David Ralak is a violist who has been part of the Safaricom Youth Orchestra program coaching children on how to play the instrument since 2014 when the initiative was still very new.
Now the program has expanded into one of the largest orchestras in Kenya where children as young as 10-year-olds start first steps towards learning how to play various instruments.
Over the years, David says he has learned that young children might surprise you with how well and fast they pick up on pitches, and timbres.
David, who learned to play violin when he was 16, observes that at Safaricom Youth Orchestra learning how to play various instruments when young earns the children long exposure before they are adults to make better decisions on their careers.
“We get all these kids who play violin differently and the challenge is to get them to say the same thing. You have to almost rewire everyone’s build to sync into one,” said David.
“There are some other things like coordination, timekeeping, respect, and motor skills learned when you’re playing the instrument and they just help with becoming a well-rounded person.”
In an orchestra, there are winds, brass, strings, and percussion instruments.
Established in 2014 by the late Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore, Safaricom Youth Ochestra offers children aged between 10 and 17 years a chance to learn how to play various instruments such as cello, violin, flutes, trumpet, French horn among others.
Children learn different families of instruments and they are taught to listen to music actively, listening for certain sounds, pitches, or timbres in a very coordinated style.
“Everyone has their own idea about how music is supposed to sound but when it comes to orchestra we cannot have many ideas; it has to be one. It is difficult to get many people to say the same thing at the same time,” David explained.
An orchestra is an ensemble of musical instruments with many varying timbres playing together.
Music is a good way of teaching perfection because when a note has to sound like an “a” it has to sound like an “a”. The students have to learn this perfection, notes David.
Safaricom has contracted The Art of Music to run the Safaricom Youth Orchestra. Established in 2009, The Art of Music promotes the performance and appreciation of art music in Kenya and employs its transformative power to change lives, particularly of those living in underprivileged areas of the country.
David says what has kept him going for so long is his passion to help children become better and more fulfilled people who can impact others positively.
This year, a total of 18 students – eight girls and 11 boys – were awarded certificates in orchestral music after learning to play various instruments such as the flute, alto sax, trumpet and violin.
“The orchestra promotes all-around growth in music and life skills, and this graduation ceremony is a testament to the dedication of both the tutors and students,” said Peter Ndegwa, Safaricom CEO.
The latest graduands add to the 145 students who have gone through Safaricom Youth Orchestra training and have progressed to pursue other careers, including music.
In three weeks’ time, Safaricom Youth Orchestra will be holding virtual auditions for the next class that is set to start in May.
“We take children from the age of 10. If you make in at that age then you are in until you finish high school,” said Elizabeth Njoroge, the founder and executive director of the Art of Music.
“It is quite competitive to get in. We have auditions in three weeks’ time to fill in the spaces left by the graduands. You fill in a form and tell us about your musical journey. You also send us a recording, which we listen to gauge your potential in the way you are able to tell your story in your music,” Ms Njoroge explained.