Instruments for Africa

By Todd Snelgrove

Snelgrove instrument pile

Photo: Todd Snelgrove
Just some of the instruments destined for Linda School in Livingstone, Zambia under the auspices of Instruments for Africa

Last May, while on vacation in Africa, I found myself visiting the Linda School in Livingstone, Zambia. I was shocked to find that in their modern high school, with over a thousand students, including 300 enrolled in music classes, the arts department did not possess a single working musical instrument. As a result, students can only study music theory and singing. Nonetheless, students work very hard, and many still consider music class to be the highlight of their day.

According to the headmaster at Linda School, the education board had decided that the most practical instrument for the school to acquire would be a guitar. Despite having resources to make such a purchase, a year later the department had yet to lay its hands on an instrument. “It may be difficult for you to understand,” the headmaster told me, “but here in Zambia, one cannot just walk into a store and buy a new musical instrument. Plus,” he added, “people are very reluctant to do business over the Internet with many African countries.”

I was happy to donate my travelling guitar to the school, though I couldn’t help feeling it was a tiny gesture in the face of a much greater problem. For months after returning to Canada, I thought about the children at Linda School and how important my high school music classes were to my friends and me. Music is an important academic adventure. It stimulates the learning process like no other discipline and encourages both independent study and teamwork. And it’s fun!

It occurred to me that there are easily enough musical instruments lying unused in basements and attics across the Ottawa area to supply the Linda School with a full orchestra. So in December 2012, I began an initiative called Instruments For Africa (IFA) to collect and service instruments of all kinds for shipment, first to Zambia, but eventually to other countries in Africa as well. I am aiming for IFA to become an ongoing project.

I’m pleased to report that so far IFA has been a resounding success. We’ve already collected nearly 100 instruments of all sorts; so many that we’ve expanded our initial mission to include three schools. We have nearly enough to supply the Linda School with a full array of concert band instruments, including flutes, clarinets, trumpets and trombones (although we are still waiting for our first oboe!) We have gathered several guitars and keyboards for another Zambian high school, and a collection of recorders and ukuleles that will find a home with a primary school.

One of the most important elements of this project is ensuring that the instruments are delivered in good working order, and I cannot emphasize enough how generous and helpful the company Musicare has been to this end. The Carlsbad Springs instrument repair/rental company has donated their services since the beginning of this project – they have assessed, cleaned and maintained each and every concert band instrument that has come through the door. Keeping the cost and ease of shipment in mind, I have also sat down with officials at the Zambian High Commission; they are working hard to eliminate duty fees and tariffs associated with the initial delivery, scheduled for late April or May. They may even be able to facilitate shipping.

While the project is off to a great start, we still need your help! If you have an instrument that you would like to donate, please drop it off at the Ottawa Folklore Centre, 1111 Bank Street, (613) 730-2887. For other ways to help, visit www.instrumentsforafrica.com or follow us on Facebook to see how you can help make IFA a huge success.

Todd Snelgrove, an Ottawa-based musician and guitar teacher locally recognized for his work at the Ottawa Folklore Centre and in GNAG’s “Be In The Band” program, can be reached at tsnelgrove@sympatico.ca.

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