Karibu means “welcome” in Kiswahili, the official language of Tanzania.

Suzuki music in Arusha

Kimbra Dixon is the woman behind the Suzuki violin program in Arusha, Tanzania, which now numbers 65 students in the international program, and 15 in the outreach program. She started the program by encouraging other parents to take interest in the Suzuki method, then by inviting clinicians to give workshops in Arusha as regularly as the group was able to. Over the last seven years, workshop clinicians have included Michele George, Dominick and Linda Fiore, Michelle Denning-James, and Laura Nerenberg. When the program grew large enough, the group was able to invite Liza Barley to come and teach full-time in Arusha. Liza has been assisted for the past six months by Jessica Welch; in addition, Liza’s sister Annie is now teaching music at the International School where a number of the violinists are enrolled, along with Tanzanian teacher David Seng’enge (guitar). Annie is also teaching Suzuki cello to a small number of students, and hopes to expand this program in the near future.

Now that the violin program is off and running, and has the full support of parents as well as the full-time teachers, Kimbra is hoping to build a similar program for flute. She herself played some flute in college, and as well as appreciating the instrument itself, she admires its portability! (For a family that travels, this is an important consideration, especially since three of the young Dixons are violinists, and one is a cellist.) I met Kimbra at the Montreal Institute last summer, and she had one private lesson with me. At that time, she asked if I’d be interested in coming to Arusha to teach. The result of that request was that I spent the last two weeks of March in Tanzania, giving a workshop for a very assorted group of flutists. I also gave a parent talk for the violin group while I was there, and had the opportunity to meet Liza, Annie, George and Jessica.

My goal for the flute workshop was principally to show the participants that they can have group classes, despite the fact that they range in age from ten to fifty years of age, and range in experience from none at all, to intermediate, to people with quite a lot of musical experience who haven’t played for a number of years, or who play other instruments. If the foundation were laid for regular group classes, I felt that it would help to develop the skills of the present participants, and also support the future expansion of the program by attracting new flutists.

An International Workshop

I was intrigued to find a truly international community in Tanzania. (On my first evening there, I attended a production of “Grease” at the International School, and on the second evening, we were treated to Swedish food and entertainment at the hotel training institute, which holds exchanges with a similar program in Sweden.) Among the eleven flutists who participated, eight different countries were represented. Kimbra grew up in Costa Rica; her 10-year-old son Jeffrey was also born there, but has spent most of his young life in Tanzania. Of the teenagers, Aisling is from Ireland and Mariyam from India, Anna Catharina is German, and Savannah is American. As for the adult participants, Helena is Dutch, June is Trinidadian, Rebecca was born in Arusha, but has moved back and forth to the US, and Paschal and Hezron are both Tanzanians. Most of the members of this group, or their parents, came to Africa to work as missionaries, or with NGOs or other aid organizations. Some have been there for a few years, and some (including the Liekes) as many as thirty. Rebecca will be one of the first graduates of Makumira University College’s brand-new BA program in music, which is the only one in Tanzania. June’s husband is in Arusha to work for the Rwandan genocide tribunals which are taking place there. The stories of how all of these people have ended up in Africa would make wonderful telling; for now, I can just say that it was wonderful to meet so many supportive, caring, and very interesting people in one place.

Basically, the format of the workshop was daily half-hour master classes, plus a one-hour group class which was open to all of the participants. During the first week, all of the four beginners met together for a one-hour class. The materials used in the group class included selections from Trevor Wye’s Group Class book, arrangements incorporating Suzuki pieces by Noelle Perrin, David Gerry and Sarah Hanley, and some odds and ends I have amassed over the years, which allow me to include players who are unable to play many (if any) notes. I had brought a range of such pieces, since the ability level of the beginners would be evolving on a daily basis. We held a Celebration Concert on the evening of the second Saturday of the workshop, for an enthusiastic audience of friends and families. Repertoire included solos by all of the participants, and six ensemble pieces; the concert was followed by a potluck supper, laughter and congratulations, and all of the children running around the Dixons’ beautiful veranda and yard.

A Flute “Fundi”

The other event that ended up taking place was our Flute Care workshop. I am a minimalist when it comes to my own flute, or my students’ flutes: I clean it and take good care of it, but otherwise I never touch it. All repairs are undertaken by my technician. So it was somewhat of a shock to realize that in Tanzania, there was no technician at all… just me. Over the course of the two weeks, I adjusted lots of screws and corks – one cork was so shrunken that the interval between D2 and D3 actually sounded like a major seventh. It became apparent that a Flute Care and Emergency Repair workshop would be of great use to the participants, most of whom would not have any access to a repairperson, except when on rare trips abroad.

A joke evolved that was that I was the Flute Fundi. (In Kiswahili, a fundi is a tradesperson or repair person: if your shoes need fixing, you go to a shoe fundi. If you need house repairs, there’s a fundi for that, too.) It is my hope that all of the participants will now be equipped to undertake such minor repairs as they will need on their own flutes, and that they can apply their knowledge generally to keep as many instruments playable, as possible.

Tarangire National Park

Halfway through the workshop, I was treated to an overnight safari at Tarangire National Park, about one and a half hours from Arusha. I stayed at the beautiful Tarangire Safari Lodge, and saw countless elephants, giraffes, and impalas, as well as ostriches, waterbucks, baboons, bat-eared foxes, black-backed jackals, hyraxes, and two kinds of mongooses. From the stone veranda that overlooks a vast expanse of the park, you can see animals grazing off in the distance, and vervet monkeys and ground squirrels cavorting close at hand. It truly looks like the Garden of Eden, and I feel very lucky to have had the chance to visit this special place.

Heifer International

By another lucky chance, I made a wonderful connection through the workshop. Some years ago, the Montreal Suzuki teachers’ group Suzuki Musique Montreal held a community benefit concert, and at my suggestion, the money raised was donated to Heifer Project International (HPI). (Please see www.heifer.org for more information.) On the first weekend of the Arusha flute workshop, we were in the middle of rehearsing my arrangement of Yesterday, when a visitor dropped in and joined our group. As I continued to conduct, I noticed that his T-shirt bore the logo of Heifer International. I soon learned that this person, Erwin Kinsey, has been working with HPI in East Africa for thirty years. Erwin kindly arranged for Kimbra, her daughter Bethany, and me to visit a farm in the area which is a Heifer Project success story. Simon Sandilen, who has been with the organization for twenty-one years and was its first Tanzanian employee, took us to hillside village of Ng-iresi to tour the farm. It was thrilling to see exactly how Heifer International is helping farmers in impoverished areas to improve their standard of living, while also enabling them to take care of their environment.

The farmer we visited received a pregnant heifer in 1991. Prior to receiving the animal, he undertook training in terracing and contouring the land on his farm, to promote water retention and prevent erosion. He and other farmers were taught that the trees which are planted to hold the soil can also provide fodder for animals with their leaves. He also learned about animal husbandry and prepared the area where his cow would live. A pregnant cow is a very valuable animal, costing $500. Consider that a teacher in Tanzania earns on average between $80 and $100 a month, and that the sale of milk from the cow can bring $250 a month, in addition to providing milk for the family. It is very important that the animal be properly cared for, and, most important to the contract that Heifer enters into with each recipient, that the gift must be “passed on” to other needy farmers, in the form of the first and third female off-springs of the original heifer. When the gift has been passed on, the contract with Heifer is considered to have been fulfilled.

That first cow calved ten times. (On my visit, I saw three of her grand-daughters.) The money earned from the sale of milk, and also from the sale of male calves, has enabled the farmer’s children to go to school, for him to improve his home, and, through an agreement with a Rotary Club group in the US, even to add a methane-processing unit to his farm. Manure and urine from the farm animals is cleanly transformed into energy, the resulting gas being piped in to the house for use in cooking. Over the last thirty years, Heifer International has been able to help over 30,000 families in Tanzania alone, as well as helping people in many other countries around the world.

Though it was inspiring and heartening to see the positive results of HPI’s work, reading some of Erwin’s articles gave me a fuller picture of the frightful odds they are fighting against while trying to improve the quality of life of people who live in impoverished areas, including East Africa. Drought and sickness have been traditional enemies of poor farmers. The effects of global warming are also causing much concern; as the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro are rapidly receding, other changes are being seen in the environment which are of great concern to people working in the area. In addition to all of these troubles, there is the specter of HIV/AIDS. I had already been told that the requirements for people studying to become teachers have been lowered in answer to a critical shortage, because AIDS is wiping out a whole generation of teachers. Its disastrous effect is also felt in the farming community: as Erwin states

“Vulnerabilities to society include rural labor shortage, the reallocation
of scarce resources for care of the sick, stigmatization of divorcees,
widows and orphans who are being denied rights to property and
access to education.”(1)

Grandparents, widows, and parents who are themselves infected with HIV are struggling to give present care to their children and orphaned grandchildren, while they live with the knowledge that they must also try somehow to make provisions for a very uncertain future.

Working For Peace

A banana-leaf plaque outside the Arusha office of Heifer International reads: “Peace Begins When the Hungry Are Fed”. Dr. Suzuki believed that if children all over the world could learn to play music, that we could see an end to war. It is sure that war will continue as long as children go hungry, and as long as parents are unable to provide for their children. I believe it is in our hands to see both of these visions through.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to Kimbra and the Dixon family, to my hosts, the Lieke family, to Erwin and Simon, and to all of the parents and children in Arusha who were so warm and hospitable, so enthusiastic, and who have provided me with yet another growing experience in my own life. Asante sana!

(1) Haunted by questions upon a visit to Kibosho, Kilimanjaro, Erwin Kinsey