When the late Bob Collymore launched the Safaricom Youth Orchestra back in 2014, he probably didn’t realize how many lives he would touch and how many voices he would unify through the power of music. Seven years later, the legacy of his work lives on in different ways, and many people can attest to that.
The orchestra, comprising of 70 children aged 11-17, meets to rehearse every Saturday under the directorship of Dr. Duncan Wambugu and Levi Wataka who work with the best instrumental teachers in Kenya. For all the members, this is an opportunity of a lifetime to develop into the best musicians they can possibly be. On Sunday the 21st of April, The Safaricom Youth Orchestra will be holding a graduation ceremony.
Papa Viola is a beneficiary of the orchestra. She’s a bubbly, easy-going personality. She has been part of the Safaricom Youth Orchestra since its inception in 2014, and now has a lot to write home about it. The double bass tutor has the youngest members of the orchestra, playing the largest string instrument – the double bass. We caught up with Papa Viola to take us through her journey at Safaricom Youth Orchestra.
- Who is Papa Viola?
Haha, you’ve started with the most difficult question. Where do we begin? We could spend hours answering this question. In a nutshell, I am a player of the double bass who also likes learning about science.
- You hold a Grade 8 distinction for the Violoncello and The Double Bass. What would you say has motivated you to this achievement?
I hope this doesn’t sound narcissistic, but I wanted to be the best. It was a challenge that I could take up, so I did. There’s no deeper reason. When I joined university, a lot of my friends were picking up Western instruments. Unfortunately, while in High School we couldn’t play them due to availability.
In university, however, The Kenya Conservatoire of Music was quite close and my friends started picking up instruments like the violin. So I figured, due to peer pressure that I should also pick something up. So I started playing the violin for all of two seconds and I realized that that wasn’t it for me.
A little later, one of my friends took me to a Safaricom Classical Fusion concert, and cellists were accompanying a singer. I was like Ha! Maybe I should try that because it sounded really cool. The following week I signed up for lessons and this is how I started playing. Ever since I challenged myself to be the best at the craft.
- You are a Chemistry teacher at Rusinga School and a mentor at Safaricom Youth Orchestra, how do you juggle the two?
It’s not really a juggle because I’m comfortable doing both things. Of course, there is general fatigue, which I suppose anyone in any profession experiences. Other than that, these are two things I thoroughly enjoy so I don’t exactly see it as something I juggle. I just wake up and go.
- Tell us some more about the Scokendia ensemble as a cellist in 2014
That happened when I was relatively new to playing. In retrospect, I should have been a lot more scared than I was at that time. I got to play with such amazing people from across the world. At the end of the day, I ended up really growing as a musician. You get exposed to the best of possibilities. It is one thing for somebody to tell you the sky is the limit, and there are so many things happening out there, and it’s a whole other thing to experience it.
At that time I was still in university, in my third year. Going out there and seeing people who have been doing this all their lives and some even much younger than I was at the time was an eye-opener that fuelled me to be good at what I was doing. The standards out there are really high and I realized that if I was to make anything of myself I had to push myself.
- What challenges do you experience mentoring young children? Does it come naturally to you?
I wouldn’t say it comes naturally. But professionally as an educator, I must remind myself that these are kids and they cannot do things like adults. Therefore I learnt to develop patience with children compared to my peers. As a teacher to young children, I have to figure out a way to meet them at their level developmentally and socially. You have to come down to a child’s level for the learning to be effective. You can’t talk down at them and expect them to hear you. It just doesn’t work.
- What’s the biggest reward of being a mentor at Safaricom Youth Orchestra?
It pushes me to do better It’s an honour to know that every single week I have the chance to impact someone’s life. They probably don’t want to hear me say things over and over again but in five years, the child comes back and says, ‘Oh my goodness! I’m so glad my tutor taught me this.’ Planting those seeds of greatness is an honour and I am privileged to be able to do this almost every single day.
The auditions to the Safaricom Youth Orchestra are held annually to discover and launch the careers of young promising Kenyans from different walks of life. If you are interested, apply here. The intake starts in March and runs through to May the following year.
Want to know more about the inception of the Safaricom Youth Orchestra? Click here.