On day 2 of our orchestra visit, we arrived at 10am, and much like the day before, we were greeted very warmly by the two or three people who were there. Not reading too much into the fact that no one ever seemed to show up on time, Kaori and I got to work, finding a musician, a corner of the building to work in, and a music stand. Many of the flutists from the previous day returned as the day progressed, all of them having improved quite a bit already! Excited by how well they were responding, I tried to teach them even more, sharing with them the concepts that were shared to me by my teachers.
The students were starting to break out of their shells and speak to me more as well. They would ask that we go over things again, even when I said, "Great! Let's move on." I respected them for holding themselves to such high standards, and challenged them even more. Now, they were starting to ask more questions, and take more ownership of their own learning.
Time flew by. There was so much I wanted to share, and so much they wanted to learn! I saw so much of myself in these students, as I've never grown out of my mentality of being a student myself. No matter how many times Kaori tells me I'm no longer her student, I have so many more questions to ask her.
Soon, it was time for a lunch break. Kaori and I asked if we could get some Congolese food, and ate some fish, plant stew (fumbwa) , and some bread-like dough (kwanga). As we sat around the table, eating and chatting, I realized that Kaori and I were the only people eating or drinking. It wasn't until later that we realized Congolese usually can't afford more than one meal per day, and the orchestra musicians had respectfully kept us company while we ate each day.
I think we all began to understand each other a little better that day. Through our interactions with one another during lessons, and with the help of our translator, Tom's Lingala book, and sheer determination, we were starting to build bridges with one another. While we ate lunch, I asked them questions about their lives, and they asked me about my life. Sometimes it was hard to connect, but sometimes it wasn't at all.
I realized that the question, "What do you do for a living?" was quite difficult for them to answer, as most of them don't have a set occupation of any sort. They do what they can, to stay alive. Sometimes, they would say to me, "Come here all the time! It's OK!" And I had no idea how to explain, in my limited vocabulary, that a freelance classical musician in New York doesn't make enough money to fly to Kinshasa all the time, without making it sound like I was denying the obvious financial gap that existed between us.
There were other questions that were much easier for me to relate to.
"Do you like Beethoven's music?"
"Are you married?"
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Why do you like the flute?"
In the afternoon, we rounded up all the woodwind players and played an arrangement of Sakura, a very popular Japanese song about the cherry blossom. After working on pitch, harmony, breath control and countless other musical elements, we told them about this flower. How it's pink, delicate, and only blooms for one week out of an entire year. We told them Japanese people think it's very beautiful and special, and gather families and friends under a cherry blossom tree each year when it's in full bloom. Then, we asked them what's a special flower in DRC?
This led to a 5 minute conversation, where one member would suggest a flower, and another would quickly dismiss it and suggest something else. This went on for a while as they laughed and shook their heads, until one of the members quite sheepishly suggested a name of a flower, with tiny white petals. They explained that they don't look at this flower much, but that they eat it a lot. I wish I could remember the name of that flower but I can't.
It was another tiny moment when I felt like I might be getting a little bit closer to their lives and their culture. I appreciated how hard they were trying to extend their culture to us, and was happy to have had a chance to share with them a little bit about my home country, and the type of music we play there.