Yesterday I had a word with 17 year old Grace Akinyi who plays the Tenor Saxophone at the Safaricom Youth Orchestra. She is set to graduate from the orchestra on Saturday and this year the graduation will be virtual due to the prevailing restrictions on movement and gatherings.
The Safaricom Youth Orchestra was started by the late Bob Collymore in April 2014 and has since gone on to produce cohorts of music players who have played within and without the country.
Here is what Grace had to say:
Your name please and what you do?
My name is Margaret Grace Akinyi. I’m a student at Starehe Girls Center and I’m 17 years old.
When did you start playing the Tenor Saxophone and why?
I started learning the tenor sax in second term Form One and started playing in Form Two. In our school we have a band and we have school families. My grandmother was part of the band and she took me to one of the practice sessions. I got so interested in music and decided to join the band.
At first I didn’t know what instrument to play. I jumped from one to another starting with drums, trumpet, clarinet and the alto sax but I wanted to settle on one. Then by chance a friend gave me her Tenor Sax to hold for her and I just had a feeling that this is it. I want to play this.
Other than the Safaricom Youth Orchestra, do you play with any other groups?
Yes I also play for our school band. I also aspire to play for other groups like the Kenya National Youth Orchestra and after graduating on Saturday I’m actually planning on auditioning for that. Then later in life maybe some other orchestras out there. Outside the country.
What do you like about the Safaricom Youth Orchestra?
The huge opportunity they’ve given us and which I’m very grateful for. Not everyone can get that chance. Were it not for SYO there are some things right now I wouldn’t be doing on my instrument.
We are taught by the best of the best and we are grateful for that. I got to meet a lot of people in the music world and expand my network. We were taught in school that a good network is a good thing to have.
Like last year I met Jimek. I played at the Trademark Hotel and I had never been there. We played at State House and that was my first time there too. I felt so nice about these opportunities that Safaricom has given me. Even though I’m graduating I still feel nice and I thank them.
What opportunities have your involvement in music exposed you to so far?
Playing at State House and Trademark like I said and meeting new people. Like last year December, the orchestras under the Art of Music were merged so we were playing with Kenya National Youth Orchestra and Ghetto Classics. That experience taught me a lot about socializing, learning from different people, and being free with everyone. I got to realize that music binds us all. When we were playing we were all just all playing. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what language you speak.
Also meeting Jimek. He is a really nice guy. I had a session with him and he gave me some advice and that was really nice.
Even meeting my tutors who have helped me a lot. Like now my SYO tutor is helping me with my KCSE because I do music as a subject and currently we don’t have a music teacher. So if I wasn’t in the orchestra I would be struggling.
What are the highlights of your musical journey so far?
The biggest highlight is playing at a concert. I never imagined in my entire life that I’d have an opportunity to play infront of people and this is one thing that I really appreciate. Also, last year I came in sixth at the National Music Festival for the Woodwind solos.
Is music something you would like to pursue as a career?
Currently I would like to pursue engineering but later I would not mind playing some kind of music. I can do it on the side because its my passion and I love it. But I also love physics and engineering.
What are your aspirations as far as playing the Tenor Sax in particular and music in general are concerned?
My aspiration is to get better. I really want to improve so that even when I go out there I can stand out as the Saxophonist called Grace. I want to become the best of the best.
Any siblings or younger relatives who look up to you? Are any of them taking up dreams of musical instruments as hobbies and as possible careers?
I have cousin who is a good singer though he doesn’t play any instrument. But younger cousins are curios when they visit and see my Sax and they’re interested to try. Being an inspiration is actually an honor because its like leaving a mark. It feels good when you inspire someone.
Has any other older member of your family picked up music because of you?
Not yet. But I have older relatives who started listening to classical music because of me.