Young instrumentalists vibrate at the concert of the city orchestra
Last Sunday afternoon was an opportunity for prodigious musical talent from various public schools in Nairobi to show off their skills at a concert. It brought together the next generation of Kenya’s finest instrumentalists and singers.
The inaugural Harmony Kenya Foundation concert held at the M-Pesa Academy auditorium in Thika consisted of a rich repertoire of orchestral renditions of contemporary pop hits and choral performances by ensembles from different schools of the city.
Participating schools have been supported by the Harmony Kenya Foundation in a project that promotes music training and education in public schools through the development of curricula and the provision of musical instruments to students.
Harmony Kenya is the brainchild of Moses Watatwa after more than two decades of teaching music.
“My dream was to bridge the gap in music education between public schools and their private counterparts through a public-private partnership,” says Watatwa.
He contacted his former music students and other interested parties and together they created a program to support students at schools that had existing music departments.
Over the past 10 years, the trust and partners like Art of Music Foundation have donated over 200 instruments, providing tutors and scholarships for students to develop their musical skills and knowledge.
The students performing last weekend were from Nairobi School, Pumwani High School, State House Girls High School, Westlands Primary School, Moi Nairobi Girls High School and M-Pesa Foundation Academy.
They were joined on stage by the Ghetto Classics ensemble, the flagship program of the Art of Music Foundation. The students performed a variety of songs, from traditional African music, classical pieces, sacred compositions, contemporary pop hits and Christmas carols, in their unique interpretation.
The show began with an orchestral medley by a reunited choir and orchestra celebrating the biggest pop hits of the 1980s, including Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time and Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, and a climax of You Give Love a Bad. Name, originally by Bon Jovi.
The Nairobi school, which has a rich musical tradition, was Harmony Kenya’s pilot project and even though the school had a brass band, it needed support to improve musical literacy among its students. Students studied for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) examinations and some of them joined professional ensembles like the Safaricom Youth Orchestra.
Mr Watatua himself, a former Nairobi school boy where his musical skills were honed, playing trumpet and conducting the school band, before studying music at Kenyatta University, rallied Old Cambrians to support the school’s music project.
Harmony Kenya also supports collaborations between different schools, such as Nairobi School and Precious Blood Riruta or Nairobi School Orchestra and Brookhouse School Orchestra.
“We need to strengthen the collaboration between public schools and private schools on music training and resource sharing,” says Watatua.
Westlands Primary School, which performed ‘Wema na Fadhili’ at the concert, was the first primary school to join the project and grades 5 and 6 students learned music in preparation for the CBC assessment.
Moi Girls School, Nairobi performed a choral piece ‘Gor Obedo Misingo’ composed by music teacher Andrew Tumbo and the voices of the State House Girls High School Choir delivered a moving version of ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ from Elton John from The Lion King.
Pumwani High School has a well-established music department with a choral culture and through the partnership with Harmony Kenya has managed to raise its standards to the next level. Their school band featuring a horn section and percussion performed a lively medley combining pop hits like Rumba by Wanavokali and “For My Hand” by Ed Sheeran and Burna Boy.
Pumwani High School put the audience on their toes with ‘Zilizopendwa Soweto’, a piece inspired by the liberation struggle in South Africa, the Nairobi School Orchestra’s spiritual Injili set and a rousing rendition of Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) performed by the set of common school .
Dr Duncan Wambugu, who heads the music program at Kenyatta University and is also a board member of Harmony Kenya, says such a platform is good for the development of music alongside the Festival of Kenyan music.
“Performances of this quality from young people only prove the need for music programs in all schools,” he said.