Updated: Aug 3, 2019
I write to you from Kampala with a full heart. The final concert of Mélange Kampala took place Sunday evening at the Uganda National Cultural Centre. At this event entitled Agape, the newly-formed Mélange Kampala Youth Choir sang in performance with both myself on the piano, and Jude Luwaga’s Cherubim Chamber Chorale!
I’d like to tell you a bit of our story as we met the children, worked with the community, and eventually put together our final concert. I hope you enjoy this blog post - from Mélange Kampala to you!
We arrived at the Entebbe International Airport on Thursday night. After seven months of being in contact nearly every day, I finally met Kampala choir director and project manager Jude Luwaga in person!
The next day, I taught a piano master class to five talented high-school and college-aged young men from Uganda at the St. Cecilia Music School. I was inspired to see their hard work and passion for music, even at a young age.
Friday afternoon on our way to meet the children for the first time, I was actually worried it was not going to happen. We were extremely late. Traffic in Kampala is no joke! We were delayed by almost two hours, and a few of the children who were ready to meet us were even afraid we were not going to show up.
We drove through the streets of Kampala through different villages and neighborhoods, each melting into the next with dirt roads and street markets. We turned onto a dirt road in a less busy neighborhood, and there was the Namugongo Primary School!
When we arrived, classes had just let out, and the whole school was buzzing with the energy of primary-aged kids! Many were playing soccer with anything they could find to kick around, some were running and playing tag, and others had settled for a self-made game of hopscotch.
The headmaster greeted us warmly and gave us a brief background of the school. 800 students are in attendance at Namugongo, many of whom are boarding students. Tuition is $300 a year. Historically, the school was an all-boys institution, but it is now co-ed (although it retains its original name, “Namugongo"). The headmaster was proud to report that the students excel academically, and was grateful that Mélange.IMF is starting a music program there. He acknowledged the power and transferable skills of music in their community.
The time came to meet the choir that Jude had put together. They were all assembled in a large classroom made of concrete. There were no desks, and the only light provided was that which shone through the barred windows.
When I walked in, the students sang in unison - a welcome to me and the Mélange Foundation - and expressed their excitement to receive an education in music, and to sing at the National Cultural Centre for the first time! They offered one very lively piece with choreography that they had learned for the concert at the National Cultural Centre. I got to know the students as a whole, asking them questions like, “Are you having fun? Do you like music? Why do you like music?” Jude and I continued to work with the children in extended choir rehearsals on Saturday and Sunday, joining with the Cherubim Chamber Chorale to put together the entire concert program.
The Agape concert took place on Sunday at the Uganda National Cultural Centre in Kampala.
The entire experience was amazing. I was so proud to see the whole project so warmly received by community members. The concert itself featured a variety of songs by the Cherubim Chorale, as well as instrumental pieces. Their repertoire was diverse, from a Latin Jazz Mass, to Vivaldi, to “Lean on Me,” as well as sacred songs in Luganda, which is the national language there.
The choirs performed 18 songs in all, which were grouped into four large sections, with the Youth Choir singing just before intermission. The children sang Dona Nobis with the adult choir, and then three girls from the Youth Choir came and performed a song they had composed. In each section, the choirs sang one after the other, with no time for bowing in between.
At one point, all of the kids started dancing on stage! A four-year-old girl named Liz was especially a huge hit (you can see her in the videos from the concert on Facebook and Instagram). The Cherubim Chorale passed a box around and collected money from the audience to support the students. We raised $50, which goes a long way here.
I was also warmly received on the piano. I played about 10 songs with the choir, in addition to a couple of solo pieces. One man, who said he was a keyboardist, came to me afterwards and said he was afraid, but then inspired!
We paid for the tickets of the five young men that had played in the piano master class on Friday. They all came to me afterwards to thank me, and told me how much they are going to practice!
The audience was so excited. At the last concert that the Cherubim Chorale had, there were about 80 people in attendance. Yesterday, there were 250 tickets sold.
I think that the children are inspired most of all. Many asked if I was coming back next year, and I told them, "yes!" I shared my plans for them to sing more songs, and continue to grow musically over the course of the next year. Of course they all agreed that they would practice, too!
Since Mélange Kampala is based at a primary school, there are some students who will be graduating and moving on to secondary school between now and our concert next summer. They asked me if they would still be able to join the choir, and I said, "of course!"
The people here are passionate about making this entire project work. As the headmaster of the Namugongo Primary School told me, music enriches life. And there are so many transferable skills the students can use by learning music.
People here are saying that these kids are the future of Uganda.
So to my wife Jeremy, to choir director Jude Luwaga, to the Cherubim Chamber Chorale, and to all of Mélange International Music Foundation's supporters, staff, and donors: THANK YOU! You have given a million memories to the future of Uganda.
This is just the beginning of our work here, and it won't soon be forgotten.