Spotted in Manila, 2014

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.

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