Leaving

Alex and I have finally come to the end of our stay in Zambia. We managed to pack our last few days with challenges, fun and, naturally, music.

For Friday evening Estelle trustee Deirdre found us a gig at an Art Auction to raise funds and awareness for the Ngoma Dolce Academy and to give the teachers a chance to perform.  The three hour slot was well straddled thanks to the Will’s cruise-piano expertise and Alex’s superb ear for noodling. We made a total of 1429 KWV (or Kwacha), to be put towards resources at the academy. The evening’s musicking was followed up with a visit to Indian Restaurant Dil where, for the first time since our arrival in Zambia, food was served within 25 minutes of ordering. Yum yum.

The weekend featured further culinary highlights including a Braii (that’s an African Barbeque) at home with newlyweds Paul and Violet;  I am told the T-Bone steak was delicious and it was lovely to get to know the staff in a non-professional capacity, serving to make our imminent separation more poignant.

The new week brought with it the new project of providing music workshops for large groups at Lusaka’s Mulele Mwana school. For this task we were reunited with Peter Lewski, our Peace Corps friend from Boston/ “The Bush”, who was invaluable as a persuasive force in the staff-room, Bemba-speaker and connoisseur of local Wifi hotspots.  A two hour workshop was prepared for Monday morning and afternoon dedicated to singing, clapping and instrument demonstrations. Despite rumours that Zambian children would fall naturally into harmony, it became apparent that many of the children had very little exposure to singing. A few children stood out as confident and enthusiastic singers, but our collaborative efforts helped to engage all in varied activities which spawned, at times, raucous excitement.

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The second day of workshops saw increased attendance.  Also great was the enthusiasm the children brought, but maintaining control and interest in a classroom of 45 aged between eight and eighteen was knackering. Still, hilarity ensued following Merce Cunningham-inspired warm-ups and we were able to teach the basics of reading music.  Following the afternoon break two groups of girls came forwards asking if they could perform to the class; the first sang an endearing rendition of “When Jesus Say Yes (Nobody Can Say No)”, and the second a song wishing us farewell as we said our goodbyes.

That night we came together with the Academy teachers in Lebanese restaurant Mezza (in Pete’s words “unmissable”) for a last supper. I struggle to recall much about our interactions since I was having trouble taking my mind off the copious amounts of garlic and olive oil to be consumed, but I’m pretty sure the conversation was good and that a good time was had.  A bar trip followed, during which we got to know better the Academy administrator Dee’s extra-musical interests and aspirations; football, travel and politics featuring prominently.  Her parting words “I’ll see you again sometime.  In Zambia, or the UK… or the next life,” were tongue in cheek, but highlighted the real possibility of never returning to Lusaka if we don’t make a concerted effort. I seriously hope we get to go back and pursue the cause and our friendships further, but for now I’m happy to offer what advice I can over the web.

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And then there were two…

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Alex writing here, and for Steven and I the last few days have been quite something. Anna and Max’s departure last Thursday was always inevitable, but it was with heavy hearts that we said goodbye to them. We’ve become a close group over this intense, relatively short period of time.

However, our spirits have not dried up – far from it! An opportunity to promote the Academy in a performance arose, and we had just two days to prepare for it. Taking place at an art exhibition (at the Zambia National Farmers’ Union of all places), we provided musical entertainment for three hours, raising money and awareness for and about the Academy as we did so. I should explain who ‘we’ refers to – Steven and I have been joined in Lusaka by William Ham, who represents the Estelle Trust (which has provided a substantial part of the funding for our programme here). We’ve had a great time with Will, and his experience playing piano on cruise ships and the like was invaluable on an occasion such as this! The three of us were very keen that teachers should also be involved in this performance, and Obrien, Lulu and Catherine joined us to play violin and sing. It was great fun to form duets and ensembles with the teachers for this, and I know they got a lot out of it too. The variety was fantastic: personally, my evening ranged from playing entire Bach and Vivaldi suites with Obrien to playing Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ for everyone to sing along to. So, the evening was a great experience, but it was also a resounding success: we raised over 1400 kwacha (almost £150) for the Academy – not bad going for a few hours at someone else’s event!

 

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I’m writing this on Sunday evening, and Steven and I have just returned from a lovely ‘braai’ (barbecue) at Paul’s house (the director of the Academy). As well as some truly exceptional steak and wine, we discussed future ways to capitalise on the Academy’s outreach potential, and it seems there are some very worthwhile and exciting ways in which the Academy may be able to extend its programme and scope in this way. Building on the unforgettable experience we had last week at the incredibly remote school, Steven, Will and I are about to spend two days working at a community school in Lusaka. We have two 8-hour teaching days ahead of us, and we’re currently diligently planning! I feel really propelled by our experiences last week, and certainly it was an immense confidence-boost. If we can engage primary-age children living more than 40 minutes’ drive from the nearest tarmac road, many of whom don’t speak any English, then we should be able to do something really meaningful with more time in this next school.

It’s not even 9pm (or 21 hours, as we’ve been getting used to referring to it here) yet, but by this time the long Zambian nights have well and truly drawn in, and we’re finding ourselves once again remarkably ready for sleep. I think we’re going to need it…!

The end – for Anna and Max

Hi. Max here, writing from Addis Ababa airport.

We left this morning from Lusaka having had a hearty breakfast with the academy teachers, followed by a brief farewell before rushing to catch our flight home. I don’t think that I have been away long enough to be able to see our trip in a rounded sense – we both still feel as if we may be in transit to Zambia, ready to start our work there! – but this is probably a good opportunity to relate my immediate impressions of the trip as a whole.

The purpose of our venture was to provide support to music teachers, bolster the teaching provision for current students, and to expand the outreach programmes. The Muze Trust’s primary focus in Zambia is through the academy, providing musical tuition for people in Lusaka, while the Estelle Trust currently has a much broader scheme of social development in Zambia, aimed at supporting communities in a more general sense. The collaboration of these two charities results in a wide-reaching programme using music to help support impoverished communities, particularly through outreach projects with school children, and working to nurture a society that values music as a creative art form.

To that end, our programme in Zambia realised its purpose in the last few days with the introduction of William Ham to our group. He was brought on board by the Estelle Trust and with his presence, the collaboration between the work of the two charities started. It is likely that in the coming days, Steven, Alex, and William will have a far more varied programme than we have had until now; many interesting outreach projects and concerts have been proposed. That is not to say that our work at the academy was fruitless, or monotonous – quite the contrary. It is already clear that our time has been spent well at the academy. The teachers have started using some of the useful aspects of our teaching that they noticed during observations, and we have been able to play with, and for, the teachers and also helped to teach them, preparing them for exams and upcoming concerts. The children have also benefitted from our presence at the academy, as was exemplified by a sweet letter written to Anna by one of the children she taught. But it is probably a good time to start to expand our presence beyond the academy and collaborate closely with the Estelle trust and the projects that they have in the area. The intention is that in the coming week Steven, Alex, and William will work with schools in Lusaka, and perform in various events.

I think that the collaborative work of the Muze and Estelle Trusts provides a fantastic opportunity to encourage musical development in its broadest sense in Zambia and, perhaps more significantly, promote social development within the country.

 

 

And now to a rather sleepy Anna! 

The last couple of days have proved a real highlight of the trip for me. At about 10 o’clock on Tuesday morning, we received some exciting news; we were to go out to stay in a rural village for the evening and following day, in order to teach at the local village school. We were all extremely excited, and set off shortly after lunch. About 2 hours out of Lusaka, we left the main road, embarking down a dirt track in the direction of the village. The further from the road we got, the more remote the scenery, the only accommodation being mud huts. What was particularly notable was the sparse distribution of huts; spread out over about 10km, there were small clusters of huts every now and then, but no area of increased concentration as you would expect in a village. As we learnt the following morning, children walk as far as 6 km to get to school ready for a 7:15 start, often barefoot. 

As soon as we arrived, we were instantly aware that we were going to be working in a very different Zambia to the one we were used to. We were met by Pete, an ex Peace-Corp volunteer who has been in Zambia for several years and works closely with the school. He very kindly invited us to stay in his house; possibly the biggest wake up call of all, the house forced us to adjust to no electricity extremely quickly, and attempt not to count the number of huge spiders crawling around! We soon settled in though, and cooked a delicious meal over the camp fire, before heading to bed. 

In the morning, we were up extremely early; compared to the 9/9:30 starts at the Academy, arriving at the school at 7 proved to be a bit of a shock to the system! At the school, there were approximately 100 students assembled of various ages, from preschool up to about 16. Whereas normally the young students would come in for 4 hours in the morning and the older ones for 4 in the afternoon, on the day we were there they all came in at the same time to work with us. In assembly, they sang us several of their traditional songs. The natural sense of rhythm and harmony that they possess is incredible; some of the songs were in 5 part harmony, and despite the early hour, they were keen to show us what they could do. We followed this with whole group warm ups, before splitting off to do separate workshops on different things, such as rhythm, body percussion and singing. We ended the day by singing them William Byrd’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’, which felt surprisingly restricted and stiff in comparison to the music that they had performed for us. However, they all seemed to really enjoy the day; the majority of the children spend their entire lives in the village, and so they were fascinated to catch a glimpse into a different culture. 

The other highlight of the trip arrived unexpectedly this morning. As we were saying goodbye to the teachers, Catherine gave me a note and a small package, which she said was from the girl I had been having some trouble with earlier in the stay (see the blogpost ‘Challenges and Rewards in the Classroom’). Reading the note brought me close to tears, as it made me realise just how much of an impact we could actually have on these children. This girl had gone from walking out of the room several times in my class and refusing to play, to making me 3 bracelets and a necklace, and saying how much she would miss me. To me, that one letter meant more than any other experience from the entire trip.

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Livingstone and Victoria Falls

We were given a long weekend free to explore Zambia. Our choice of destination was Livingstone. Home to Victoria Falls, it took a seven hour bus journey and a short taxi ride to reach our home for three nights.

 

Our first activity was to see the falls. Nothing can prepare you for the sensation of getting close to them. The sound of cascading water plummeting 100m into an abyss of vapour, churning water, and jagged rocks, the feel of that vapour flying up into the air, drawing a cool breeze behind it and leaving a trail of fine spray on the ground and all who venture too close to the edge. We were there in the dry season, when the falls are ‘a trickle’, and yet it seemed an impossibility that such a vast quantity of water could exist in the upper Zambezi river above to feed the hungry falls and Devil’s Pool below.

                Our path then took us to the cliff edge of the falls from the side of the upper Zambezi. A very peaceful expanse of water greeted our eyes as we fumbled through the bush to the water’s edge. It was remarkable that such peacefully flowing water would, in seconds, become part of the chaos of the falls.

 

The following day Steven and I went white-water rafting. An adrenaline filled morning later we returned to the hostel to await the return of Anna and Alex who had gone on an elephant safari, and lion encounter. I would like to describe in far more detail the feeling of travelling down the massive rapids, but am very pushed for time; our last few days in Zambia have taken an unexpected turn. Instead of spending our last two days teaching at the academy, we have been given the opportunity to travel to a small village some 3 hours north of Lusaka, in order to do some outreach work. We hope to produce a blog post once we return to Lusaka giving our impressions of music in this isolated, rural place.

Leaving Lusaka and Looking Past Mistakes

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We’re coach-bound to Livingstone, 3 hours in and setting off from a services break where the sun is setting over the Golden Pillow Lodge. Although our visit ends on a romantic note, the majority of it was spent waiting in line for my turn to use a urinal, apparently being sterilised by the UV bulbs chosen to light the toilets. Putting this loo visit aside, our journey has been spectacular so far.  The bush extends to the horizon on all sides where it meet the dusty sky.  In the foreground we encounter livestock, bush fires and parched Baobab waiting for the rains to restore the proud, fat silhouettes for which they are famed.

Getting out of Lusaka is a welcome break.  While the working days are long,  and our chances to get around in spare time are limited by the early dusk and the perils of driving the 1950s Land Rover affectionately called “the Beast”.  There’s no way of knowing when the fuel tank is empty, and today we found ourselves out of luck.  Fortunately we were not far from home, and with the help of some locals were able to push it along the last stretch of road to the Gossner Mission.

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Despite these challenges, it’s true to say that I’m settling in. Mornings are relaxed and expansive, featuring yoga, jogs (now met with greater enthusiasm), and in my case two breakfasts of yoghurt and granola. There’ve also been some really rewarding lessons I’ve been party to at the Academy.  Yesterday I met with their only clarinet student, who had been preparing the 1st movement of Mozart’s clarinet quintet. He’d done an impressive job, with accurate finger-work and sure musical intentions, though he lacked the technique and self-assurance to put it across. My recommended solution- as it so often is- involved discussion of legato and an “it doesn’t matter” attitude towards mistakes.

Encountering so many students makes clear the trends of malpractice which contribute to the difficult relationship any musician forms with the music they study. Perusing their books, I have seen annotations like “no dynamics”, “too slow” or simply “wrong”. When playing through recorder music for fun, teacher O’Brian insists “No, again,” after slip-ups. The Academy is a place where music has been introduced to add value to young people’s lives, away from any pressure to carve out a career, and yet music still becomes something we beat ourselves up over. I used to be confused when music teachers would ignore my mistakes in lessons, but I see now how important it is to let it go, remind students to practise slowly and focus instead on being confident, experimenting and putting music in its place as a means of expression and something to enjoy.

Challenges and Rewards in the Classroom

Anna here..

The past couple of days have been packed full of teaching, and have held, for me, one of the most rewarding personal experiences of the trip so far. Several days ago, Catherine (one of the piano teachers) had a rather difficult pupil, who decided she was not in the mood for a piano lesson, and was generally playing up. Catherine asked if I could come and help, so I went in and started trying to teach her. I was met with a rudeness that I hadn’t seen since we arrived in Zambia, and is apparently very rare in the children. She had done no practise, and physically walked out of the lesson several times. Having discussed the best approach with Catherine whilst the girl was out the room, when she returned, I was much stricter than I’ve had to be as a teacher in the past. By the end of the lesson, I had the distinct impression that this student hated me with a passion.

"Music For Fun" with Lulu
“Music For Fun” with Lulu

Yesterday, however, I had a surprise. Catherine called me out of another lesson I was observing to say that the same girl was back, and was asking if I could teach her again. Slightly surprised, I started teaching her, and found that she had worked extremely hard, and actually taken in all my suggestions from the previous lesson. We had a great lesson, at the end of which she gave a genuinely heartfelt apology for her ‘behaviour and rudeness’ in the previous lesson, explaining how she played up for attention and felt very bad about it afterwards. Her apology was entirely sincere, and completely unprompted, and we preceded to have a great chat about what she wanted to do and how she could continue with her music. The memory of those two lessons will certainly remain with me for quite a while.

Day 6 – Breaking in.

Hi all! A message from Steven…

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It’s been hard getting my head around being in Africa. As a child I used to pour over atlases, comparing the sizes and populations of the countries and trying to imagine what these places were really like. The political boundaries imposed onto the vast plan of the continent seemed to have been drawn out using a ruler and compass. The Sahara doesn’t heed politics, but when its indiscriminate sprawling is cut geometrically into shapes each one takes on an abstract identity.  When the plane descends it’s like zooming in on a global map, as big and as detailed as the real thing.  The filigree network of roads begins to throb with traffic, and soon tarmac is racing beneath.

I began my first full day in Zambia with an inaugural jog. It’s typically a great way to get your bearings and is often made beautiful by the low morning sun.  However at 6.30am in suburban Lusaka the streets were already bustling with people. People who had things to do and hard days’ work ahead.  Jogging is a symptom of having more food than you need and not enough work to occupy your body with in the day, so I couldn’t help but feel I was making a statement about my privilege by running around the city for no good reason.  My recollection of the experience centres on the man who shouted “Where are you going?” It was evinced not long after when I turned back on myself that I had no idea.IMG_2903

We got into the Academy at 8.30. The day’s teaching had already begun and I started by sitting in on piano lesson for a total beginner, aged 8.  Katherine, the teacher moved through the basic principles of notated rhythms and pitches with slow, confident strokes, and Leilani caught on well. At the moment she is limited by her experience of piano playing, but in the next few years her playing will improve to match her capacity for teaching, and I’d love to see where her musical journey takes her

Apart from that my encounter with drummer “Chacks” stands out prominently.  Because he was free I asked if he could demonstrate some drumming.  This led to a geo-historical tour of drumming styles around Africa and the world at large. Phenomenally impressive and incredibly loud, Chacks’ musical personality was out of place in the quiet and modest surroundings of the Academy. Nevertheless, he relishes the chance to impart knowledge anybody happy to receive it, and the Academy is fortunate to count him among its many excellent musicians.

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