Teaching Music in Uganda - Part II
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
"Balance, peace and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve other by using them." Thomas Kinkade
While Garth was at the dental clinic, I was in my element teaching music. People from all walks of life came when they heard that an American was teaching free music classes. I conducted workshops starting around 10 AM until 5:30 PM each day and then some afternoons gave fireside presentations. The classes averaged anywhere from about 8 to 20.
One young man, Kitzo, an African student currently attending dental school, was able to attend my classes because school was on a short break. He was one of those people whose inner light shined brightly and was so excited and eager to learn. Because he couldn't read music and our time was short, I began teaching him one-on-one.
He was musically gifted and had lots of melodies rolling around in his head but didn't know how to get them written into music. One day he asked if I would write down a melody he had composed and sang it in his native tongue. It was beautiful and he was thrilled when I wrote his melody down on staff paper. I told him that one day I could help him arrange his melody into a song for a choir and his eyes lit up! People like Kizito inspire me to give more of myself.
Kizito told me about his family and how he wasn't able to go on with his dental education because he was paying for his younger brother's schooling. (Africans feel a great responsibility to help members of their family.) What he didn't tell me was that his family's home had been damaged in the Rwanda Genocide and he had taken out a loan to also pay for that before dental school. When hygienist, Misty Reberger, learned of his desire to become a dentist and had taken out a loan to pay off his brother's tuition and to build his family a new home, she stepped in. Even though she was married with a family of her own to help support, she decided to sponsor his dental education and pay off his loan. She travels from Canada each year to Kampala with Dr. Calhoon and other hygienists who also volunteer. Kizito said he felt like a miracle had taken place in his life!
The photo above was taken in the new home Kizito had built for his family. Misty and the other volunteers often worked in small villages and not just Kampala.
Misty said, "I feel blessed to have been able to help all of them. Meeting Kizito's family was a dream I thought would never come true. . . I have never felt love like that."
Years have passed now and Kizito has surely graduated from dental school but Misty promised she would return to attend his graduation. We were so impressed that Misty was willing to sacrifice so much to help Kizito secure a livelihood that would offer him security for him and his family. What a gift!
One evening I was invited to provide entertainment at the Sheraton Hotel on their grand piano. "A grand piano, I thought?" Since I didn't have a chance to check out the piano in advance, I took a variety of solos to play. The minute I put my hands on the keys I realized the piano was a real klunker!! It was in terrible condition and obviously hadn't been tuned in years. Not all of the keys worked either so it was a challenge to continue. However, it was one of those situations where all I could do was make the best of the situation and not make excuses. It was hard to imagine a hotel that nice would neglect the care of such a nice instrument but it was obviously never used.
Misty had invited Kizito to attend the event and when he heard I would be performing, he asked if he could sing a song he had learned in one of my classes. At first his voice was shakey but this experience was one he will probably never have again. He was thrilled to participate and it gave him the opportunity to share his talent and become a little more confident.
Dr. Calhoon told me later that Kizito said that attending my classes "changed his life and he had begun to believe in himself." What more could I ask for? Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than knowing that I helped someone believe in themself.
Misty said, "Music is Kizito's passion and brings him so much joy. Thank you, Kathleen, for lifting him higher!"
The Entebe Kampala Mission offered a program to missionaries on Mondays where they were taught to read music and learn to play a keyboard in a 3 - 6 month course. Since Monday was their "P" or preparation day, many traveled to the city for their keyboard class that Betty Jonson taught. Each was given the opportunity to have a weekly lesson where they would move at their own pace. Of course, the goal was to complete the course, receive a certificate of award and be given their own eletric keyboard to keep.
Having their own portable keyboard was a great incentive as each learned to read music and play simple arrangements of songs and hymns. The keyboards were provided by the J.R. Jack and Wauna O. Harman Education Fund and is still available to missionaries around the world. Pictured below is the portable keyboard (electric/battery operated keyboard) awarded to each who completed the course of study.
The next Sunday I was asked to share another musical number in church but I opted to have some singers from my class perform. I began teaching them new songs to sing with an accompaniment which was a whole new experience for them.
Teaching Lines & Spaces
I had to become inventive when it came to teaching them how to read music. I taught them to associate the lines and spaces of the treble and bass clefs by associating them to the fingers of my right and left hands. I made a game out of it and challenged them to learn the names on their own.
Holding up my right hand in front of my face I asked, "What part of me do you see?" (my face) Notes are placed on either a line or a space. The spaces of the treble clef spell FACE.
The lines are: Every Good Boy Does Fine. (The first letter of each word is the name of each line.) By association, remembering that my face was high on my body, the same is true with the notes of the Treble clef are played with the right hand.
Then I taught them to remember the names of the Bass clef.
The Lines: Great Big Dogs Fight Animals.
The Spaces: All Cows Eat Grass
By associating that dogs and cows are low and on the ground, it helped them remember the jingles, the names and the placement of notes on separate staffs.
I took along some aluminum pipes cut to specific lengths and hung them over a broomstick so I could play a musical scale and to demonstrate how they could play melodies on their own.
Justine from my class caught on very quickly and before I knew it, she was down on her knees trying to play a song. I let her borrow them that night and she returned them the next day saying she drove her sister crazy with her playing!
Helping young adults learn music fundamentals so they could share their knowledge with others has been one of the greatest joys of my life.
In a letter the young missionary sent to me I quote after I left: "For many years now I've had the dream of playing the piano when I propose to my future wife one day or perhaps even write her a song. I also have the dream of having a home that is filled with music. However, I didn't think it would be possible to start learning how to play until you came along so thank you!"
A Special Experience
Our time was growing short and I had so much more to accomplish. I went to bed wondering what I could do to encourage those in my classes to continue learning. That night I awoke and the words came to mind: "buy a guitar for Justine and a keyboard for Isaac." It was 3 AM and I got out of bed with the burning desire to find instruments I could give to them before we left Uganda. Justine and Isaac had faithfully attended my classes but I had no idea why their names came to mind. I searched online to get prices of instruments and after a couple of hours was feeling desperate. I was deteremined to find some instruments but knew if I was to accomplish the task I couldn't do it alone.
After breakfast that morning, I shared my feelings with Betty. She, in turn, got excited and said she would call Richard because he was musical and familiar with three music stores in Kampala. That day we were stranded without transportation so we were at home working on other things. It took all day to reach Richard and with time running out, I wasn't sure how we could ever find what I needed in the time we had left.
Richard finally called at 3 PM. In his conversation to Betty he said, "I can pick you up at 4 PM if you need a ride." Keep in mind she did not ask him to take us and was only inquiring about music stores, but before we knew it, he was at our doorstep with a van to take us downtown. We ventured into the city, parked (what an experience), then walked to three different stores. Crossing roads in Kampala is literally taking your life into your hands because there are no stop lights nor traffic rules! Boda bodas whized by weaving in and out of traffice in both direcitions like flying bats out of hell! Betty and I clung to Richard and all three of us made it safely across three intersections running from one side to the other.
Long story short: After 2-1/2 hours and when the last store about to close, I found a nice classic guitar within my budget. However, I was not able to find a keyboard. However, in the next couple of days I was able to purchase a keyboard that had been ordered and returned at the mission home. My heart literally skipped a beat when I heard that a keyboard was available for purchase and I knew my prayers had been answered.
The last Sunday we were in Uganda was extra special. I have learned there are no coincidences in this life and as Einstein said, "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous."
When we attended church the last Sunday, I couldn't wait to see Justine and Isaac. I was a little worried that singling out these two young adults and giving them instruments might become awkward. I wasn't sure if they would be willing to work together, learn to play the instruments and help others who had attended my classes. I approached them saying, "Before I leave, I have an assignment and I need you to help each other. Are you willing to do that?" Neither had any idea what I was about to share with them.
(To be continued . . . and read the dramatic conclusion!!)