Spotted in Manila, 2014

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The perfect finish.

Last night, Trade Winds got to be part of an exhilarating performance with the Nairobi Orchestra, East Africa's premiere symphony orchestra. The program included Wagner's "Der Meistersinger", the world premiere of Kenyan composer, Njane Mugambi's "Ujenzi", Paul Basler's "Uhuru", Philip Mundey's "Tales of the Bukusu", Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and opening the concert, Mozart's "Sinfonia Concertante" with the five of us as featured soloists. After such a fantastic program with both works I was very familiar with, and African pieces I was just getting to know, I didn't think today could be any better than last night. But I was pleasantly surprised when I looked out into the audience to see it filled with students from every school we had taught at over the last three weeks. WOW.

Yesterday, I mentioned to the students at Rise and Shine that if they were interested and able to attend the concert, I was willing to pay for the ticket. I didn't expect over 10 of them to be able to come! I was out a few shillings, but was so so happy to do it for them. Especially since they WALKED from Kawangware to see the performance. They gave me so much by being there.

Following the Mozart, the five of us left the stage and hugged Christina and Ellen goodbye as they hurried to the airport to catch their flight back to New York. Brian and I will be returning to New York tomorrow.

Seeing our students filling the hall today was really the perfect ending to such a meaningful outreach project, and a wonderful culmination of a year of hard work both as teachers and performers. It was like the end of a great, tear-jerking movie, everyone brought together by the music.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rise and Shine Concert!

Today Trade Winds celebrated our final day at the Rise and Shine Academy by being proud audience members. Our two weeks of workshops culminated in a concert of original musical creations written, arranged, and performed by all of the students.

Our day began earlier than usual when we arrived at the school planning to set up the courtyard with desks and chairs for the audience. We were delighted to see that the students had already filled the space with seats and were sweeping the ground with sweet-smelling eucalyptus branches. By seeing this, as well as knowing the hours they had rehearsed for today, I was so touched by their teamwork to make their concert a great one.

The concert began with a brief prayer from Principal Kilo, the way all school events begin at Rise and Shine. Then as requested by the students, the quintet played Brian's arrangements of the national anthems of both Kenya and America while every student sang the words to both.

Classes performed in alphabetical order, beginning with Class A. They chose to perform a song that Christina taught them, "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" with accompaniment which they composed made up of stomps and claps.  Throughout our workshop together, we explored the musical terms "melody" and "accompaniment" which we incorporated into our study of eighth notes and quarter notes. Their performance showed their knowledge of these musical ideas. Next Class B performed another American song, "BINGO", again with accompaniment. Class A returned to the stage to join them, this time with their recorders to perform their version of "Hot Cross Buns", but with the words "Ugali" (a staple of Kenyan diet made of cornmeal). One class played the piece on their instruments while the other class sang the words, then switched roles in a repeat of the piece.

Class C continued the show by singing their original song "Community" which they spent the last week writing. Then, Class D sang their creation, "Individual" which they rehearsed each day (see my post "Rise and Shine Week 2" to read the full lyrics to these new pieces of music). Both classes joined together in a similar performance of "Hot Cross Buns" with their instruments, this time using the word "Mandazi" (a Kenyan donut-type pastry).

As a quintet, we decided to get in one last chance to educated and did a brief quintet performance for the students. Following this, we thanked them and gave them the news that the recorders were theirs' to keep. Their cheers and screams echoed throughout all of Kawangware. We had more to give them--in graduation-like ceremony, we called each student up by name and they received a small cookie and diploma signed by Trade Winds and Principal Kilo. They deserved more for their hard work, but we were still happy to give them this small award of successful completion.

While watching the students, I was so proud to be a musician. I witnessed the power music had on these students, giving them the joy and confidence to perform for their peers original works which they had created. I also felt lucky to be a musician and that I can even consider pursuing music as a career. For many of the students at Rise and Shine, a two week workshop with Trade Winds is the only music education they will ever experience. I feel so fortunate to get to play music every single day. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rift Valley Academy (and some bassoonists!!)

Last Sunday when we attended rehearsal with the Nairobi Orchestra, I noticed a high school wind ensemble rehearsing in another room of the building. It was a large ensemble, with many flutes and clarinets, seven horns, two oboes, and… two BASSOONS! After only seeing one bassoonist in Kenya, the man who plays in the Nairobi Orchestra, I could not miss the chance to find out who these students were. I approached the band director, Steve Taylor and he explained that he knew that Trade Winds was in Nairobi. He invited us to work with his school, the Rift Valley Academy, where we spent the afternoon today.

RVA is a boarding school for children of missionaries who work throughout Africa. 500 students, grades K-12 make up the student body and about 150 of those students study music with Mr. Taylor. We knew that the school valued music and the arts when we arrived for our interactive concert and were greeted with screams and cheers of more than half of the entire school—what made this so special was that the concert was only scheduled two days ago and it was optional to attend.

We performed the concert we prepared to perform at the International School of Kenya again. The program included activities to teach about Ligeti’s “Six Bagatelles”, the Nielsen Quintet, and Malcolm Arnold’s “Three Shanties”. The students were so enthusiastic, they cheered for everything including our instrument demonstrations and tuning note. Then, following the concert, they all crowded the stage to get our autographs! We had never felt so famous!

When the chaos settled down, a few band students remained: the flutes, clarinets, oboes, horns, and bassoons. We were sent by Mr. Taylor to lead sectionals and I learned about the reason there are bassoonists at RVA, when they are probably two of only three bassoonists in all of Kenya. Several years ago, an American student attended RVA and played bassoon in the band. He came to RVA with a previous knowledge of playing the bassoon and taught a younger student what he knew. This beginner played on an instrument that the school happened to have in storage. When the older student left Kenya to pursue degrees in music back in the US, he donated an instrument to the school so that it would always have two bassoons. Then, the formerly younger student grew up, taught a beginner, they grew up and taught someone else, and the cycle continued 7 years until today. I saw it happening during my visit to RVA and I saw it working with the two students there. But I was still able to offer some help about breathing, articulations, and tone quality. I hoped to get them re-inspired to be playing the bassoon since I’m sure it is easy to get bored with being two of the only bassoonists in an entire country. Working with the two students was a great reminder of how much can be taken for granted as an American musician—it is easy to find method books, reeds, an instrument, a teacher. But in Kenya, even for the best, most privileged students, these resources just aren’t available. I suggested they purchase a book to practice scales and arpeggios and they were happy to buy it, but said that with the difficulty of shipping from America of the UK, they probably wouldn’t get the order by the end of the school year. This was the same response they gave me when I suggested buying new reeds, but they said they would do their best.

It was so refreshing and rewarding to finally work with some young bassoonists! Since I hadn’t had a chance to in Kenya yet, I was so exited and glad that we were able to coordinate with RVA.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rise and Shine Academy week 2

I was so excited to get back to work at Rise and Shine this Monday. The weekend felt so long without seeing the students!

Brian and I taught together on Monday, working with the students on recorder. It's amazing how much of a difference it makes teaching with Brian, with whom I have taught for month already. The students decided what they would like to perform on Saturday and we spent our class rehearsing the material. All four classes, A, B, C, and D unanimously decided they would like to perform the songs they learned, "Mandazis" and "Ugali Song". These are both staple foods of Kenya which we used instead of "Hot Cross Buns". To the same tune, the students sing (and play on recorder) "Mandazis, mandazis, I like eating, I like eating mandazis" and "Ugali, ugali, I like eating, I like eating ugali".

On Tuesday, Christina and I discussed melody and accompaniment with the students. In classes A and B (the younger classes), the students composed an accompaniment figure to a new song they learned, the Itsy Bitsy Spider. The accompaniment was made up of beat patterns created with claps, thigh slaps, stomps, and snaps. Then with classes C and D, the students composed similar accompaniment figures to melodies of songs they sang as children in small groups of three. We used this to teach toward Stravinsky's "Suite for Small Orchestra", a piece that has very clear accompaniment figures supporting a folk melody. Then, the students performed their creations for the rest of the class and their peers identified who was in the role of melody and accompaniment.

Today, Ellen and I taught a very special lesson. With classes A and B, we composed a new accompaniment figues for the Itsy Bitsy Spider which they will perform with accompaniment at their performance on Saturday. In the afternoon, classes C and D wrote songs. Ellen and I found a few quotes from the students journals and created sentences which the students would complete to turn into a rondo. Since they know all about rondo form now, they knew the would need to compose a class refrain which they will all sing, and then in small groups they would compose episodes. Class C wrote a song about their community and class D's song was about individuality. These were the prompts we gave the classes.

Class C Refrain:
A community is ______________. I have an important role in my community. We are here together to help each other.

Class C Episode:
My role in the community is ___________. I ________, ________, and ________. My community needs me.

Class D Refrain:
Being an individual means ____________. I am an individual. I am unique. I love myself.

Class D Episode:
I am unique because _____________. _________ is my style. I love what I have in my life.

All of these words were taken from the student's journals and they were very excited to see their own words turned into song. In their groups they filled in the blanks here and composed these complete rondos:

Class C: Community
A community is a group of people who share a common goal. I have an important role in my community. We are here together to help each other.

My role in the community is helping the needy. I help my family, and work. My community needs me.

A community is a group of people who share a common goal. I have an important role in my community. We are here together to help each other.

My role in the community is to help elders and poor, my role in the community. My community really needs me.

A community is a group of people who share a common goal. I have an important role in my community. We are here together to help each other.

My role in the community is helping the poor. Sharing ideas, common goals, and visions. My community needs me.

Class D: Individuality

Being an individual means being special and unique from the rest. I am an individual. I am unique. I love myself.

I am unique because I differ from the rest. Mingling is my style. I love what I have in my life.

Being an individual means being special and unique from the rest. I am an individual. I am unique. I love myself.

I am unique because I'm different. Being specific is my style. I love what I have in my life.

Being an individual means being special and unique from the rest. I am an individual. I am unique. I love myself.

I am unique because I compose beautiful music. Music is my style. I love what I have in my life.

The songs they created were really moving and I can't wait to keep rehearsing them for the performance and premiere on Saturday!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

KNYO and the Nairobi Orchestra

Yesterday, Trade Winds had our third and final day off from teaching during our project. We were so lucky to spend it in the STUNNING Amboseli National Park on the border of Tanzania at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We feel rested and ready to start our last week of teaching!

Today, we met with the National Youth Orchestra of Kenya. This ensemble is a diverse group of high schoolers and university students who all love music. The organization is in its third season and meets for 3 sessions and concerts every year. Originally the orchestra did not have a scheduled course while we were in the country, but we got lucky and they added a fourth session that occurred during our visit! We joined the orchestra in rehearsal and offered tips and advice throughout the day to the students near us. They are really making beautiful music at the KNYO!

Conveniently, the Nairobi Orchestra rehearsal we were scheduled to attend was in the same room as where we worked with the youth orchestra. So we stayed and joined the orchestra that afternoon. The ensemble includes several of the same musicians from the youth orchestra, as well as adult professional musicians who have degrees in music. We rehearsed our quintet arrangement of Mozart's "Sinfonia Concertante" which we will perform as featured soloists with the orchestra. Then, the conductor invited us to join the orchestra in rehearsal of the rest of the concert: Wagner's "Die Meistersinger", Betthoven's Fifth Symphony, and Kenyan songs by Njane Mugambi, Philip Mundey, and Paul Basler. Since there are not enough bassoons and horns, Nick and I will be performing in the orchestra at the concert! We are excited to keep working with the orchestra and perform with them next weekend. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Journal Time!

Each day at the Rise and Shine Academy, we finish our daily sessions with a quiet individual reflection time. Every student has a paper journal and after class, we give them a prompt that they use to write and reflect on their day. In the evenings, we respond to each entry which really allows us to get to know every student! The students always have the option to respond in English, Swahili, or a drawing. Here are some responses that really stood out to me this week.

Why do you love music?

“I love music because it relieves all my sorrow and it exhibits my happiness in a meaningful manner.” -Elvis, 14

“I love music because it enables us to say our unspoken.” Sylvia, 15

“I love music because it is food to my ears.” -Faith, 17

“I love music because it slows down my temper when I have hunger.” -Manoah, 17

What makes you unique?

“I love myself” -Christine, 13

“I love what I have in my life” -Carringtone, 18

“I can compose beautiful music. Music is my style.” -Isaiah, 18

“I am special from the rest. I work very hard in school and classes” -Stanley, 12

What is your role in your community?

"My community needs me. I teach the babies about bad things like AIDS and help them in school." -Steven, 13

"I help the elders and my family. I am important in the community." -Frederick, 17

"I help the needy and give hope to those teenagers who think their life has come to an end" -Brenda, 16

"I sing in church and make music in my community." -Samantha, 14

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Rise and Shine Academy, Week 1

On Monday, Trade Winds began work at the school we will focus most on in Kenya, The Rise and Shine Academy in Nairobi’s Kawangware slum. As we approached the school, which is tucked in the back of the neighborhood, we were struck by the condition of the slum. We passed pigs, goats, and children alike digging through the mounds of trash that line the streets. Our focus quickly changed when we saw amazing hospitality just by entering the neighborhood. We were waved at, smiled at by the people on the streets, probably just because we are white “muzungus”.

We reached the top of a hill and I could see the school in the distance. I got chills! I could not believe the school I had been communicating and planning with for eight months was a real place, with real students ready to learn. We entered the bright red school gate to a courtyard surrounded by trees and bright blue walls. It is a beautiful school, where poverty does not matter and it is easy to forget that just outside of that red gate is the neighborhood trash field.

All 170 students were eagerly awaiting our arrival as they sat in their school desks, which they had moved outside to the courtyard. We met the principal, Peter Kilo and he explained that the students prepared a welcome ceremony for us. The ceremony was about 40 minutes long with beautiful songs, poems, and prayers written by the students about AIDS, poverty, and religion. It was so moving and I could tell the five of us were thinking, “what are we even going to teach these talented, confident kids?? They know it all!”

When the show was over, we gave them a taste of what we do with instrument demos and a few movements of the Ligeti “Six Bagatelles”.  Then I explained that they were going to get their own instruments thanks to our donors at home. I held up a recorder and the whole school burst into applause, cheers, and screams of joy. I felt so lucky to have gotten to tell them.

Distributing 170 recorders to everyone was such a challenge that we finished our day with that, exhausted. It was a wonderful first day.

On Tuesday, we began what would become our regular schedule. We decided to teach in two pairs, while the fifth member of Trade Winds would visit each class to document. Here is our daily schedule:

(Morning Ages 4-11)
9:00-9:20 Group warm up game
9:20-10:00 1st Period
10:00-10:40 2nd Period
10:40-11:00 Group journal reflection

(Afternoon Ages 12-19)
11:30-11:50 Group warm up game
11:50-12:30 1st Period
12:30-1:10 2nd Period
1:10-1:30 Group journal reflection

The classes are split by age and level in school, and each class is about 35 students. Every day, we begin with a group game which combines both classes to get moving, singing, and set the tone for the day. Then teaching pairs will split the group one pair will spend class time working on recorder, while the other teaching pair will work on something else like music theory, composition, or history. To finish the day, we join together for a reflection in the student’s journals. We give them prompts like, “Why do you love music?” or “what makes you unique?” Then in the evenings, we spend time responding to their thoughts which really allows us to get to know the students.

Tuesday was our first day of teaching and I spent it with Christina. With each class, we played one of my favorite ice breakers, Shabooya, a name game with lots of energy and a strong clapping pulse. I used this pulse to introduce quarter notes. 

On Wednesday, I took the day off to document what the classes were doing, but returned to teaching on Thursday when I taught with Ellen. Trying to teach toward the idea that music can portray different ideas and emotions, I asked the younger students a set of opening questions. The class answered in perfect unison, like they often do when addressing a teacher in Kenyan classrooms:
“Have you ever heard a piece of music that made you happy?”
“Yes ma’am, of course.”
“Have you ever heard a piece of music that sounded sad?”
“No ma’am, never.”
“Really? What about music that sounded angry?”
“No ma’am.”
One student raised their hand and explained:
“Music is so nice and beautiful. It never makes us angry or sad to hear it.”

Ellen and I brought our instruments and had the younger students to use their imagination to draw and dance to the music they heard us play. I played short contrasting excerpts like Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” Overture and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony bassoon solo. The students really enjoyed it! In the afternoon, we worked on learning rondo form with the older students. Next week, the students will use their knowledge of rondo form to compose their own rondo!

Christina and I worked together again today, teaching recorder. We prepared a worksheet that had the students fill in the correct fingerings for the notes they have learned, as well as the note names and their position on the staff for the song we taught them. We have been working hard on a song that we know as "Hot Cross Buns", but changed the words to "Mandazis" and "Ugali", staple foods of Kenya.

It has been a really beautiful and inspirational week of teaching. The students are working so hard and have taught us a lot. We are excited to really start preparing for their concert they will present next week!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ghetto Classics

In Nairobi's Korogocho slum, where the children use balls of trash to play soccer and plastic bags soar in the sky like vultures, there is a group of teenagers making beautiful music. They are students in Ghetto Classics, a free orchestra program that meets every Sunday offering lessons for the students of the neighborhood. 

I thought I had prepared myself for what I was about to see. I knew that Korogocho is Kenya's fourth largest slum with 200,000 residents within 1.5 square kilometers. However, I could not comprehend the pollution, smell, and traffic I experienced once inside. Pulling into the driveway of the school that hosts Ghetto Classics gave me so much relief, knowing we were about to make music--my own escape from the poverty. 

Our afternoon began with a group game like usual, to get the students moving, singing, and set the tone for the rest of the day. We split into sectionals: Christina with flutes, Ellen with percussion, Nick with brass, and Brian and myself with clarinets and saxophones. Brian and I started our sectional by asking each student to explain why they play with Ghetto Classics (it is an optional program, they can come on Sundays if they want. So we realized how special they were and thanked them for being there). They all said that they couldn't really explain it but without hesitation, every student said "I just love playing music." One of the older students explained that he thinks of music as paying it forward: since he is so grateful for all of his mentors, he teaches all of the primary students everything he knows about music. Another student said that "music is a tool for social change"--a phrase that is so special to Trade Winds, we use it in our mission statement. 

I shouldn't have been surprised at these poetic statements of love for playing music. I knew it was going to be a good day when immediately after meeting the students one of them raised his hand and volunteered his voice saying "I play the saxophone and I will until the day I die."

After combining sections to do an hour of woodwind and brass ensemble rehearsals, we were so lucky to be given a performance by the students. They brought me to tears as they performed both written hymns and improvised African songs with more passion and excitement than most performances I've seen. We followed them with a performance of Ligeti's "6 Bagatelles" and only hoped to bring as much energy to our performance as they brought to theirs. 

To think that they each live on just $1 a day and still give up their Sundays to practice made me so thankful to have the access to my own music. Another student explained to us that he so badly would like to take private lessons, but the professional teachers in Nairobi charge more than he could ever think to pay for lessons: $11 an hour. It put things into perspective for all of us to say the least. The students at Ghetto Classics taught me more than I would ever hope to teach them. 

Near the canal that brings water to Korogocho

The building where Ghetto Classics rehearses