Saturday, 4 November 2017

Day 13: Reflections by Mr Coward and tying loose ends by Jules DA

A musical journey at the Ballanta Academy of Music

On our first or second morning teaching at the BAM, I took a break from my third beginner trumpet lesson of the morning to go and see how our students were getting on with their own lessons. After assuring a couple of potential trumpeters waiting in the corridor that I would be back soon, I headed downstairs to the open air courtyard; a space which had been appropriated for Saxophone lessons. Will was surrounded by students - there must have been at least 8 - and with only two instruments to pass around this must have been a challenging lesson to teach. Upstairs in the Academy's largest room (a space more compact than most classrooms at WCS), Katie and Connie were team-teaching voice lessons in more of a masterclass style. Ten or more students sat around the edges of the room watching and waiting patiently until it was their turn to perform and to receive some feedback and advice. Next door, in a small practice room which doubles as a music library, Xavier was thoroughly engrossed in an individual piano lesson and didn't pause from instructing his student as I moved around them to take a few pictures. Back up on the second floor, in small, sweltering rooms with wooden shutters for windows, Chloe was making use of the blackboard to write down a melody for a couple of violinists, while across the hallway Annie was patiently encouraging 'Twinkle Twinkle' out of a beginner cellist for the seventh or eight time that day.

A similar pattern played out on each of the five days that we taught at the Ballanta, as more and more students came through the doors to have a go, with many returning for second
lessons or to try another instrument. I really hope that some of them will be able to access
 regular music tuition in the future. Thanks to the money that each WCS student raised towards bursaries, we know that at least ten will be able to this year. I could not have been more proud of our students, or impressed with the way that they adapted to whatever they encountered. 

One specific success story: on one of our outreach concerts at Murraydeen School we met their young music teacher. He had come through the Ballanta as a trumpet student - one of their star pupils - and now had a good job as a result. We were treated to a lovely performance by a recorder ensemble that he coached at the school. It is my hope that, with some future fundraising, we could equip him with a set of brass instruments so that he could start a brass ensemble there. And so it grows...

My personal thanks to Jules for all your work in organising the trip. It really must have been an incredible effort, and you made it so easy and fun to be on. I had a super time and it was clear to me that students did too. 

Until next year.... Jack Coward

Tying Loose Ends 

Well, this is truly it now. We have been back for nearly 48 hours and my body is re-acclimatising with the weather and much cooler temperatures in the UK- the only constant
being the ritual swallowing of my malaria tablet in the morning. 
It has been a long 10 months of preparation and organisation for this trip, cajoling our students to be ever more creative in their ways of raising founds- something we were asked about at the Ballanta and which impressed all the students and teachers there as it seems fundraising is an alien concept over there. 10 months of constant emails with Dr Kitty Fadlu-Deen and her predecessor at the helm of the Ballanta and Mrs Pearl Reffell, one of the proprietresses of the JT Reffell French Memorial Primary and Secondary school to organise our trip. Months of negotiating, planning and ensuring that students and staff are safe in Sierra Leone and doing something -worthwhile. Was this a success? Absolutely and categorically YES! This trip was never intended as a self-gratifying trip: students have to work hard to be on this trip and they work for others as well as for themselves- they give themselves to the students in both schools and they delight often bemused audiences with their music, their voices and their vitality and energy. Our students are always impressed by the music and the energy in it in West Africa, not realising that the musicians and audiences there feel exactly the same way towards their music and enthusiasm.

At the Ballanta, our musicians have been somewhat surprised not to be teaching young students- this is one of the things that the Ballanta does when we are not around- outreach in schools during the day and some teaching later on in the day to school students. During the day, they teach more mature students and all are encouraged by Auntie Kitty (as the principal is known) to try out several instruments and to experiment with various genres. So our young musicians have ended up teaching several people much older than them! Did it matter? Definitely not! It is all about the exchange of knowledge and the understanding. I am
very proud, as was Mr Coward, with how our musicians coped with this new challenge and I hope that this will help them in the future, with their own auditions and interviews.

At JTR, there was a definite moment when all our students realised- and admitted- that teaching was not all plain sailing and hard work, with not everybody listening or wanting to do the activity they had planned, with some understanding immediately, and some needing more explanation... all of which sounded so familiar! But did they embrace this challenge? They more than did! One of my best memory was a session of over one hour of planning lessons, my mind boggled with the fantastic ideas our students were coming up with, including back up plans in case it did not work... and then, it was truly magical to watch them teach those lessons, adapt as they went along and reap the rewards of their hard work: total
idolisation by all JTR students, which was clearly visible on the last day just before our concert started- over 200 students from pre-prep to JSS3 joining in the hall in a mad, sweaty but heart-warming dance session with our students! I wish I had a picture, but I was so engrossed, I could not take any at the time!

But a trip is only ever as successful as the people who make it: our group this year was amazing and thanks to their fundraising effort, we now have 10 bursaries to sponsor our first 10 students: pictured below are 5 of them- from left to right- Winifred Taylor (trumpet), John Sesay (drums), Joselyn Kobba (piano), Maxwell Apka (piano) and Preston Williams (singing)

the 5 others are: Nancy Squire (singing), Rebecca Taylor, Alim Maddy, Patrick Bundu (voice) and Ismael Kabia (keyboard). All these will benefit from full bursaries for one year at least and will take grades 1 and 2 exams at the end of the year.

Thank you to our amazing students for their good humour, their music, their friendship, their hard-work and their determination:


Thank you to Elizabeth for chipping in at JTR and being such a good sport- I am glad that after her 5th or 6th visits, I have been able to give her a chance to finally visit the Chimp Sanctuary... as a result of which, we have decided that the project will adopt a chimp, so that we can come and visit every year until its release in the wild!

But mostly, thank you to Neil and Jack my 2 right arms, or maybe left- without whom not only  would I have been 'armless', but also less supported and much more stressed! I have been impressed by their resilience and their desire to contribute to the teaching and to learn from this new environment. Thank you both!


This trip is about finding who we really are and what we are indeed capable of doing to help other people in the world to accomplish their dreams and to be able to experience something new and different, might it be musically or academically...and God willing , we shall be back next year for another installment. 

The BAM say it best in this song: Tell him I am thankful. 

Over and out for one year now- JDA