Thursday, May 30, 2013
"Music motivates the mind"
I was so thrilled when The Nairobi School contacted me a few months ago hoping to collaborate with Trade Winds. It is a beautiful, well funded school with a student body of 1,400 high school boys. They come from all over Kenya, from all socio-economic backgrounds, and are accepted to be boarders at the school by exam. It is one of four schools in Kenya that has a band program and they truly value the impact arts have on their students' maturity and education. The students equally see the value in music. The principal explained that many students request to play in the band but must be rejected because there are not enough instruments for everyone. So the band students are considered very lucky.
We arrived at the school this morning at 8:30, pulling into the school's driveway up to a perfect grid of lined up boys in blue and grey uniforms. They were having a weekly assembly and were discussing their expected guests today--us. When they saw we arrived, we were invited to the front of the assembly and greeted with applause and a performance of both the Kenyan and American national anthems performed by the band students we were anxious to meet and work with.
The band teachers, Moses and Andrew had taken the time to create a schedule for the day. Each section would come for 2 one-hour sectionals with us throughout the workshop, and two sectionals would happen at once. This allowed each of the five members of Trade Winds to work with every student, as well as team teach with each other in different combinations of teachers.
I began by leading a brass sectional with Nick and Brian. The students were so amazingly talented and committed to playing their instruments. It was very inspiring. However because the school does so well in disciplining the students to be prim and proper, it was impossible to get the students to speak. So before our next sectional I lead a quick icebreaker game that involved yelling and jumping. To my surprise, they eagerly joined in and opened up to us. We decided to start each sectional like this for the rest of the day.
My day continued with another brass sectional, percussion sectional, and two clarinet/saxophone sectionals. As we were finishing up each session, we asked the students to explain how they chose to play their specific instruments. Not surprisingly, we heard some of the most poetic words I've ever heard from teenage boys. One clarinet student explained that he first fell in love with the clarinet when he went to an orchestra concert and heard a very beautiful sound in the ensemble. Not knowing what instrument was playing the solo, he returned to school and visited a band class. He listened to his peers on every instrument, searching for the sound he had heard at the concert. Finally, he heard the clarinet and immediately decided to join the band as the newest clarinet student.
I asked another student to explain why he loves music. He thought for a moment and said, "after a long day in math class, or of studying for exams, I come to band class tired and exhausted. But I quickly wake up and am excited to be in school, because music motivates the mind."
We closed the 8-hour day with a performance for the students and a word of thanks to the school, principal, teachers, and students. The band teacher said a few words that really illustrated his deep understanding of our mission and project. When we explained that we are the product of over 100 donors and their hard work, he insisted we return to America and thank every donor for their support and help.
His final words were, "you did not come to the Nairobi School to teach because you thought we needed or deserved your wisdom. You came out of love--the love of your supporters for you, and your own love for creating music."