This coming Sunday, we get to witness the seventh Safaricom Youth Orchestra (SYO) graduation. In a virtual ceremony to be streamed on Safaricom’s YouTube Channel from 2pm EA time, eleven students who have been learning various instruments will be awarded certificates in orchestral music. We are looking at instruments like the flute, tuba, trumpet, violin, alto sax, and trombone among others.
SYO is a youth orchestra that has not only come so far, but also taken a life of its own and played a key role as a transformative agent to the young boys and girls who have had the opportunity to be members. The orchestra brings together children between the ages of 10 and 17 drawn from different schools and backgrounds. It also brings in the finest Kenyan music tutors to guide the students in creating beautiful classical music. 45% of the students are usually picked from public schools, 30% from Ghetto Classics and 25% from private schools.
Like last year, the ceremony will be virtual in line with Covid19 guidelines but that will not dampen the joy and fulfillment that comes with the day. The graduands get to celebrate a culmination of months of practice, and to say goodbye to the orchestra and pave way for others to join the platform. It is never really goodbye though. In the words of Simon Mungai who graduated in June last year, “once an SYO member, always an SYO member”. This is a sentiment that is common with the other members too. I can see where they are coming from. It is hard to completely cut ties with an initiative that molds you using a discipline as beautiful as music.
The Safaricom Youth Orchestra which is the brainchild of the late CEO Bob Collymore is one among other platforms through which Safaricom has been enabling the arts in the country. Since 2014 when it was founded, over 130 kids have nurtured their musical talents there before graduating and proceeding onto their chosen careers or continuing with music as a career.
Besides supporting the students’ talents, the program also has a positive influence on them since they are able to use their free time to gain knowledge and skills that are beneficial to them. The kids also get life lessons like hard work, patience, dedication, teamwork and interacting with others from different backgrounds. Considering that the members are teens and preteens, music plays a big role in keeping them purposeful and grounded.
It takes a lot to run a program like SYO. As much as what we see are performances which are an end product, there is a whole team that comes together to make it a success. There are parents who free up their children’s time so that they can practice for example. When movements were still normal, there were drivers who ensured that kids get to MJ Center for practice and back home safely, and there were caterers who made sure that the kids were well fed.
And then there are the music tutors who guide and mentor the kids through not only playing individual instruments, but also creating perfect harmonies together. This is a team that I have always been particularly curios about. As much as they are behind the scenes, their input is a priceless part of the success of SYO, and the Kenyan music scene. I will be taking time to speak to a few of them in the next few days and bringing their stories forth. I’m already excited to see that one of the tutors is an alumnus of the orchestra.
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