Well, can you believe I'm in my 17th month in tanzania!
and WOW that was a week.
I can already sense that I am going to have a difficult time summing up this past week. I feel as though I’ve been back in Tanzania for several months now (since returning from christmas visit in the states). What makes the transition for me? Friends-- wonderful new and wonderful old friends to help me along the way. On my first day home (arusha), my roommate Millie and I bustled on over to Makumira University, where I teach a composition course, to participate in the very exciting Glomus (Global Music) Conference. This was a huge on-taking for the university, brilliantly organized by Randy Stubbs (director of Music Department), and hosted by great conservatories in Denmark, Finland, and Sweeden. Day one in which Millie and I participated already proved to be SO much fun. I jammed and improvised with a South African Jazz group, while Millie joined the Nordic Folk Music group which was also including an Afghanistan trio of musicians. At this conference, there were about 65 students, a number of their teachers, and a few odd-ball tag-along’s like me and Millie. How many countries were there represented in this group? TWENTY THREE. It was like heaven to me: every conversation lead to some new discovery about human nature, about the world, about how connected we are, about music and its complete power to surpass the superficial boundaries of country borders or language differences. I was able to be at Glomus conference all of 3 quick times during the week, yet I feel significantly changed and very connected to the friends that I made there.
Wednesday night was Game Time, however. Just before the winter holiday, Millie and I learned about the graduate program that facilitates Glomus. It’s called Global Music Development, shared between the partnering universities in Denmark, Sweeden, and Finland. It offers a vast array of very practical world-music courses, giving students the chance to develop their skills to working with music all over the world. It seems absolutely perfect for me and I after having been to this conference, I’m only more in want of this degree. What more, one of the main universities involved is the Sibelius Academy in Finland—a school I have dreamed of applying to for years. And even more than that, they brought admission judges to Tanzania to host grad school auditions!! So, on Wednesday night I had one of the most interesting auditions I have, and possibly ever will experience.
Firstly, it was at 8pm on a warm evening, the trees reflecting their leaves by the clear moon. I arrived at the audition site which I promptly discovered was sitting just beside the university chapel. Why was this so obvious? Simply because the church service was BLASTING music through massive amplifiers that projected their sounds throughout all the villages around us. So, I realized what I was up against but found it to be humorous—ahh, Tanzania! The judges arrived shortly thereafter and also showed concern for the very loud music pouring in through the windows. “Is this music ok for you to play with?” one of them asked me. I responded with “well, it’s in the wrong key…” to which they all replied with resounding laughter. Phew! Off on a good foot, I thought. The blaring music was pretty funny, but I was soon in the mental zone to launch into Debussy’s Syrinx on flute. Honestly, I apparently managed to completely block out the church music, for I don’t recall hearing it at all once I started playing. The only moment when I noticed the church music was when their song ended, timing perfectly with my very last note on flute which was very soft and delicate. I was thankful that the music had stopped just in time for them to hear my last hushed note. The judges seemed pleased and I moved over to the piano, which I quickly found to be quite out of tune. Well, I was slightly distracted by that fact and also the neighboring band started up again. I jumped into the loud and bombastic Bartok piano piece, but within a couple of seconds, found my fingers slipping. I stopped and told them I would like to start again. One of the judges said, “sure, take your time.” I think they were empathizing with me in light of the church situation. (ha-ha-ha, very funny, God) I launched into it again, however, and was off and running. It’s such a fun piece, I was surprised when it was finished and I banged out the last chord. They clapped, which was nice, and I began to explain the final piece which was a song I wrote in Swahili for the Umoja Ensemble kids in our Ndoto show last year. I felt like I sang and played well, I remembered all of the words, and they were interested to know a bit more about the show.
Next part of the audition involved me teaching a piece to a 3-person ensemble of Sibelius Academy students. I chose a fun piece called Kuchimba Chini (Digging Down) that I composed for our Ndoto show last year as well. I explained the concepts, the form, the general idea of what to do, and demonstrated a fun sliding technique used in the song on my own guitar. I tried to use as many teaching techniques as I could think of. I also had copies of scores for the judges so they could follow along, thus showing off my Type-A personality strengths….haha! The piece came together quickly, with what awesome musicians I had playing it and all, and I noticed one of the judges tapping his foot along. After that, I had to improvise and “contribute musically” to a song the same three Sib. Acad. students played. That was also just a bunch of fun, like a jam session. Finally, I had my interview where I was asked such questions as “where do you see yourself in 10 years? What do you have to offer the Sibelius academy? Why do you want to go be in Glomas?” and my personal favorite: “If you have to pay, will it change your mind?” – for the Sibelius Academy is free for all students, but the other two partner academies in Denmark and Sweeden are NOT free for US citizens. Well, I told them that if I was supposed to be at one of the other institutions, I would figure out a way to finance it, but right now my goal is to be completely focused on getting into the Sibelius Academy.
I spent another hour waiting outside with the Sibelius academy musicians and 2 other auditioning students. It was during this time that I gained the best picture I yet have on what I could expect if I were to go to Finland. To me, everything sounds amazing: wonderfully interesting students and faculty, a very unique perspective on combining cultures through music, a once-in-a-life opportunity to be at one of the world’s best conservatories. Not to mention, all of the students I have met seemed so genuinely kind and excited about sharing different kinds of music.
In summary, the week visiting this conference was so incredibly vibrant, inspiring, and encouraging. It has already affected what music I’m teaching my piano group classes. I decided to introduce them to music from around the world—starting with, of course, Brazilian Samba J
In the meantime, I will be waiting to hear back from Sibelius Academy in JUNE about my acceptance. Cross your fingers, everyone!