Safaricom Youth Orchestra

If you are like me you do not think much of classical music. What good is it for? You probably grew up on Hip Hop or the more the soulful Rythm and Blues and slow jams. You probably have no clue what to make of music you can’t quite sing along or bomp your head to. So when I got an invitation to an orchestra performance, I accepted – but with a bit of reservation.

It was raining and it was a day of firsts: my first day at Bomas of Kenya (say no more), my first backstage pass to an orchestra, and what would be my first review of a live musical event.

I had gotten word about an amazing bunch of kids, put together to form an orchestra. They were to be great blend of personalities and economic backgrounds, brought together by a passion for musicianship, and were to be the showstoppers at Safaricom’s 15th anniversary celebration. I decided to tag along and check them out.

I entered the practice hall and snuck to the back, then drank of the music and of the variety before me. The array of instruments and their players struck me. Children of all manner of ages and school uniforms synchronized movements to create meticulous symphony. Some of those instruments were half their sizes. I was awestruck by how the children had mastered them skillfully as they played on piece by piece.

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I sat down with one of the girls to learn more about her experience. She is now in her last year of high school awaiting her final exams, so she was not able to be an active participant this time round due to obvious time constraints.

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‘It built my confidence,’ she says, as more of the music cut through our conversation. She found it exciting and was grateful to her music teacher for introducing the program in the school. Next to her sat two of her friends, also high school seniors. They remain part of the team.

A lot of stereotypes were squashed for me. The trombone and the saxophone, for instance, have many times been viewed to be masculine, whereas the clarinet and the violin seemed more feminine. There were no such criteria.

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Also, that children of a younger age, especially boys, could only master so much focus. My eyes therefore kept darting between the drummer at the back and the girls with wind instruments of larger sizes a few feet from him. I caught him counting the tempo softly before hitting his drum and I became a believer.

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An even younger boy had delved in the sea of violinists. Art of Music director Elizabeth Njoroge looked on proudly. There was an air of unity, pride, motivation, readiness, slight nerves, giddiness and purpose.

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I joined them for sound check and soon enough it was time. The auditorium was full of friends, colleagues and proud family members. Music coach Kavutha formed part of the production team, while various artists like Juliani were in audience. Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore, the former, Michael Joseph, and other distinguished guests also graced the occasion.

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The Safaricom Choir raised the curtains before the youth orchestra came onto the stage and performed a mixture of classical – one by Njane Mugambi, a Kenyan – and jazz pieces that conjured a standing ovation and encore. It was beautiful and very inspiring to witness the positive effect that classical music has on children from all walks of life, and thus to society at large.

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I learnt about the power of arranged music. Because of its demands, classical music requires a sense of responsibility, open-mindedness and discipline in handling the instruments, in laying down one’s priorities – especially in the input of personal time to learn the art – and in bringing the magic together. Children who are introduced to the discipline are able to veer off degenerative habits and influences that swarm idleness. They are salvaged from malignancies within and around their homes, and are able to develop an aptitude for excellence in academics and other spheres of life. Through classical music, several have qualified for entry into universities where chances were lean, and even went on to learn other professions. It also exposes the participants to the different cultures and backgrounds inevitably improving their worldviews. I was pleasantly surprised that there are Kenyans who are now composing classical music.

It was good to get acquainted with classical music. I say let’s have more!

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