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."
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.