**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.