My first day going to the Kigali Music School was a little challenging. I had no idea where it was, so I let Yves take the reign and talk to my driver on the phone. Rwanda is the first place Ive been where I couldn’t understand even a little bit of the language. Yes, not many speak English in other countries I’ve been to, but most people spoke enough English or I understood enough of my Latin bases to understand what was generally happening. Because Rwanda was colonized by Belgium, most people’s second or third language is French. So many Rwandan assumed I spoke French because I was white, but I told them I only knew English. It was kind of disappointing to say because many Rwandans speak three or four languages: Kinyarwandan, Swahili, English, and French. Because of this, I started to study some basic terms in Kinyarwandan, such as yes, no, and all of my numbers for bargaining at the market. At the end of my journey through Rwanda, I became quite good at understanding basic conversation. I was able to ask for water, tell someone directions, and ask how someone is. So far out of all the countries Ive been to, Rwanda is the one place I tried the hardest to learn the native language. Mostly because its hard to talk to any locals outside the metropolitan area.
Anyway, back to the Kigali Music School.
Every Monday, young music leaders come from all over Kigali to the KMS to have private and group lessons, composition classes, and learn new community music techniques. The first hour is devoted to private and group lessons on either drums, guitar, piano, or voice. There are only four rooms in the small house we use for teaching, so some people have to go out onto the front porch to have their lesson.
There is one room devoted to the drum-set, and three students to teach–all boys. The teacher? Her name is Leontine, and boy, is she a firecracker. (I’ll go into further detail about Leontine and where she works in a later post. This is just an introduction for her.) during the hour drum-set class, Leontine introduces different genres of music and what the basic drum set pattern for that genre is. Each of the three students patiently wait their turn to play the rhythm on the drum-set to practice the rhythmic pattern and show Leontine they are proficient. To help the students understand the groove of the rhythm, she sings the melody and lyrics of a song in that genre while clapping her hands and stomping her feet to make sure they are keeping consistent time.
After the hour of group lessons are done, everyone gathers into the main room for “community music” time. One of the main goals of MWB is to foster a sense of community within a group of people through music. Community music can be any musical activity that gets a group of people interacting with each other. Whether is be a song we can all learn together and losing it in a cannon, a musical game like musical chairs, or learning new rhythmic patterns and how to count them.
Every week I went to the KMS, I was asked to share something from my teaching experience during community music time. The first time, I was so nervous. I thought, “I just graduated! I’ve never been a teacher, let alone to a large group of people!” They looked to me for fresh material. What was I to do? I asked my mom, an elementary music teacher for 35 years, to send me some material she found successful in her classroom. One day I tried some English songs on them. Didn’t go so well. Another day, I tried to show them the “boom, snap, clap” game we all played in middle school. NOPE-try again.
Third time should be the charm, right? So I played to my strengths. I know rhythm, and I know John Cage’s infamous “Clapping Music” (Link for reference) This piece is made up of only one rhythmic pattern shared between two people. The only difference is, one of the clappers plays the same rhythm, but by one eighth note displaced. It becomes more and more displaced, until it makes a full circle around and the two clappers are playing in unison. I made all of them sit in a circle around me and I used a piece of chalk and wrote the rhythm on the floor. Not everyone could read music, so Yves came up with a word pattern to match the rhythm, just like he did in Rwinkwavu in my previous post. Of course, it was in Kinyarwandan, so I had no idea what he was saying. We all clapped the rhythm together and spoke out the words that correlate with it. Once we all understood the rhythm, I split up the class into two groups. One group would clap the original rhythm, and the other group would play the same rhythm, but displaced by one full beat. Finally….I had a hit!
It took me three classes and three weeks. I was on a roll after that. The next time I came, I broke up the different percussion rhythmic patterns in various Latin grooves and split everyone up into four groups. One group would stomp and clap the bass and snare drum part, another group would clap the clave part, another group, and another group, pat the timbale part on the desks.
Another day, I focused on how to practice moving from duple to triple meter. I made everyone stand up and slowly march in place. Left foot, right foot, continuously. That was their metronome. We would all clap eighth notes together, then I’d tell them to clap triplet eighth notes. You had to focus on keeping your rhythms even and together with your feet. Eventually, we would go back and forth from straight eighth notes to triplet eighth notes. This one was a little trick my lesson teach taught me when I was learning region band competition music in middle school. (Thanks, Brad!)
I guess I really needed to stick to my strengths when trying to teach large groups of people who don’t know my language well. I’ve never been too comfortable talking in front of crowds, but when I play, I’m a different person and crave the stage. It was an amazing experience bonding with a large group of strangers with music. No words, just rhythms and smiles. Music puts everyone on the same playing field. We are all experiencing the same thing together, and because of that, we have created a bond.
Thanks again for reading! Next time, I’ll talk about the group composition classes and show off some videos of these amazing musicians I’ve grown to love!
-Every last Saturday, all citizens of Rwanda participate in community work for the day
-I am worth approximately worth a four cow dowry if I were to marry a Rwandan man
-Plastic bags are illegal