Teaching music in the pandemic

If you have attended a jazz festival or concert, you definitely are acquainted with the many instruments and people playing them with finesse to the rhythms. Now imagine pulling this through online, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is Nelson Mandela who said “It always seems impossible until it’s done”, and if that statement means something, then through Microsoft Teams, the Safaricom Youth Orchestra members have been doing it effortlessly, just like they would in person.

“It was uncomfortable at first because the very nature of orchestral music is playing in the same room at the same time but we’ve had to adapt, with great success, to using technology to our advantage. While the medium of instruction has changed, we have had to become something close to sound engineers during this past year, the principles that we hope to instill in our players hasn’t changed and we still strive for excellence as the norm,” asserts a delighted Papa Viola, a Double bass tutor.

The frequency of the meetings being weekly and the pandemic having been with us for over a year, with over half of the time with limited physical interactions allowed especially for many people, the young people who nurture their talents would have been idle for most of the time. Who knows what could have happened to them amidst the difficulties the pandemic has inflicted on every household in the country!

Innovating in the pandemic.

Levi Wataka, the Safaricom Youth Orchestra Assistant Music Director explains that innovation and agility made it happen. At first, they did a survey to establish how many players could be able to join. This informed the need to purchase gadgets and airtime to facilitate access, which Safaricom gladly offered. The next step was to purchase a Microsoft Teams license, which again Safaricom made possible.

With the ingredients in check, the menu served was training that took place online first for everyone followed by groups for more focus in the instruments they play and finally individual mentorships.

“They first learn how to record quality sound. The gadgets have a microphone and a camera, so they agree the music and speed (Metronome) which helps keep a steady beat. They then tell players to follow the guide they provide, listen to it and play exactly as the guide suggests. They then upload it on Teams, which are then downloaded by the tutors, to put together the piece”, narrated a passionate Mr. Wataka.

It was possible to set up a full orchestra, allocate tutors for every student as well as schedule engagements. In November 2020, they were able to link up physically and while social distancing, melodiously recorded Christmas choral.

Bill Rowe, a Trumpet tutor is ecstatic how this was possible. He said they would share the music in PDF version to the students, then they have a session online and the following week hear the music the students had done and give them feedback.

Each student had their own trumpets, purchased by Safaricom and Ghetto Classics while others used those from their schools. Everyone was therefore involved in making it memorable.

But it wasn’t a smooth ride. “Before the schools open, students had more time to practice, hence had more musical development but after opening, it was difficult. One of the reasons is that Class 8 students were too busy preparing for their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE)”, said Bill.

Safaricom Youth Orchestra has an age limit, from 11 years to 18 years, which years at the start and end of teenage-hood, as well as transitioning from primary school and high school. Once you graduate, you can audition for the National Youth Orchestra. The National Orchestra has more Kenyans from diverse backgrounds as its players.

But the pandemic that affected livelihoods also meant that Art of Music Foundation, which Safaricom supports stepped in to help ensure the most vulnerable have regular food, house essentials including sanitary towels for ladies and medical covers, all being provided to members.

On the 25th April, 11 students will be graduating, having attained 18 years and grown musically.


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