The Grand Students

One of the new workshops I did this time was to teach the grand students.

There are many kids who come to the orchestra site everyday to learn how to play the instruments. All of them are learning music through the members of the OSK whom they idolize. As many children don't go to regular schools, usually kids are there from the morning until the evening, gathering and practicing, using limited amount of instruments and materials that have been donated through the years. Every morning, when I arrived at the orchestra site, the first sight was often children practicing.

On Day 5 of the workshop, some of the OSK musicians I teach asked me if I would listen to their students a little to give them some guidance, which I happily agreed with. They immediately gathered all of their students, and within minutes, about 20 students showed up holding old instruments and music stands. They are between age 12 and 24. I started with the same fundamental excercise I have been working with the members of the orchestra. (The beauty of all the fundamental studies I have given them is that anyone from beginners to professionals can use them and apply the same basic principal, as it is often written in a very simple way. I just had to be a bit flexible and simplify them for the children.) And soon, I discovered that they have the same attention span as adults! Here in New York, I often have a hard time keeping children's attention for more than 5 minutes at a time, but there, they were so eager to learn and they were just so focused.

This inspired me then to keep the grand students and incorporate the musicians I teach to act as my assistant teachers - Go around all the students and check their postures, sound etc. Then I asked some of them to take over and teach the students, as other musicians and I observe to see what and how he/she teach, and had discussions later. So in the end, we all learned a lot. - Grand students learned new ways to practice, musicians I teach learned new ways to teach, and I learned so much about each individuals. This idea came from a simple wish from some musicians, but now I have decided to incorporate more into our future workshops!

I knew how focused and passionate the OSK musicians are. But what surprised me was that their students share the same level of focus and passion. This obviously came from the training that the orchestra members have been giving to them. Some kids may not be able to go to a regular school. But they are learning the importance of hard work, focus, appreciation and the sense of achievement through music. The orchestra musicians are the source of inspiration for those children, and they are already playing a significant role as educators and mentors. Learning this firsthand made me even more determined to give the best education I could possibly give to these musicians, so that they will continue to flourish as mentors and community leaders! 

Currently, the orchestra cannot accept any more students to join due to lack of instruments despite the fact that there are many more children who want to come and learn. This problem is something Music Beyond would like to tackle in the future as well by donating more instruments, so that the positive impact can be spread to more youth through music! We sincerely wish for your ongoing support!

- Kaori

The Lifesaver!

Our workshop is long and intense. We talk about sound production, techniques, tonal colors, musical expressions, and interpretation of each piece. So naturally, there is A LOT of talking. Now this "talking" part has been always the greatest challenge, as my French and Lingala (the common language spoken in Kinshasa) are incredibly weak and their English is not too strong either. I've been lucky enough to have some interpreters that spoke English fairly well (1000 times better than my French / Lingala), but as they improved and the nature of the workshop got deeper, it was becoming trickier.

On the 3rd day, we finished with the workshop, then finished the orchestra rehearsal. After nearly 10 hours of music, I was somewhat tired. I said goodbye to Papa Armand (the founder & the conductor) and rushing towards the gate to look for my driver. Then all of a sudden I heard, "Hi. Let me walk you out so that you can safely meet your driver."

I froze. -- ENGLISH! Fluent, perfect ENGLISH! I turned around and said, "Thank you... Wait.... What? Who are you?? Where did you appear from???" The gentleman smiled and introduced himself to me. (He still laughs about how confused I looked!)

His name is Yan Pholo. He used to be a violinist in the orchestra, but spent the last 10 years in South Africa. Came back to Kinshasa 4 months ago and now he does media / promotion for the orchestra. "YEEEESSSS!" I was jumping up and down on the inside! Maybe, just maybe, he could be able to help me???

Next day, I contacted Papa Armand and got Yan's phone number. I called him, explained the situation and asked him if he could possibly come help me once or twice if/when he has the time. He said "I own my own design company, so I can be flexible. I will move some stuff around and I will be happy to help you." Hurray!!!!!!!!!!

From the next day, He came to the workshop everyday until the very last day. His assistance instantly made the workshop a million times more effective! The thing is, not only was he perfect in both English and French/Lingala, he understood the art of interpreting - the speed, sensing the atmosphere / the individual characters and interpret accordingly... He was spot on. Plus he is a community member so everyone felt comfortable around him. All that made the entire workshop so much more energetic. We can now have proper discussions without simplifying anything, I can explain in much deeper levels, they can ask questions freely, and we can even make jokes and laugh together!

All the musicians and I bonded much more on this trip and they improved much - much further. And Yan the Life Saver played a gigantic role in it!

Oh, and also, all the great photos from this workshop were also taken by Yan! He was often holding a camera while translating and capturing the best moments! :D

Thank you SO MUCH for your help, Yan! Both the musicians and I literally couldn't have shared so much without you. Cannot be more thankful for your kindness, talent and generosity! And Please - please come help us again next time! :)

- Kaori

Photo taken after the concert at the Japanese Ambassador's residence. Even there, the embassy staff were like, "He is a professional interpreter, right?"

Photo taken after the concert at the Japanese Ambassador's residence. Even there, the embassy staff were like, "He is a professional interpreter, right?"

Orchestra Concert at the French Institute

The Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra (a.k.a OSK) was scheduled to play a concert on Thursday. On Tuesday afternoon, I was asked to play the second oboe on flute. Of course I gladly accepted it!

On Wednesday, after 7 hours of workshop, I joined in their rehearsal. The founder & conductor Papa Armand told me that they had recently lost their usual rehearsal space (which was a warehouse) and they now only have their parking lot to practice with the entire orchestra. It was a hot night, the electricity kept going out, and there were one million mosquitoes flying around. But nobody was complaining. They all seemed to be genuinely happy to be there to make music, and proud to be a part of it. Whenever the electricity went out, anyone who were not playing in that moment shined a flash light to help each other so that we all can read the music. Eventually, the lights came back on, and everyone went back on playing. The lights went out again, someone shined a flash light until the lights were back on... This happened at least 5 times.

Joining in their rehearsal made me realize that one can make beautiful music regardless of the condition, IF we have strong enough passion and love for it! (And I promised myself not to complain ever again when the AC is not working as well as I want it to be while practicing in my mosquito-free, well-lit, comfortable apartment in NYC!) 

The rehearsal went on for over two hours, and I was severely attacked by mosquitoes.. I smeared myself with a mosquito repellant every morning while in Kinshasa, but it wear out by the evening. As I was busy scratching myself, it dawned on me that I was the only one who seemed to be struggling! Everyone else was completely calm! So I asked one of the members, "Hey, don't you guys get bitten by mosquitoes???" They all cracked up and told me that they are so used to it, they actually don't feel it anymore! Now that was a big discovery for me! They all kept laughing at me for struggling, and told me to "Just calm your mind, and it will go away." So I tried..... Very hard........ But I just couldn't! Oh well, I guess I will have to remember to bring my mosquito repellant everywhere I go in the future! 

The concert on the next day was a HUGE success! So many people came, (Probably close to 1000 people!) and they all cheered like crazy. It was more like a rock concert! It was so nice to see more and more Congolese seems to be interested in the orchestra and classical music is becoming a little more approachable to the general public.

I was very happy to be able to be a part of the orchestra! Thank you and Congratulations on a great concert OSK! 

- Kaori