In late July of this year I found myself awake at four o’clock in the morning trying to figure out how I would fit two violins in a suitcase. It was the largest suitcase I could find, but it was still a tight squeeze to fit both violin cases in with the extra padding they would need to survive the rough journey to the other side of the world. My plane was scheduled to leave in four hours, and I still needed to finish packing my own personal items and to make sure that I didn’t leave my room a mess before I left. I thought at one point that I must be crazy for trying this, but I was determined. I would stay up all night if I had to (which I ended up doing) because I had spent too much time and effort to give up now.
It all started with me simply talking about the idea of bringing a few violins to Ghana and how to get them there. The idea of packing the violins in checked baggage seemed risky because suitcases are thrown and knocked around quite a bit, and even if I could package the violins safely in a large enough suitcase there was nothing I could do to stop the TSA from opening up the suitcase, searching through it, and failing to put everything back in properly. Someone gave me the idea of shipping the violins in a large box through DHL, but the price did not outweigh the risk. I was really left with no choice but to pack the violins into a suitcase, check in the bag at the airport, and hope for the best.
I went on my first trip to Ghana two years ago in the spring of 2012. I volunteered at the orphanage and school that was to become the Savior Children Foundation, but at the time it was the West African Children Foundation. Since I always travel with my violin I ended up playing a little for the children and staff while I was there. I didn’t think that the kids were really interested, but one day I was talking with one girl and she talked about how much she wanted to learn violin. Back at home it always made me feel happy to hear children (or anyone really) express interest in learning my primary instrument, but for some reason it depressed me to hear it in Ghana.
I had a difficult time falling asleep that night. I could do nothing but stare up that the ceiling above me and ponder over how privileged I was to have had the opportunities that I had in music. I didn’t start the violin at age four like most professional violinists, but I did have the opportunity to start before the age of seven; and it was not just a class in school, it was private lessons. Throughout my childhood I trained with some of the best music teachers in Denver at the Denver Talent Education, I played in community orchestras, and I was coached by some of the best music teachers in the world at summer music camps, ultimately gaining the skills and abilities that helped me get a music scholarship at a private university. And by attending this university I was able to obtain a teaching certificate for violin that opened up even more doors for me.
I grew up in Centennial, Colorado, a place with all of the opportunities and resources I needed to become whatever I wanted to become. But where I was in Kasoa, Ghana, it was different. If a child here decided that they wanted to learn violin, the money required would be hard to come by. If, by chance, there was the money, there were no violin teachers around, and the closest shop to even purchase a violin at was all the way in Accra. The realization that not everyone has a fair start in life made me quite sad.
I did think of the idea of coming back to Ghana to bring violins and to teach a little bit, and then finding other teachers to come out here and teach after me. However, the idea of being committed to something like that made me want to do it less. I hate to say this now, but before I traveled to Ghana the first time I had no intention of going back. I simply wanted to come, see the place for four weeks, then leave and never return (and then volunteer someplace else in the world like Argentina if I were to do another volunteer trip). But by the time I was finished with my four weeks of volunteering I didn’t want to leave (in fact, when I had 10 days left in Ghana I broke down crying one night because I didn’t feel like I had enough time left with the children there). So before I stepped on the plane to fly home I decided without question that I was going to return.
The idea of bringing violins to Ghana never left me. I began talking with many people (even strangers) about it, and surprisingly many were very encouraging and supportive of the idea, and they helped me come up with ideas of how I could do it. I started to look around for violins, came up with more crazy ideas, raised money, and began planning. Eventually, I was able to get a full-size violin and a ¾-size violin that I could use to teach the older kids at first. I would possibly get smaller sizes to Ghana in the future, but I would have to see how things went this time around.
Luckily, the violins made it all the way to Ghana without any trouble. I thought that only three kids or so would want to learn, but Patrick put together a list of more than twelve kids who were interested. There were several younger kids who were interested as well, but they were unfortunately not old enough to play a ¾-sized violin. At the first group class several kids showed up on time eager to start learning. I have taught several violin group classes but this was one of the best ones. The kids and I were having so much fun and after the class I remember feeling so inspired. Along with group classes I also gave the kids private lessons to work on what requires more one-on-one attention, such as technique. Over the weeks I got even more students who wanted to learn.
My violin students at the Savior Children Foundation turned out to be some of my easiest students to teach for a couple reasons. The first is that they were well behaved and respectful. Back at home in the United States I’ve had many students who would joke around too much or act like prima donnas, even with their parents in the room.
However, with these kids in Ghana, even though they did not have parents around, they would come to their lessons, pay very close attention to what I was teaching them, and participate in the exercises and activities. The second reason is that they possess a lot of musical talent. In Ghana, music is a huge part of everyday life. Everyone attends church and participates in the services, which always involve music. Every morning the students gather together for assembly in which they sing and pray before class. For this reason the kids in Ghana have a much easier time being able to sing given melodies or to clap given rhythms. They also have a great level of kinesthetic intelligence. The kids are very active with sports, and throughout the day they are always performing something with their hands, whether it be sweeping, drawing, or making bracelets. Because they are used to moving their bodies it does not take as long to teach them how to hold the violin or how to set their fingers on the bow. Some of the kids were also very diligent with practicing the violin between their classes and lessons because they really wanted to learn.
I don’t regret bringing the violins to Ghana because I know they will be put to good use. Unfortunately, I am no longer in Ghana to supervise the violin program that I started, but now that I am back in the United States I have begun my search for violin teachers and I have already found at least one who is interested in volunteering sometime in the near future. I am also planning to start a foundation that will help assist violin teachers financially to volunteer in Ghana. I’m not sure how far it will go, but I’m beginning to realize that everything starts with ideas.