I am sitting in the library one afternoon when I hear the sound of sweetly singing voices traveling across the courtyard. Realizing that the choir master Charles must have started choir practice, I rush over to the classroom to join. But Charles isn't in sight. Instead, one boy plays the drum and leads the other 60 or so children, all sitting in chairs, through each of the songs they are preparing for competition.
I don't know about you, but when I was in school and a teacher was late or absent, all the students would just goof off or even leave! Not these kids. They practice 3-4 times a day during their breaks, lunch, and games time. They are learning 11 pieces ranging from English hymns and folk tunes to songs in Kiswahili. I am working with a select group to bring a new style to their repertoire -- collegiate a capella.
We are singing a song that my a capella group sang this past year called New Soul by Yael Naim. Although Charles helped us get started the first day, it has pretty much just been me and the kids all week. Sometimes it has been hard to tell if they are enjoying the experience, but then there will be a shared moment of laughter (at me? with me?) or a shared joyous realization mid-song that "hey, this actually sounds like music!"
There have certainly been barriers. Communication has been the biggest, both in terms of language (whereas we us lala as nonsense singing syllables, it means sleep in Kiswahili, a cause of much student laughter and some confusion) and musical ability (teaching music by rote means I have to try to sing in the basses own octave, again causing much laughter) Also, I am just getting my "teaching legs" and still discovering what works and what doesn't.
But regardless of any challenges, I am quickly learning about the universal language of music. It is amazing to be joining forces with Charles, one of the most passionate and dedicated musicians and teachers I have met, and his band of beautiful voices. I start each session feeling tentative and a bit overwhelmed, but I always leave with the children's voices ringing in my ears, which is just a wonderful gift.