environmental Program headquarters is literally less than 8 km away.
Seeing this first hand has been so upsetting for so many different reasons. There are so many children and families living there, in the stench and fumes of the dump site, and yet they are stuck living in these deplorable conditions. It really makes you wonder how something so awful could happen like this.
Through fate, cellist and educator Avery Waite ended up at Ghetto Classics during my time as well. It has been nice to have someone with me on this journey and to hear about his experiences in Afghanistan, India, El Salvador, and more. He's an amazing cellist and is involved in many social justice for music programs. You can read about his non-profit, MusAid here.
Day four offered many adventures for both Avery and myself! We began our journey at the Ghetto Classics storage container where we did some services to several of the string instruments. It is amazing that all of the materials they receive are through donations. There were some really beautiful instruments there, and they have all been generously donated by other musicians. We were able to fix many broken strings and help organize a few items before our next stop on our journey.
We made a quick stop at The Art of Music Foundation office before heading back to the Ghetto Classics program at Korogocho ("Koch") School was in session today, but we were still able to find some time to work with the students. The rehearsal was wonderful-- we played several of their pieces, including arrangements of "Perfect" and "Radioactive," as well as practicing some breathing exercises, which the students seemed to really like. During our break, one of the trombone and trumpet players pulled out their Arban's book and practiced some exercises together. It was so interesting to see that even all the way in East Africa!
These students love to play. We rehearsed for almost 3 hours and they desperately wanted to keep going, but I unfortunately had to leave. They are hungry for knowledge and spend many hours on their instruments playing and playing. What I noticed though, is that many of them are lacking structure. They play, play, play, but do not spend much time rehearsing. Throughout my short time with them I noticed that each and every one of them can play their parts individually. However, they often have a hard time getting those individual parts to come together as an ensemble. We were able to make some wonderful progress, and I am hoping to work with some of the lead tutors on rehearsal techniques and ways to improve as an ensemble.
Because travel to Korogocho is challenging, the transportation of tutors and instruments is often running late. Besides that, traffic in Nairobi is like nothing I have ever seen before. People generally stay to the left (everything is to the left here!), but there are hardly any traffic lights and speed limits posted (and when there are traffic lights, people ignore them.) There are pedestrians everywhere, especially in the slums. There are two types of busses that are all independtly owned-- smaller vans and larger busses. They basically rule the roads and can do whatever they want without any repercussions. On top of that, they are super crowded, and during rush hour you will literally see people hanging out of them because they are so full.
The reason I bring this up, is because despite all of these conditions and obstacles, the students in Koch are still so enthusiastic and never miss an opportunity to play their instruments. They really do their best with what they are given, and I now realize it is my task to give them as much as I can in order to set them up for even more success. In the meantime, they will continue to give me this beautiful experience that is a gift in every single way.
Mzungu (um-zun-gu) is the Swahili term for "white person" and I heard it yelled excitedly so many times today. We were able to spend the morning at the Kenya Music Festival. It is a music competition among every school in Kenya that has several rounds. Today was the start of round two. It was so amazing to watch these children perform traditional songs, poems, and dances throughout the day. The costumes were so incredible. Ghetto Classics had a handful of students there, performing in the instrumental category. They sounded great!
It was so fun to watch all of these children perform. Not a single one of them was having a bad time, and I never saw students being yelled at, crying, or misbehaving. Everyone (including the teachers) was just having fun. The students waited outside for their performances, and many of them waited a long time (like 4-5 hours!). They did their practices and got into their costumes, but also had a lot of freedom to roam around. I was amazed at how much trust and confidence the teachers had in their students. There were literally thousands of children running around in a sort of organized chaos.
And not a single cell phone.
So much has happened in the past two days! Yesterday we travled to Korogocho to work with the older orchestra. I spent about 2 hours with the trombones and tubas and a bit of time listening to the orchestra rehearse that is going to Poland next week. I will admit, I did not know what to expect in terms of the level of the students, but let me tell you, these kids can play. They all had really beautiful sounds, and the concepts we practiced were no different than what I would have worked on with any student back home: note shapes, beginnings of notes, ends of notes, pushing air through phrases, and a bit of vibrato work. It was truly a gift to hear them play and to hear their exictement for music. They were engaged, focused, asking questions, and everything a good student should do.
Meanwhile, the garbage dump in the background had caught fire and was smoldering, (This is a common occurence, as the chemicals that are dumped often have reactions and catch fire.) and the smoke rolled on in. The students are so used to it, that their environment doesn't even phase them.
Today we traveled back to Mukuru for Link Up! classes. The most important thing that struck me was the discipline these children had towards playing recorders. They were not playing them as loud as they could, or being obnoxious with the instrument. They listened, they were engaged, and they learned. On occassion they played when the teacher was talking, but as soon as he said, "Don't play when I'm talking." they stopped. Amazing.
I was also able to sit down with The Art of Music Foundation and Ghetto Classics founder, Elizabeth Njoroge. Elizabeth has built this program up from literally nothing to what it is today. The teaching artists visit the primary schools during the week, giving them Link Up! recorder lessons. It is open to any child who wants to participate. The recorder classes serve as a means of filtering out the students who aren't really interested in music, since they cannot play an instrument until they learn to read music and are proficient at the recorder. Then they can join the Ghetto Classics Orchestra that practices on Saturday and Sundays.
Since it's beginning, Ghetto Classics has had many visitors from multiple countries. The group has played for the Pope, during his visit to Kenya. Next week half of the ensemble is traveling to Poland to perform with the hip hop artist JIMEK. Meanwhile, the other half of the orchestra will make a 7 hour drive across the country to perform at event for President Obama (Oprah Winfrey will be there too!) On top of that, it has added locations in Mombasa and it's most recent program in Mukuru. It is all made possible by Elizabeth. She is truly a visionary when it comes to planning what the programs should be. She is welcoming, warm, and genuine, and it's so wonderful to now know her.
It has only been a few days, but I have already learned how welcoming the people of Kenya are. They are proud of their country, but also love to have visitors. We have shared some wonderful conversations about race, politics in the United States, poverty, and many other world issues. Though I am one of the only white people around, I have not once felt uncomfortable or singled out because of that-- this is something I wish we could see back home. They are humble and want to learn from us, but they also want to share their culture. It continues to be an incredibly humbling experience.
**This post is courtesy of jet lag, as it is 1:00 AM in Naiobi, but my body thinks it is 6 PM at home.**
I made it through two 8 1/2 hour plane rides and safely landed in Nairobi, Kenya. "Welcome to Kenya!" was the phrase that was repeated over and over today, and everyone really meant it. As soon as I arrived, I immediately felt a sense of welcoming from everyone, and that certainly continued throughout the day. Most people have said, "Two weeks isn't long enough!"
Today was great because I was able to see the logistics of how the many operations run. Ghetto Classics is under a larger foundation called The Art of Music Foundation. Through The Art of Music there is Ghetto Classics in three slums: Korogocho, Mukuru, and another in Mombasa (though I will not be visiting that one), a program called Safaricom Youth Orchestra, The National Youth Orchestra of Kenya, and a program run through Carnegie Hall in the primary schools called Link Up. Everything except Link Up happens on Saturdays.
There are two drivers (but only one van) for the programs, and I was able to tag along with them today. Our first stop was a storage container where we picked up several instruments that cannot be stored at the locations of the programs. From there, it was about a 30 minute drive to Safaricom. The Safaricom orchestra takes place in a beautiful building and is a mix of "rich" students (as they put it) and children from the slums. It is a unique opportunity for them to combine and show how music has no boundaries based on where you come from. I didn't get to hear the orchestra play, but I did hear a few kids jamming before rehearsal and they sounded great!
At Safaricom we dropped off several items, grabbed a quick snack, and immediately headed out to the slum called Mukuru kwa Reuben about 45 minutes away to pick up instruments the students were using in order to bring them to the next rehearsal.
It was at Mukuru that I had my first experience with the children! As we were walking up, this little girl immediately started waving excitedly and sprinted towards us. I assumed she was saying hello to the two drivers, since the kids know them, but it turns out she was not-- she was running straight towards me! She never spoke, but was holding my hands, hugging me, and touching my hair for about 20 minutes while I observed the rehearsal. It was a wonderful welcome into the community.
I won't go into the details of the rehearsal now, as I want to keep this a purely logistical post, but let me just say, that these young kids were so well behaved, I couldn't believe it! In the background hundreds of other children in the slum were playing (soccer, tag, or just running), but the students in rehearsal were so focused on playing their instruments. It was unbelievable. I did have the opportunity to conduct for about 15 minutes and it was so fun! I can't wait to work with them again next Saturday.
After we stayed for about 45 minutes the children loaded their instruments up in the van and we drove to the next program in Korogocho, about another 45 minutes away. The rehearsal couldn't start until we and the other tutors arrived. The students patiently waited outside the school until their teachers arrived and immediately began unloading and setting up in their sectional locations. I played trombone with the low brass section and then got to lead a few exercises. We worked on articulation and air speed-- concepts I would teach any student, anywhere.
I will admit that I felt a bit uncomfortable and out of place early on-- I have never been anywhere like this before-- but as soon as we had instruments in our hands and began working on the music, it became different. We all share this common bond, and the music really does unite us. In fact, they had arrangements of a few pieces I have played with my students in the United States!
Once again these children were so focused and well behaved. I couldn't tell if they liked me because they were so "down to business," but when I said I had to leave and I would be back tomorrow the tuba player immediately threw his head back and said "YES!!" That certainly meant a lot.
We stayed for about an hour, and then it was time to go. The instruments stay there over night since they have rehearsal again tomorrow, on Sunday. We made the 45 minute trek back to Safaricom to pick up the remaining supplies and a few teachers to drive them home.
So to summarize, a typical Saturday for the drivers of The Art of Music: Storage locker --> Safaricom --> Mukuru --> Korogocho --> Safaricom --> Home. With each drive being a minimum of 30 minutes. Their day begins at around 9:30 and ends around 4 PM, and it is mostly driving to different places. They don't seem to mind though; they are just happy to be bringing music to the children. I'm so excited to share the rest of my experiences throughout this two weeks.
I will post about the rehearsals themselves soon! But for now, a few day one photos. (Scroll over them, or click for captions.)
I am honored to have been selected as a 2018 Fund for Teachers Fellowship Recipient. Through this grant I will travel to Nairobi, Kenya to work the the El Sistema based music program, Ghetto Classics. This blog will share information and stories about my first journey to Africa.