A Composer's Adventures

Joy in the Congo

CongoYou may already have heard about a Congolese musician named Armand Diangienda. Without any government funding, he teaches adults in his village to play classical music on western instruments. The project became so popular that word got around and free instruments were donated. Next, two German choral directors heard about it and went to Africa to coach the villagers in classical vocal techniques and form a chorus.

Here’s a link to the story: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7404678n&tag=contentBody;storyMediaBox

I was deeply moved by this video, and even somewhat envious. These Congolese are feeling the raw excitement of music-making, which attracted me to music in the first place. That kind of sheer joy can easily go missing in our professional musical world.

No one gets paid to sing or play in the Congolese orchestra. Their faces show that their reward is—dare I say it—purely spiritual. Asked what this music meant to her, one participant said, “It takes me away from everything.”  Doesn’t music at its best transport us all to another place?

Which got me thinking: the best way for music graduates to sustain their love for the art may be to keep one foot in some kind of social experiment in music. Do your thing in established ensembles or live by teaching, but stay in contact with the excitement of the raw, first beginnings of making music.

If I were still playing, I would do it for the sheer love of performing. As a composer, I can imagine writing for such a group pro bono if I felt their musical joy. I remember that gut feeling from playing jam sessions as a drummer in my early years and from performing two summers at Tanglewood.

The excitement you’ll see in the eyes of the Congolese players and singers will haunt you and it still brings tears to my eyes when I recall it.

Please let me know if you have been active in introducing music at a primary level or have come across examples of this kind of joy.

Michael Colgrass

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