Home Human Impact The Tutors Behind The Success of Safaricom Youth Orchestra

The Tutors Behind The Success of Safaricom Youth Orchestra

by Femme Staff
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In a previous article about what it takes to create an orchestra as successful as the Safaricom Youth Orchestra (SYO), we promised to go behind the scenes and speak to tutors. We caught up with 4 of them and here is what they had to say.

George Ndung’u

George is a mentor and tutor at SYO where he teaches the oboe. The talented young man is also a pianist, a drummer, and a music producer. Music runs in George’s family. It was his father for example who took him to music school when he was a little boy. He not only started playing drums at that time, but his music interest was piqued. His sister is also a singer, a pianist, and a music producer.

George is an alumnus of the orchestra and in is words, it is amazing to be back there, but on the opposite side of things. He now sees SYO from a whole different angle. He was called back after graduation from the orchestra because many students were showing interest in the oboe which he is a pro at.

Aside from being a tutor, he is also studying commerce at KCA University.

To the graduating class of 2021, he says all the best. There is still a long way to go and many opportunities out there especially with a solid background like SYO.

Viola Pala

Viola Papa is a Double Bass tutor at SYO and also a Chemistry teacher at Rusinga School. Papa who has been with the orchestra since inception in 2014 joined out of curiosity. At that time, she was just finding her footing as a music teacher and she felt that the orchestra was an opportunity for growth. Orchestral music was still relatively new or little known, and she felt that it was something she could grow along with. This has turned out to be the case.  

In her 8 years at SYO, she has witnessed exponential growth in interest, auditions, and membership. This, according to her, is a testament to Safaricom’s relentless dedication to the orchestra.

When Covid19 hit, she was afraid that the children would lose interest in music, but the opposite has actually been the case. Ensembles are the very essence of orchestral music and there have been challenges in creating the desired harmonies remotely. With support from Safaricom however, and determination from both students and tutors, the music has not stopped.

To the students graduating on Sunday, Papa says all the best. Do not be limited by physical borders. In these times there are many channels through which to get your music out there. Explore them.

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Dr. Benjamin Wamocho

Over at The Art of Music, we spoke to Dr. Wamocho who is the Music Director and chief librarian. Outside of music, he is a veterinary surgeon.

Art of Music is an organization that was founded by Elizabeth Njoroge in 2009 with a mission to not only promote classical music in the country, but to uplift underprivileged communities while at it.  The foundation is involved in programs like SYO, Ghetto Classics, Music for Schools in partnership with Carnegie Hall, and the Kenya National Youth Orchestra.

Safaricom has supported Art of Music since it came to be, and their input over the years has made all the difference. Classical music is quite expensive in terms of initial capital to purchase instruments, accessories, maintenance, repairs, and hiring of tutors.

Covid19 has inevitably slowed things down but nothing has ground to a complete halt. The pandemic posed quite a challenge because even if the orchestra took to e-Learning almost immediately, learning to work with Zoom and Microsoft Teams was not easy for everyone.

There was also the problem of latency which affects the very essence of playing an ensemble in harmony. Latency is that lag or delay before transfer of data following an instruction to transfer. You can imagine what it can mean to orchestra members who are playing from different areas and trying to create a common piece together.

To the class graduating on Sunday, Dr. Wamocho says to pay it forward. Pass whatever knowledge you have attained to someone else. We can only grow the music industry by sharing.

Levi Wataka

Levi is the Assistant Musical Director at SYO. He has been with the orchestra since the stage of crafting the idea – about 8 months before kickoff. He also teaches music and rugby at Peponi School and he says that for him, music is full time work and a part time job. Levi is not from a musical background outside of school, church choirs, and music festivals. His sister however is also a singer and music teacher.

Why classical music? Because he wanted to be part of raising the standards of music in the country. Classical music is a good base for learning to play instruments because there is a structure to how you play, develop, and advance. It is a good foundation after which you can learn to play anything. This is as opposed to, say, learning to play the benga guitar. It would not be easy to transfer that skill to another genre.

There has always been a challenge in uptake of classical music because it is quite expensive. It was slow in the past years but with the involvement of Safaricom to support Jazz and SYO with resources and publicity, growth has been exponential.

Covid19 has forced the program to adopt e-Learning and according to Levi, it is getting better with time. The advantage that SYO has towards tackling challenges is that Safaricom has provided the best available network and good quality gadgets for players who could not afford them. Safaricom has also sponsored a good platform on Microsoft Teams.

The problem of latency has not yet been solved but the orchestra is on the lookout for innovative software that can facilitate playing in real-time.  They are working with sound engineers and software engineers to eliminate latency completely.

What would he say to the kids graduating this Sunday?

What you have experienced at SYO is only the tip of the iceberg. What you have now is a fuel tank that has just been filled and your journey is just beginning. You have the tools to be the best. Use those skills to express yourselves to the world musically. Do not stop here.

We here at Femmehub take this opportunity to the students who graduated on Sunday, and wish all the best to the ones who are still in the orchestra.

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